Art: A Tearless World

U.S. painting divides into two epochs: before and after the Armory Show of 1913. That year, from the vaulted bastion of Manhattan's 69th Regiment, Marcel Duchamp's stroboscopic Nude Descending a Staircase strode jerkily into public awareness; Tin Pan Alley came up with That Futuristic Rag; and the nation was swept up in a fever of excitement over something called Modern Art. Of the many artists who rallied behind this great debut of modernism, one stands as the prime mover: Arthur Bowen Davies.

Davies was an odd choice for commander in chief in the modernists' battle against the academics. Though Davies was friendly...

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