15 Minutes with a Price Database Power User: Rebecca Shaykin

In this series, we take 15 minutes to chat with some of the Artnet Price Database’s most dedicated users.

Rebecca Shaykin.

Art world insiders trust one tool to buy, sell, and research art: the Artnet Price Database. These users cross industries—from auction houses and galleries, to museums and government institutions—and represent the art world’s most important players. We’re taking 15 minutes to chat with some of the Artnet Price Database’s power users to get their take on the current state of the market and how they’re keeping up with the latest trends.

As an associate curator at the Jewish MuseumRebecca Shaykin most often works on shows about Jewish artists, collectors, culture, and heritage, bringing to life important stories through objects and artworks. Case in point: Her most recent project, “Edith Halpert and the Rise of American Art,” looks at the life and career of a pioneering art dealer who had been all but lost to history—until Rebecca revived Halpert’s fascinating legacy. Halpert’s roster of artists, which included Georgia O’KeeffeJacob Lawrence, and Stuart Davis, allowed the museum to showcase an impressive selection of Modern art, while also highlighting Halpert’s impact as a mid-century gallerist.

We sat down with Rebecca to talk about the exhibition (which runs through February of 2020), heard her reasons why she became a curator, and learned how she gains insight through searching the Price Database.

What did you concentrate on or study in school? How did that influence (or not influence) your work as a curator?

I went to college thinking I’d major in English or theater, maybe classics. But on my first day of classes at Oberlin, I sat in on an art history lecture. The lights went down, and the slides went up—the professor, William Hood, talked about Michelangelo and Robert Mapplethorpe, and the role of artists in society. It was stimulating, it was sexy. I knew right away, “Oh, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

The most important thing about curating an exhibition is understanding the story you want to tell. Once you know what that is—everything else will fall into place.

How do you find inspiration for shows? What does the process look like?

Inspiration can come from anywhere. It’s so important to keep looking at art, to see what my colleagues are doing—or not doing—in their exhibitions, and to find ways to respond to that in my own curatorial work. But it’s equally, crucially important to look beyond the art world. To read as much as possible, first and foremost, to go to theater and dance productions, to keep your eyes open. Museums that have previously focused on visual art are opening up the boundaries to fashion, music, design—all forms of cultural production. They inform one another and help us expand the possibilities of exhibition making.

Working at an identity-based institution like the Jewish Museum in some ways limits the scope of what I can work on. My prompt as a curator here is focused—the subject must be Jewish—but it’s also expansive. Jewish artists are just a starting point. We make exhibitions here about all manner of artists and cultural figures, from designers like Isaac Mizrahi to musicians and poets like Leonard Cohen.

Let’s talk about your current exhibition, “Edith Halpert and the Rise of American Art.” What might be unexpected for museum visitors is that it’s an exhibition about a gallerist, rather than an artist. How did you come up with the idea for the show, and how did the show come together?

I read Lindsay Pollock’s biography on Edith Halpert, The Girl with the Gallery, about 10 years ago. I was interning at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum at the time and was specifically on the hunt for stories about women in the art world. Then I started working at the Jewish Museum, and filed it away for later. Before long, I found myself working alongside Mason Klein on an exhibition about the visionary cosmetics entrepreneur and art collector Helena Rubinstein. “Beauty Is Power” opened in 2014, and it explored the “Madame’s” world, and her early interest in European modernism and African art.

That’s when I began to think back to Edith Halpert. Like Rubinstein, she had an incredible eye, and saw beauty where others hadn’t thought to look. In Halpert’s case, that meant American Modernism, African American art, and folk art. Both were Jewish emigres who had an extraordinary cultural impact here in America, but then—like so many women—were forgotten over time.

Convincing my colleagues that Halpert should be our next Rubinstein, so to speak, was a relatively easy sell. Even though her name was all but unknown, her artists were superstars: Stuart Davis, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, Ben ShahnCharles Sheeler. It’s not every day that we get to work with this canonical group of Modernists at the Jewish Museum. And the folk art, too—the weathervanes and “naïve” paintings—these are beloved classics we knew our audience would love.

Edith Halpert at the Downtown Gallery, surrounded by some of her artists, in a photograph for Life magazine in 1952. Photograph © Estate of Louis Faurer. Courtesy of the Jewish Museum.

In the same way that figures like Edith Halpert and Hilma af Klint are finally getting their due for the work they did, are there any other art world figures that have yet to be honored for their work? Put simply, who is the next Edith Halpert?

My goodness—too many to count, and if I told you here, I’d be out of a job tomorrow! But I will say this: I find it incredibly encouraging that so many curators, and big institutions, are now willing to take risks and dive deep into these forgotten figures. The Hilma af Klint show was a perfect example of this—simply breathtaking work and incredibly inspiring, not just to see a woman taking up space in that rotunda—but a woman who had envisioned her art would be shown in a spiral temple, long before Frank Lloyd Wright had even conceived of the Guggenheim. Still gives me chills, just thinking about it.

Another exhibition I’m really looking forward to, in a similar vein, is Thomas Lax’s upcoming show on Just Above Midtown, slated to open at MoMA in 2022. That will delve into the legacy of Linda Goode Bryant, who supported African-American artists and artists of color at her New York City art gallery-laboratory between 1974 and 1986. It’s bound to be another major contribution to the history of under-recognized, canon-expanding women leaders.

What is the most important thing to think about when putting together a museum show?

The most important thing about curating an exhibition is understanding the story you want to tell. Once you know what that is—everything else will fall into place.

Last thing you searched for in the Price Database?

I can’t say for sure what the very last artist I searched for was, but I do know the Price Database was an invaluable resource during the research phase on the Edith Halpert project. I must have run searches on every artist included in the exhibition, and then some, looking for long-lost artworks with Downtown Gallery provenance!

The Price Database is the art market research tool trusted by appraisers and aspiring collectors alike. To learn more and to choose from our range of subscription options, click here.

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