Architecture, Interior Design, and “The Cubist Room” at the International Exhibition of Modern Art

By the Archives

May 13, 2013

The Cubist room at the 1913 Armory Show
FIGURE 1: Installation shot of the Cubist room, 1913 Armory Show, published in the New York Tribune, February 17, 1913 (p. 7) from the Walt Kuhn scrapbook of press clippings documenting the Armory Show, vol. 1, 1913. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

The newly rediscovered Hagelstein Brothers photograph of “The Cubist Room” at the Armory Show (figure 1) provides clues as to what inspired the final floor plan of galleries at the 69th Regiment Armory, as well as evidence of Walter Pach’s hand in designing the installation.

In the fall of 1912, Arthur B. Davies sent Walt Kuhn a letter that contained a drawing of a preliminary floor plan for the New York venue of the show (figure 2) that was composed of traditional rectangular or square rooms.

How then did the installation become the honeycomb–shaped design of polygonal galleries, shown in a blueprint (figure 3) and in the catalogue of the New York venue (figure 4)?

Floor plan of the Armory Show
FIGURE 2: Armory Show floor plan, 1912 Oct. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Armory Show floor plan blueprint
FIGURE 3: Blueprint of Armory Show floorplan, between 1912 and 1913. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Armory show catalogue showing floor plan
FIGURE 4: Catalogue of the International Exhibition of Modern Art in New York, 1913. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

 

In the fall of 1912, the Cubist group of artists that included Raymond Duchamp–Villon, Jacques Villon, Marcel Duchamp, Albert Gleizes, Alexander Archipenko, and others held an exhibition called La Salon de “La Section d’Or” at the Galerie de la Boëtie in Paris (figure 5). Several works from this exhibition were chosen by Pach for the Armory Show including Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 (figure 1).

Exhibit catalog for Salon de La Section d'Or
FIGURE 5: Exhibit catalog for Salon de "La Section d'Or", 1912. Walter Pach papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
La Maison Cubiste by Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Walter Pach papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Simultaneous to La Section d’Or was the 1912 Salon d’Automne in which La Maison Cubiste was displayed. The architectural façade was designed in a Cubist style by Duchamp-Villon. Visitors walked through the façade into rooms designed by André Mare. These rooms included Cubist paintings. Also Gleizes’s Man on a Balcony and Archipenko’s Family Life, which can be seen in “The Cubist Room” at the Armory Show (see figure 1).

Enter Walter Pach—he saw both Parisian exhibitions, knew all the artists involved, and selected all of the works seen in figure 1, including a plaster maquette of the façade of La Maison Cubiste by Duchamp-Villon (figure 6), as well as the paintings and sculptures that were shown at La Section d’Or and the 1912 Salon d’Automne. 

I believe that “The Cubist Room” at the Armory Show was a deliberate conflation of these Parisian exhibitions put together by Pach; no one else could have designed this installation.

Pach also wrote a pamphlet for the Armory Show, “A Sculptor’s Architecture” in which he discussed Raymond Duchamp-Villon’s La Maison Cubiste as exemplary of a new architectural style for the modern era.

I would suggest that change in the floor plan from traditional rectilinear rooms as proposed by Davies to the polygonal galleries was Pach’s idea and reflects his understanding of Duchamp-Villon’s vision of Cubist architecture.

Furthermore, I believe that the refracted shapes of the polygonal spaces could be read as a modernist floor plan and installation design that, together with the architectural façade, paintings, and sculptures in “The Cubist Room” in particular (figure 1), formed an ensemble showing how Cubist architecture, interior design, and art could be replicated in anyone’s home.

 

Guest blogger Laurette E. McCarthy is an independent scholar and curator. She is an authority on Walter Pach and a leading Armory Show scholar.

Explore more:

Comments

I enjoyed reading your article. When i read it - i was immediately thinking of another pioneer of interior design for a new era. His name is Wilhelm Wagenfeld and he emerged just a few years after Raymond Duchamp, in 1924. He particularly became famous with the so called Bauhaus table lamp. He was particularly part of the team that made Bauhaus Design from Weimar (Germany) renowned worldwide.