The Impressive Edith Halpert

Our first trip in to see the Edith Halpert and The Rise of American Art at the Jewish Museum on Fifth Ave in November was so successful that Artful Circle decided to go again in January and now one more time in February, before it closes.

Why is it such a hit? Kudos go to Rebecca Shaykin, Associate Curator, for creating an exciting and educational showcase for this ahead-of-her-time leader of the modern art scene in the US.

Who was Edith Halpert? Born to a Jewish family in Russia, Edith Halpert (1900–1970) was the first major female gallerist in the US. Her innovations in the art business are still in play today, from the idea of art fairs, the acceptance of American folk art as an art form and making fine art affordable and desirable to the general public. In 1926, Halpert opened the Downtown Gallery in Greenwich Village – far from the tony uptown crowd, but closer to where the artists themselves lived. By creating this unique destination, she attracted the average buyer to high society art lovers such as Abby Rockefeller.

Though an outsider in many respects—as a woman, an immigrant, and a Jew—Halpert was, for over 40 years, the country’s 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.   

Why is she important today? Her business acumen allowed her to “think outside the box” when it came to promoting art sales. The museum displays many advertisements, magazine articles and photos that show how she looked at who should own art and why with a fresh perspective that is still relevant today. She fought against the traditional ideas from the European art market to create a more balanced and welcoming environment for art buyers of all levels.

Halpert’s socially progressive values were also on full display at her gallery.  Her Downtown Gallery was the first major mainstream art space in NYC to present works by women, immigrants, Jews, African American and Japanese American artists. She helped promote the careers of Georgia O’Keeffe, Stuart Davis, Jacob Lawence, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Ben Shahn and more – many destined to become icons of American modernism. Since these values are becoming progressively more accepted in the art world, one must give credit to Edith Halpert for introducing the concept decades ago.

Fun Fact: On March 18, 2020, the Salmagundi Club is honoring two museum curators: Franklin Hill Perrell of Artful Circle and Rebecca Shaykin of the Jewish Museum. For more information on event registration and to participate in their celebratory journal, contact Debbie Wells at 516-819-2240 or debbie@artfulcircle.com

For more information about the exhibition at the Jewish Museum website, click here

For more information about Artful Circle’s next visit, contact Debbie Wells at 516-819-2240 or debbie@artfulcircle.com

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