The artists that Martha Jackson championed during her brief career as a Manhattan gallerist have risen to the highest echelons of fame, even if her name has remained a footnote of postwar art history.
In the time Jackson was active between 1953 and 1969, she granted New York debut shows to Sam Francis, Louise Nevelson, and Karel Appel, among others, and exhibited painters like Grace Hartigan and Willem de Kooning when they were still emerging. “I wanted to prove that you could take younger artists and have it work out for the gallery,” Jackson told an interviewer months before her premature death in 1969. “I probably should have had more experience or the advice of a critic. I didn’t know any of those things.”
Despite her inexperience, Martha Jackson Gallery became a gateway that introduced European artists to America, and launched the careers of unknowns. An exhibition at Hollis Taggart gallery over 40 blocks south of her headquarters at 32 East 69th Street (an address now occupied by Hauser and Wirth) will celebrate the intuitive eye of this intrepid dealer.
Wild and Brilliant: The Martha Jackson Gallery and Post-War Art (18 November-30 December) includes over 20 works that were actually shown at her gallery or resembling those that were, and is the first exhibition devoted to Jackson in the city where she was active. Other shows commemorating Jackson were mounted in 1975 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in her native Buffalo in 1985—both institutions expressing gratitude for gifts they were bequeathed from her personal collection.
This time around, Jackson’s exhibition coincides with an exploration of women’s roles in shaping postwar art—as both artists and dealers. “When she opened her gallery Jackson received advice from Betty Parsons and Eleanor Saidenberg,” says the exhibition curator Jillian Russo, referring to women who opened New York galleries in the mid-1940s, with Saidenberg being a founding member of the Art Dealers Association of America. Peggy Guggenheim and her Art of This Century gallery have become the stuff of legend, but names of other gallerists such as Eleanor Ward (founder of the Stable Gallery), Ileana Sonnabend, Helen Serger, Virginia Dwan, Jill Kornblee, and Marie Norton Harriman are still lesser known.
“As the contribution of women artists during the postwar era continues to be re-evaluated, I hope that this interest will extend to the work of gallerists, curators, and art critics,” Russo says. “Martha Jackson… and many others were influential in shaping the trajectory of late twentieth-century art.”