The Jewish Museum will present Edith Halpert and the Rise of American Art, the first exhibition to explore the remarkable career of Edith Gregor Halpert (1900-1970), the influential American art dealer and founder of the Downtown Gallery in New York City. 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 modernism. 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.
The exhibition, on view at the Jewish Museum from October 18, 2019 through February 9, 2020, will feature 100 works of American modern and folk art, including paintings, sculptures, and prints by artists such as Davis, Lawrence, O’Keeffe, Kuniyoshi, Shahn, and Sheeler, as well as Arthur Dove, Elie Nadelman, Max Weber, and Marguerite and William Zorach, among others, and prime examples of American folk art portraits, weathervanes, and trade signs. Along with major artworks that were exhibited at and sold through the Downtown Gallery, highlights from Halpert’s acclaimed personal collection of both modern and folk art, reassembled for the first time since its landmark sale in 1973, will also be on view.
Born to a Jewish family in Odessa, Russia (now Ukraine), Halpert opened the Downtown Gallery 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 American artists, fundamentally shifting the public’s opinion of whose voices mattered in the art world. Though an outsider in many respects — as a woman, an immigrant, and a Jew — Halpert was, for over 40 years, the country’s most resolute champion of its creative potential and the defining authority of the American art landscape. Not only did her trailblazing career pave the way for the next generation of women leaders in the art world, Halpert’s inclusive vision continues to inform our understanding of American art today as being pluralistic, generous in its parameters, and infused with idealism.
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.
Almost as stunning as the achievement of her influential 40-year career is the speed with which her contributions have been forgotten. Her name is scarcely recognized today, even among art scholars. That she was a woman may have something to do with this historical erasure; throughout her life she was underestimated by her peers. The way she wielded influence was also a factor. Halpert’s accomplishments were often credited to others, particularly when she worked in tandem with important curators, collectors, and patrons.
The Museum offers diverse exhibitions and programs, and maintains a unique collection of nearly 30,000 works of art, ceremonial objects, and media reflecting the global Jewish experience over more than 4,000 years.
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