Edith Halpert and the Rise of American Art featured approximately 100 works of American modern and folk art that passed through Halpert’s Downtown Gallery. Highlights from Halpert’s acclaimed personal collection, reassembled for the first time since its landmark sale in 1973, was on view.
Edith Gregoryevna Fivoosiovitch (1900–1970) was born to a Jewish family in Odessa, Russia (now Ukraine). In 1917, she met the American painter Samuel Halpert through the People’s Art Guild, and they married the following year. Halpert was the first significant female gallerist in the United States, propelling American art to the fore at a time when the European avant-garde still enthralled the world.
In 1926, Halpert opened the Downtown Gallery in New York City, 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 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 has no prejudice for any one school. Its selection is driven by quality–by what is enduring–not by what is in vogue.”
Halpert served as As advisor for the WPA Federal Art Project. This gave Halpert access to many non-New York-based artists, who she brought to her gallery. For example in 1941, Halpert had an exhibit that included 41 black artists. This was historical as a black artist had never been represented by a New York Gallery. The Downtown Gallery relocated one last time to the Ritz Tower Concourse at 465 Park Avenue in 1965.