Monday, October 21, 2019

EDITH HALBERT and the RISE OF AMERICAN ART: Review By Polly Guerin

Edith Halpert in the Downtown Gallery with artists in the background
TODAY, THE STRENGTH OF THE AMERICAN ART MARKET, nearly 100 years after Edith Gregor Halpert, the influential art dealer, opened the Downtown Gallery, is a testament to her extraordinary vision and steadfast belief in the value of American art.  But, Halpert's true legacy lies in the dozens of artists she discovered and sustained, in the many women art dealers and curators she inspired and in the thousands of art works that found their way through her into American collections.
       Edith Halpert's name may be scarcely recognized today, even among art scholars and her peers till now. THE JEWISH MUSEUM presents EDITH HALPERT AND THE RISE OF AMERICAN ART, the first exhibition to explore the remarkable career of Edith Halpert, (1900-1970) the influential art dealer and founder of the Downtown Gallery in New York City. On view through February 9, 2020. Image: Edith Halpert at the Downtown Gallery, wearing the 13 watch brooch and ring designed for her by Charles Sheeler, in a photograph for Life Magazine in 1952. She is joined by some of the new American artists she was promoting that year. Photograph (c) Estate of Louis Faurer.
Stuart Davis, LITTLE GIANT, 1950
A pioneer in the field and the first significant female gallerist in the United States, Halpert propelled American Art to the fore at a time when the European avant-garde still enthralled the world. The artists she supported---Stuart Davis, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O'Keeffe, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Ben Shahn, and Charles Sheeler key among them---became icons of American
      Halpert also brought vital attention to overlooked nineteenth-century American artists, such as William Michael Harnett, Edward Hicks and Raphaelle Peale, as well as little-known and anonymous folk artists. With her revolutionary program at the Downtown Gallery, her endless energy, and her extraordinary business acumen, Halpert inspired generations of Americans to value the art of their own country, in their own time. Image: Stuart Davis, Little Giant still life, 1950, oil on canvas. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, John Barton Payne Fund. Artwork (c) Estate of Stuart Davis/Licensed by VAGA at Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York; photograph by Katherine Wetzel.
         The Downtown Gallery quickly attracted important clients. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, founder of The Museum of Modern Art, under Halpert's tutelage became a key patron to many modern artists and later an enthusiastic collector of American folk art. Halpert became an influential advisor to other art patrons, who, like Rockefeller went on to build new museums or donate major collections of American art to public institutions across the country. Halpert's circle of collectors
included Duncan Phillips, founder of the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC; William H. Lane, the great benefactor of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Electra Havermeyer Webb, who established Shelburne Museum in Vermont.
      In addition to regularly presenting work by women, immigrants, and Jewish artists, the Downtown Gallery was the first major mainstream art space in New York City to consistently promote the work of African American artists, including Jacob Lawrence and Horace Pippin.
Jacob Lawrence THE MUSIC LESSON from the Harlem Series, 1943
When the Japanese American painter Yasuo Kuniyoshi was classified as an enemy alien during World War II, she mounted a defiant exhibition of his paintings in 1942. Her insistence that we support free expression and diversity of opinion, and that these are the defining features of American art and culture, has never been more timely or more relevant. Image: The Music Lesson, from the Harlem Series, 1943, gouache o paper, New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, gift of the Friends of the New Jersey State Museum. Artwork (c) The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. HALPERT: Born to a Jewish family in Odessa, Russia (now Ukraine) Halpert opened the Downtown Galley in 1926, at the age of 26, at 113 West 13th Street, the first commercial art space in bohemian Greenwich Village. She deliberately promoted a diverse group of living artists, fundamentally shifting the public's opinion of whose voices mattered in the art world. Halpert was, for 40 years, the country's most resolute champion of its creative potential and the defining authority of the American landscape and she paved the way for the next generation of women leaders in the art world.
       Ta Ta Darlings!!!  Kudos to Edith Halpert, and amazing visionary who continues to inform our understanding of American art today. Fan mail welcome Visit Polly's other Blogs on and click on the links in the left-hand column to visionary men, women determined to succeed. the fashion historian, and poetry.

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