Newsletter editor Lily here.
January 1st launched the start of my Winging It 2020 year, where I’m tackling a different challenge per month in order to enrich my life in different ways I think are important. In January, I’m visiting 10 museums in New York for a variety of reasons, including enjoying some more intellectual pursuits, seeing more of what this city has to offer, and just expanding my knowledge.
My mom came to the city for New Year’s, and in true mom fashion, after she heard about this month’s challenge, she proceeded to buy tickets to three museums. Last night we went to the Jewish Museum located on the Upper East Side, and whew, one exhibit in particular made every part of that visit 100% worth it.
The second floor of the museum currently houses a magnificently curated collection all about Edith Halpert (also sometimes credited as Edith Gregor Halpert). Never heard of her? You’re not alone; the exhibit introductory note tells you that’s exactly why something like this has to exist. Edith Halpert was one of the most influential people in the history of American art. In the 1920s, she founded a gallery (no easy feat for a female Jewish immigrant at the time) where she championed American artists (she said we didn’t have to compete with Europeans), revolutionized the world of art marketing, brought forth the idea of art being for the masses and not just rich people, and was a true champion of diversity and inclusion in the industry. She’s considered the person behind the scenes who popularized American folk art worldwide and was the driving force behind many of our country’s most treasured contemporary art institutions. She was also the first mainstream art dealer in Manhattan to represent a Black artist and pissed off more than a few conservative politicians over the decades with her radical art decisions.
It’s always bittersweet seeing an exhibit like this. On the one hand, it’s energizing to learn about a woman who made so much impact at a time when women were told they had such strict gender norms to follow. And on the other hand, all of her work and progress was almost lost to time. Save for this exhibit and two books about her (one of which just came out in November and was written by the same curator of the exhibit, and I’ve already bought both), there’s not much on her contributions. I just think of how many people from marginalized backgrounds like Edith Halpert have made our world what it is today and how their work isn’t able to be remembered or cherished.
If I learn nothing else in this month of museum exploring, I’m glad I got to read all about Halpert and have an appreciation for what she did; it’s nothing short of mesmerizing.
We’re only two and a half days into the new decade, and if you turn on the news, it feels like our world is back to its bleak self. But these trips to museums and finding about about people like Edith Halpert are a reminder that there are bright spots.
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