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Society of Independent Artists

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An organization formed in New York in December 1916 as a successor to the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, which had been dissolved—its task accomplished—after mounting the Armory Show in 1913. The Society's aim was to give progressive artists an opportunity to show their work by holding annual exhibitions in rivalry with the conservative National Academy of Design. These shows were organized on the model of the French Salon des Indépendants, without jury or prizes, giving anyone the right to exhibit on payment of a modest fee. The first show, in April 1917, featured about 2,500 works by about 1,200 artists and was probably the largest art exhibition held in the USA up to that time. However, it is remembered mainly because of a work that was not shown, for Marcel Duchamp (one of the Society's officials) resigned after his ready-made in the form of a urinal was rejected. Although much recondite aesthetic theory has been read into this gesture, it is likely that the main purpose was to demonstrate the incongruity of a society with the professed purpose of allowing anyone to exhibit anything. The first president of the Society was William Glackens; he was followed by John Sloan, who held the post from 1918 until his death in 1951. Annual exhibitions continued to be held until 1944, but they soon declined in terms of quantity and quality.

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