ArtCentric

Miami Book Clubs Turn Heads…To Art

I love getting together with people to talk about books. My daughter and I started a mother-daughter book club when she was in fourth grade, and it lasted until she graduated from high school. Now I am in another terrific book club with very smart women who love to read. We have such lively and interesting discussions.

Sometimes the books we choose are connected to the visual arts, such as The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. It is a novel recounting the story of an imagined writer who lived in Mexico for a time and got to know Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo very well. It also provides frightening details about the McCarthy era in American politics. This time period was not, shall we say, a golden era for journalism. One of my favorite quotes from the book: “Those news men could not make a thing true just by saying so. It’s only living makes a life.”

Now I’m hoping to attend the Miami Art Museum book club at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Avenue in Coral Gables, on this Tuesday, January 25, at 6:30 p.m. (To register for this book club, which meets every other month to discuss a wide range of books dealing with the visual arts in a variety of ways, contact education@miamiartmuseum.org or call 305-375-4073.)

The book under discussion this time is absolutely fascinating. I learned so much from it! The book is The Girl with the Gallery: Edith Gregor Halpert and the Making of the Modern Art Market by Lindsay Pollock (Public Affairs, 2006). I reviewed it for The Miami Herald in 2006 as part of my annual holiday art book suggestions for gifts. Here’s what I wrote then:

The Girl with the Gallery: Edith Gregor Halpert and the Making of the Modern Art Market by Lindsay Pollock rescues the sassy, savvy art dealings of Edith Gregor Halpert from the mists of time. Alfred Stieglitz’s early 20th Century contribution to American awareness of European Modernists like Matisse is legendary. But few knew much, if anything at all, about contributions to American art made by the younger Halpert.

Pollock’s book came about after she read Halpert’s archives at the Smithsonian and Diane Tepfer’s dissertation about Halpert’s innovative Downtown Gallery, which the stylish Russian immigrant opened in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1926. Unlike Stieglitz, Halpert wanted art to be affordable to a large audience. She had a prescient eye for the artists of the day, especially for Stuart Davis, Charles Sheeler, and Jacob Lawrence.

She was passionately devoted to promoting and selling their work so that they could keep making art. She brought business acumen to her creative skills for nurturing a developing American art scene. She worked hard to get her artists museum sales and shows, at a time when museums weren’t that interested in American artists.

Her style drew wealthy collectors to her Downtown Gallery, located far from the uptown galleries that sold costlier Eurpean art. One was Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, to whom she introduced folk art.

American artists and art consumed Halpert’s life. Her prime dealings were in the 1930s and 1940s, sustaining art sales in the lean times of the Depression and World War II. But her skills were finite; she didn’t forsee the success of Abstract Expressionism, and she thought Andy Warhol was vulgar. Plans to donate Halpert’s art collection to a museum went awry.

Ailing and apart from the latest directions in art, she ran her gallery till dying in 1970. In 1973, her collection was sold at auction for over $3 million. Pollock reports that Halpert’s collection could fetch over $100 million today–an artful irony, since in the 1930s she thought she might have to close up shop.

This book is a highly readable, bittersweet rediscovery of an art dealer who made a difference.

IF YOU READ ARTCENTRIC BOOKS: I would love it if readers of my blog post comments with suggestions of books they have read and want to recommend.

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