U-M exhibition highlights Gertrude Kasle’s influence on Detroit’s contemporary art scene
The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) presents Exercising the Eye: The Gertrude Kasle Collection March 10–July 22, 2018, an exhibition highlighting the influential role Gertrude Kasle, founder of the Gertrude Kasle Gallery, played in Detroit’s contemporary art scene in the 1960s and ’70s.
Kasle’s guiding philosophy as a gallerist was to expose Detroit audiences to the kind of avant-garde art she experienced growing up in New York City.
“I really thought of the gallery as an educational institution,” said Kasle in a 1977 interview.
“Kasle helped bring this new idea—Abstract Expressionism—and make the case for it in Detroit,” said UMMA director Christina Olsen. “New ideas need an ecosystem to thrive in, and she helped develop that ecosystem in Detroit and the Midwest.”
Many of the works in the exhibition were gifted to UMMA as part of Kasle’s bequest, which also includes several loans from Kasle’s children.
Kasle was born in New York City in 1917 and died in Florida in 1916. After settling in Detroit in 1948, she focused on promoting contemporary art at the Detroit Institute of Art as a member and eventual vice president of its Friends of Modern Art group.
In 1962, Kasle partnered with Detroit businessman Frank Siden to establish a contemporary art gallery, but she soon sought a space of her own in which to assert an independent voice. In 1965, she opened the Gertrude Kasle Gallery in Detroit’s Fisher Building, operating the business for 11 years.
“Kasle brought prominent artists to Detroit, many of whom were at the peak of their popularity,” said Jennifer Friess, assistant curator of photography. “She was part of a moment that was open to these new artistic ideas, and she found an audience that sought out these artists.”
Women artists feature prominently as a testament to Kasle’s role as a female gallerist committed to advocating for art that broke with tradition. Artists represented in the show include Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Jane Hammond, Grace Hartigan, Michele Oka Doner, Morris Brose and Philip Guston.
“Exercising the Eye reflects the University of Michigan’s strategic commitment to supporting Detroit and exploring its remarkable history and impact,” Olsen said.
Exercising the Eye: The Gertrude Kasle Collection will be on view at UMMA March 10–July 22, 2018. Located at 525 S. State St. in Ann Arbor, UMMA is free and open to the public 11 a.m-5 p.m Tues.–Sat., and 12 p.m–5 p.m on Sun.
Lead support is provided by the U-M Office of the Provost, Michigan Medicine and U-M’s CEW Frances and Sydney Lewis Visiting Leaders Fund.