Exhibition at David Nolan Gallery pays homage to four women art dealers

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Exhibition at David Nolan Gallery pays homage to four women art dealers
Rosalyn Drexler (b. 1926), Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health, 1967. Acrylic and paper collage on canvas 9 x 12 in (22.9 x 30.5 cm) Credit line: Courtesy the Artist and Garth Greenan Gallery.

NEW YORK, NY.- MAD WOMEN is a homage to four women art dealers who were very influential in New York City in the 1960s and who helped shape the contemporary art world as we know it today. Some of the most renowned and respected artists of the 20th century would have remained unknown to American audiences if not for these highly innovative gallerists who recognized the true value of their art in the 1950s and 1960s.

It was an admittedly difficult endeavor to single out Jill Kornblee, Martha Jackson, Eleanor Ward, and Eleanore Saidenberg from among the unusually rich and varied circle of women art dealers active in that period. A primary consideration in doing so was our desire to showcase the gallerists who had an extraordinary history of producing culturally significant exhibitions as well as exposing groundbreaking installations by some then relatively unknown artists, many of whom would go on to have deeply influential and illustrious careers with work that would have undeniable cultural and political resonance today.

MAD WOMEN features a selection of 26 of the artists these four gallerists championed during the 1960s, exhibiting them in both solo and group shows. Inspired by the galleries’ programs, we chose to install the artworks in dialogue with one another in order to highlight the rich aesthetic innovations of the period while also fostering a multi-level discourse that will encourage newly meaningful art historical connections.

In assembling the exhibition, when it was not possible to find specific artworks that had been shown at these galleries in the 1960s, we chose pieces dating back to that decade, finding exemplary works that would correspond to what the artists were making at the time they were associated with the gallerists’ programs. An exception is Hans Hofmann, who is represented by an exuberant painting from the late 1940s. He was Martha Jackson’s teacher from 1949, and encouraged her to become and art dealer and open her gallery.

We were able to locate a number of significant pieces specifically associated with these galleries in the 1960s, such as a vibrant blue painting by Billy Al Bengston that was included in the artist’s solo presentation at Martha Jackson Gallery in May 1962; a painting by Robert Indiana created as the basis for the poster announcing his solo exhibition at the Stable Gallery in 1962; a Louise Bourgeois latex sculpture featured in Louise Bourgeois: Recent Sculpture, which ran from January 7-30, 1964 at the Stable Gallery; a Ground Drawing by Alex Hay presented at the Kornblee Gallery on the occasion of the artist’s solo show in 1969; and a three-dimensional work by Paul Thek dedicated to Lyndon B. Johnson that has never been seen publicly since it was first exhibited at the Stable Gallery in 1967, on the occasion of Thek’s solo exhibition that opened that year. Slightly different is the case of Eleanore Saidenberg’s gallery, which showcased artists already established in the 1960s, with presentations that included work from earlier decades.

The ephemera featured in MAD WOMEN illustrate an inspirational aspect of the art dealer’s business model in the 1960s: Kornblee, Jackson and Saidenberg, notably collaborated with other gallery owners (men and women) based in New York City. For instance, Kornblee shared with Leo Castelli and Tibor de Nagy the exhibition Drawings: To Benefit the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts in December 1965; Eleanore Saidenberg spearheaded a majestic tribute to Picasso in 1962 in collaboration with eight New York galleries (Knoedler, Rosenberg, Duveen, Perls, Staempfli, Cordier-Warren, New Gallery, and Gerson) showing Picasso simultaneously in April-May;
Martha Jackson and Jill Kornblee mounted the op art exhibition Vibrations Eleven with Amel, Sidney Janis and Stephen Radich galleries “to make better known some of the younger American artists whose work is somewhat similar,” on view in January 1965.

Our focus on the historically vibrant cultural ecosystem along Madison Avenue originated from our wish to celebrate the current crop of innovative galleries, among which David Nolan Gallery, that have emerged or continue to thrive in many of the very same locations as their memorable predecessors.

Our research made us realize that many of the inherent challenges and rewards of sustaining an intellectually ambitious artist-centric program remain remarkably similar over time. Jackson, Kornblee, Saidenberg, and Ward each possessed that essential quality of a keen and prescient eye, working in tandem with an innovative and responsive approach to what can often be a volatile business. To survive art dealing in the 1960s, not unlike today, took stamina and an aesthetically driven sixth sense for the strategic evaluation of a rapidly evolving local and international scene. Whether with quiet resolve or sufficient self-confidence to buck popular trends, these four women had the force of character to support the audacity and genius of the artists they worked with. That Kornblee, Jackson, Ward, and Saidenberg were able to flourish in an entrenched androcentric society is both a testament to their brilliance and tenacity, and a source of true inspiration to all of us.

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