Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Girl With the Gallery (Biography)

In addition to being a writer, I'm also an artist. Last week I began contributing a new column to The New York Optimist. It's called, The Art Virgin, and will follow my journey into the art world, working closely with New York art aficionado/guru Bob Hogge (Monkdogz Urban Art). When I went into cahoots with Bob a month or so ago, he recommended that I read Lindsay Pollock's book, The Girl With the Gallery. The book chronicles the life of Edith Gregor Halpert.

You're probably wondering who the heck that is. Well, this woman was not only instrumental in saving American art in the early to mid-1900's, she was also surprisingly critical in establishing New York as the art capital of the world. During the depression and the two great wars, Halpert pressed on in her deep belief in the value of art. She was a creative tigress when it came to sales and marketing, which (as you can imagine) was not expected of women during those times. I'm sure many a frown came her way. Did she care? Hell no! She focused on what she believed in with an unflinching eye, and said to hell with stereotypes, perceptions, traditions, etc. In fact, if you read between the lines of Pollock's book, it strikes you that those concepts weren't even in Halpert's interesting head. She was a true American cultural hero. The real deal at a time with everyone needed a New Deal.

Pollock's book is filled with details about the business machinations of the art world at that time, many of which spill over into today. Apparently, Halpert kept meticulous records over the years, giving Pollock lots to work with in piecing her book together. If you know a thing or two about art, you'll come across many a name you recognize. You'll likely be surprised how instrumental Halpert was in developing the careers of many of her generation's greatest artists.

Halpert grew up in a not-so-great scenario. The family's need to penny pinch taught Halpert the value of money, great sales technique, creativity, and gumption. She took off to New York at age 16 and never looked back. As a teenager and young woman, she actually forged a professional career in the big city when the majority of women who worked (not many) where pinned down to specific types of non-professional jobs. By her mid-twenties, she was ready to break out on her own, and had the skill to open her own art gallery. The rest is history--history that you should know if you have any interest in art or New York.

Pollock's book may not be for everyone, but those who want to know more about how the art world works (and why) should most certainly pick this one up. Also, if you'd just like to read a n inspirational example of someone who had vision, integrity, smarts, creativity and heart, it's for you.

Edith Halpert is one of my new heroes. She definitely belongs on my list of honorary members of the Aberration Nation.


  1. fascinating information - it seems that a lot of insightful writing has been going on recently with "Seven Days In The Art World" and now this book -

    I think that there will be some big changes in the art world or they are going on already and this is just the tip of an ice cube that we are seeing emerge -

    very often when anything is looked at closely - there are changes that happen because of the examination of what is being looked at - that is just the way things go either on a grand scale or microscopically or I suppose on an energy - particle level as well -

  2. Thanks Walter,

    I've also read "Seven Days in The Art World", and loved it. It will be interesting to see how the art world evolves over the next ten years or so.

    Do you follow the blog, Art, Blah, Blah? It's a good one in terms of discussion around the changes that are happening.

    Next for me on the reading front, "I Sold Andy Warhol too Soon." I've been told that reading that one is like getting a super cheap Master's degree ...

  3. Penelope - I do my best not to follow much of anything - the most informative experience I had years ago was when
    "Interview Magazine" was first beginning - somehow I came upon their offices and showed my portfolio and the lady I was speaking with there asked me for a print of one of my images - when I began discussing price she said that they expected me to donate it - the same as all of these other famous photographers (and she went on to mention all of the top name photographers of that time period - somewhere around 1976) - that did not seem like anyway to do business as far as I was concerned - nor has my thinking changed one iota since - a good reason why perhaps I am still in business and there are tons of even famous people who were forced out of the business one way or other -

    let's go for the money!