The development of 20th-century American art was profoundly affected by the presence of women, especially after WW II. Although practicing art in any way was a matter of privilege for anybody, a handful of people devoted a big portion of their lives to it, and one of them is late art collector and gallerist, Martha Jackson.
She was fierce in pushing the boundaries of gallery representation in American society that was quite conservative at the time. By promoting the works of women, people of color, and burgeoning artists, Jackson created a space of progressive exhibition politics that was ahead of its time.
Now, the deeds of this important figure who had the audacity to push forward what could have been a risk for her business will be closely examined with the upcoming exhibition Wild and Brilliant: The Martha Jackson Gallery and Post-War Art organized by the influential Hollis Taggart Gallery.
This renoned gallerist was born in Buffalo, New York. She married attorney David Jackson in 1940, and they moved to Baltimore during the war. There she studied art history at John Hopkins University and the Baltimore Museum of Art, and after returning to Buffalo, New York, Jackson was appointed to the advisory council of the Albright Art Gallery (now the Albright-Knox Art Gallery). In 1949, she got divorced, moved to New York City, and became the student and friend of the famous artist Hans Hofmann, who empowered her to open a gallery.
In 1953, the Martha Jackson Gallery opened, and Jackson quickly gained a reputation for having an exceptional eye and an interest in experimental and international perspectives. She managed to form a unique exhibition program that moved away from the national and stylistic constraints typical for the art world of the early post-war period.
Jackson promoted artists from around the world, hosted New York debuts of artists such as Karel Appel, Louise Nevelson, Alfred Jensen, Sam Francis, and Bob Thompson. The Martha Jackson Gallery had a seminal role in championing Abstract Expressionism by exhibiting the work of Willem de Kooning, Norman Bluhm, Michael Goldberg, and Adolph Gottlieb, to mention a few.
This influential gallerist was the first to feature the work of the Japanese post-war artist collective Gutai, in the US, and also one of the first to represent women including Alma Thomas (the first African American woman who had a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York), Lee Krasner, Barbara Hepworth, Marisol (Escobar), and Grace Hartigan.
The Martha Jackson Gallery hosted one of the earliest proto-Pop exhibitions, New Forms — New Media, that showcased examples of both historic and contemporary artworks in the Dadaist tradition; presented the works of Julian Stanczak in 1964 that caused the creation of the term Op Art. The gallery also run Red Parrot Films, a production company that made documentaries on art and artists; and had a leading position in the publishing of artist prints, and ephemera. Jackson wrote in her autobiography:
My basic objective for the gallery was to create a place where artists of similar vitality and creativeness from diverse countries and working in a diversity of personal idioms could be brought together.
After Martha Jackson passed away in 1969, David Anderson, her son, donated her collection to the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., who honored her prolific activity with exhibitions in 1975 and 1985. Wild and Brilliant is the first major exhibition devoted to Martha Jackson’s legacy in New York City.
For the occasion, art historian and former Director of Exhibitions at Hollis Taggart, Jillian Russo, selected over twenty works by the artists, that Hollis Taggart has worked with or exhibited before such as Sam Francis, Grace Hartigan, Norman Bluhm, Hans Hofmann, and Sven Lukin, among others.
The works gathered for Wild and Brilliant that were initially displayed at exhibitions at the Martha Jackson Gallery include Grace Hartigan’s Parson Brown, Sven Lukin’s Broken Heart, Open Form (both from 1962; both displayed in solo shows at Martha Jackson that same year), and John Hultberg’s Cloud Drama (from 1962; displayed at Martha Jackson in 1964). Wild and Brilliant will also include archival materials, such as letters, photographs, and exhibition catalogs drawn from the Martha Jackson Gallery Archives at the University at Buffalo Anderson Gallery.
Ten years after the Martha Jackson Gallery stopped operating, Hollis Taggart Gallery was founded on similar premises. Ever since it is devoted to American art movements from the Hudson River School to American Modernism and the Post-War and Contemporary era. The gallery owner, Hollis Taggart himself explained the importance of the upcoming exhibition:
We’re thrilled to continue this with Wild and Brilliant, which illuminates the contributions of a trailblazing female gallerist, who, despite her seminal role in shaping art history, remains less well-known than her male contemporaries.
An illustrated catalog published on the occasion of Wild and Brilliant will contextualize all the aspects of Jackson’s agenda and her continued support of the arts.
The exhibition Wild and Brilliant: The Martha Jackson Gallery and Post-War Art will be on view at Hollis Taggart from November 18th to December 30th, 2021.
Featured image: Alfred Jensen - Tun, 1959. Oil on canvas, 46 x 40 inches (116.8 x 101.6 cm. All images courtesy of Hollis Taggart gallery.