The Sidney Janis Gallery
Summary of The Sidney Janis Gallery
The Sidney Janis Gallery first opened its doors in 1948 and over the ensuing decades became a beacon for some of New York City's most avant-garde artists. Art collector, dealer and businessman Sidney Janis, along with his wife Harriet, swiftly established the gallery's reputation by curating exhibitions of Léger, Mondrian, the de Stijl artists, the Futurists and the Fauves. Beginning in 1952, Janis gave Jackson Pollock the first of three solo shows, further establishing the cultural dominance of Abstract Expressionism. Ten years later, the gallery put on its most famous exhibition, The New Realists. Throughout the gallery's existence, it ably and consistently measured the pulse of the New York art world in showcasing some of the finest and riskiest avant-garde art of the 20th century.
Sidney and Harriet
Sidney Janis and Harriet Grossman met in New York City in 1925 and were married that same year. The two were equally impassioned by their love of music and the visual arts (he was an accomplished ballroom dancer and she a writer/poet). During this time in New York, there were only a handful of art galleries that offered anything in the way of contemporary art (notably Alfred Stieglitz's Gallery 291), and the avant-garde remained mostly the sole intellectual property of Paris.
Not long after settling in New York, Sidney opened and ran M'Lord, a successful shirt company. As the business prospered, the Janis's began taking annual trips to Paris to visit museums, galleries, and eventually started building their own collection of fine art. On these trips they met the Modern greats Mondrian, Picasso, Léger and Brancusi, and by the early-1930s, the Janis's had begun acquiring an impressive collection of these artists' works, in addition to paintings by the Surrealists Rousseau, De Chirico and Dalí.
Sidney Janis at MoMA
In 1934 Sidney became of member of the Advisory Board at The Museum of Modern Art, along with Alfred Barr and Meyer Schapiro. Janis loaned the Museum 19 paintings from his private collection, which included a number of Mondrian's famous Compositions and some later Cubist paintings by Picasso.
Sidney was later appointed as Chairman of MoMA's Acquisitions Committee, and played an integral part in acquiring the loan of Picasso's Guernica, which entered the museum on loan in 1939. That same year, Sidney closed down his shirt company to devote himself entirely to the museum and to art writing.
Janis and Marcel Duchamp
In 1945, View magazine published a special issue devoted entirely to the work of Duchamp (for which the artist designed the cover), in which Sidney and Harriet provided one of the issue's main essays, Marcel Duchamp, Anti-Artist. (The essay was reprinted in Robert Motherwell's 1951 book, The Dada Painters and Poets.) In the essay they wrote that Duchamp's works "are scarcely recognizable as the products of creative activity: they are so unorthodox, and so far removed from patterns, centuries-old, of the material and conceptual substance of painting and sculpture."
Perhaps no other artist continually captured the Janis's imagination like Marcel Duchamp. As Duchamp revived Dada in the 1950s, Neo-Dada artists emerged, with their complex celebrations of the "readymade" and popular culture, and paved the way for Pop artists like Lichtenstein, Warhol and Oldenburg. The Janis's considered Duchamp to be the definitive 20th-century artist; the one who best represented the conflict and drama of living in the Modern era.
The Gallery Opens
In September 1948, the Sidney Janis Gallery opened its doors with an exhibition of Fernand Léger, which stayed up for a little over a year. In subsequent months, the Janis exhibited an impressive number of shows, including, Piet Mondrian (1949 and '51), Les Fauves ('50), Brancusi to Duchamp ('51), Early Léger ('51), Henri Rousseau ('51), French Masters ('53), and International Dada ('53). Given the Janis's earlier travels to Paris, their vast personal connections in New York, and their own private collection of Modern art, the caliber of art frequently on display at the Gallery was impressive.