Edith Halpert, the Downtown Gallery, and the Rise of American Art

Yale. 2019. 232p. ISBN 9780300231007. $50. FINE ARTS
This engaging, extensively illustrated catalog of an exhibition organized by New York’s Jewish Museum describes the work of a remarkable woman who played a vital role in shaping contemporary American art of the early- mid-20th century. Edith Gregor Halpert (1900–70) opened the Downtown Gallery in Greenwich Village in 1926, when there were no commercial art spaces in the neighborhood and no galleries anywhere in New York selling exclusively contemporary American art. A prescient advocate of American modernism, she showed such work before the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, and the Guggenheim were founded, supporting a diverse stable of artists (Stuart Davis, Charles Sheeler, Elie Nadelman, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jacob Lawrence). She advised wealthy collectors and the works she sold contributed to several museum collections. Yet her egalitarian approach and savvy mass marketing also encouraged collectors of modest income. An early admirer of American folk art, Halpert helped to establish a market for these works, finding stylistic links between 20th-century American modernism and folk art forms.
VERDICT This title will reintroduce Halpert, who was well known in her time, to readers. A good accompaniment to Lindsay Pollock’s The Girl with the Gallery: Edith Gregor Halpert and the Making of the Modern Art Gallery.
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