Visu­al Arts

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

Rebec­ca Shaykin

  • From the Publisher
January 1, 2013

The ques­tion What is Amer­i­can art?” might con­jure the hyper­re­al­ism of Raphaelle Peale and William Har­nett, the bold graph­ic style of Stu­art Davis and Jacob Lawrence, or the Pre­ci­sion­ist forms of Charles Sheel­er. Lit­tle known, how­ev­er, is that such notions of Amer­i­can art are sig­nif­i­cant­ly owed to a Russ­ian Jew­ish immi­grant named Edith Halpert. The founder of the Down­town Gallery in New York, Halpert shaped an iden­ti­ty for Amer­i­can art, declar­ing that its thrilling het­ero­gene­ity and demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues were what most dis­tin­guished it from the Euro­pean avant-garde.
 
For forty-plus years, Halpert’s gallery brought recog­ni­tion and mar­ket suc­cess to now-leg­endary Amer­i­can artists — among them Arthur Dove, Mars­den Hart­ley, and Geor­gia O’Keeffe, in addi­tion to the artists men­tioned above. She relent­less­ly cham­pi­oned non­white, female, and unknown artists and was a for­ma­tive advi­sor in the shap­ing of many of the nation’s most cel­e­brat­ed art muse­ums and col­lec­tions, from San Fran­cis­co to Boston. Not con­tent with those achieve­ments, she also pio­neered the appre­ci­a­tion and col­lect­ing of Amer­i­can folk art. 
 
Rich­ly illus­trat­ed with works that passed through her ground­break­ing gallery, this book tells the extra­or­di­nary and large­ly over­looked sto­ry of her career and lega­cy. The artists Halpert launched into the Amer­i­can canon are house­hold names — and this book com­pelling­ly argues that hers should be, as well.

Discussion Questions