Edith Halpert and the Rise of American Art

Edith Halpert at the Downtown Gallery, surrounded by some of her artists, in a photograph for Life magazine in 1952. Photograph
© Estate of Louis Faurer

A pioneer in the field and the first significant female gallerist in the United States, Edith Halpert propelled American art to the forefront of public attention at a time when the European avant-garde still enthralled the world.

The artists she supported, including Stuart Davis, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Ben Shahn, and Charles Sheeler, 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, Halpert inspired generations of Americans to value the art of their own country, in their own time.

The exhibition Edith Halpert and the Rise of American Art, now on view at the Jewish Museum through February 9, 2020, features approximately 100 celebrated works of American modern and folk art that were exhibited at and sold through the Downtown Gallery, along with highlights from Halpert’s acclaimed personal collection, reassembled for the first time since its landmark sale in 1973.

Before opening the Downtown Gallery, Halpert had studied at the Art Students League, and later went on to support many artists with connections to the school, including Yasuo Kuniyoshi and William Zorach.

Rebecca Shaykin is an Associate Curator at the Jewish Museum. Since joining the Jewish Museum in 2010, she has worked on numerous exhibitions, including Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power; Masterpieces & Curiosities: Alfred Stieglitz’s The Steerage; Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist; and The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951. She also organized commissioned projects by the graphic designers Sagmeister & Walsh and the fashion collective threeASFOUR. Before her tenure at the Jewish Museum, Shaykin worked at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum and the Williams College Museum of Art. She received her BA in Art History from Oberlin College and MA from the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.

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