It gives me great pleasure to open this season with a three-part exhibition entitled “Exploring 100 Years of Figurative Art”. This series will combine contemporary and 20th century artwork dating from 1910 to 2010.
Inspiration for Part I of this series comes from Edith Halpert, Director of the Downtown Gallery, whose career is well documented in Lindsay Pollock’s “The Girl with the Gallery – Edith Gregor Halpert and the Making of the Modern Art Market”.
At the age of 26, Halpert founded the Downtown Gallery in 1926 and became one of the most influential dealers of modern American art for over four decades. She fostered and aggressively promoted countless American artists including Jack Levine, Bernard Karfiol (pictured above), Alexander Brook, William and Marguerite Zorach, Stuart Davis, Jacob Lawrence and John Marin. Continually faced with personal and national obstacles, she creatively promoted and sold art through the Great Depression, WWII and the conservative 1950’s.
Unaware of her influence, I established my gallery using the Edith Halpert formula. I opened in a domestic setting that encourages a leisurely and comfortable environment for which to view works with her belief that everyone should have original works of art in their home. As Edith, I promote affordable artwork and offer payment plans for those wanting to stretch their budget for a piece of art they feel cannot live without.
Early in her career, Edith expanded her gallery to include American folk art. She would often showcase her contemporary artist’s work with these early period pieces to educate her patrons and diversify their collections. On a yearly basis since opening Figureworks in 2000, I have exhibited group or individual 20th century artwork to honor and reference historic influences on figurative art in today’s market. Though my influences were Edith’s contemporaries, the message is the same – each new generation of artists is influenced by their predecessors. Comparing their differences and similarities is of great interest to me and will remain a focus for Figureworks.
In this initial exhibition, Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery artists, who were heavily influenced by figurative art, will be honored and combined with Figureworks contemporary artists. Downtown Gallery artists include George Biddle, Alexander Brook, Arthur B. Davies, Bernard Karfiol, Jack Levine, Reuben Nakian, Mitchell Siporin, Abraham Walkowitz, and William Zorach. Figureworks artists include MacWillie Chambers, Matthew Greenway, Meridith McNeal, and Susan Newmark.
Covering 100 years of figurative work is very daunting and, as Figureworks is such an intimate space, a great deal of editing must be done to achieve a diverse overview. Armed with a vast collection of work from inventory to choose from, I will edit my series to reflect on influencial 20th century artists that compliment my fine stable of contemporary artists. As noted, Part I will address important American artists from the Edith Halpert collective. These artists, deriving inspiration from the figure, stylized and abstracted their work to challenge traditional views of fine art. Part II will address those artists who use the figure in more traditional and representational means to convey their message. Part III will explore how the figure has been used in commercial and decorative fields. These artists will include illustrators, designers, and craftsmen.
Figureworks is located at 168 N. 6th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY 11211, one block from the Bedford Avenue “L” train. The gallery is open to the public Friday, Saturday, Sunday from 1-6 PM and is dedicated to exhibiting contemporary and 20th century fine art of the human form.