Limelight is an exhibition about the now largely forgotten Limelight coffeehouse and photography gallery that operated in New York’s West Village from 1954-1961. Founded and run by Helen Gee, who was born and raised in Harlem, the Limelight was a popular meeting place for off-Broadway theater-goers, writers, photographers, and Beatniks. The modest gallery-
located at the back of the coffeehouse-was the only commercial photography gallery in the United States at the time. Over a seven year period, it presented solo exhibitions of work by Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, Eugene Atget, Brassai, Rudolph Burckhardt, Imogen Cunningham, Robert Doisneau, Elliott Erwitt, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Gordon Parks, Jack Smith, Edward Weston, Minor White, and others.
In the 1950s, the photography market was virtually nonexistent. Photographs sold, by and large, for between $25 and $60 each. Consequently, the Limelight relied almost exclusively on sales from the café to support itself. When Gee sold the Limelight in 1961, she did so at a loss. The new owners kept the café open for a short while, but closed the gallery immediately.
During the run of Limelight, Triple Candie will be serving coffee in the café for $0.25/cup. A mock-exhibition will occupy the gallery space. Titled The History of Photography, it is based loosely on an exhibition presented at the Limelight in 1959 that was comprised of images on loan from the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. Because the Eastman House did not want to lend original prints to the Limelight, the photographs on view were copies.