The records of the Gertrude Kasle Gallery of Detroit measure 8.1 linear feet and date from 1949-1999, with the bulk of records dating from 1964-1983. The collection documents the establishment and operations of this contemporary American art gallery and consists of artists files, business and administrative files, exhibition files, photographic materials, and interviews and lectures in the form of sound recordings.
Scope and Content Note:
The records of the Gertrude Kasle Gallery of Detroit measure 8.1 linear feet and date from 1949-1999, with the bulk of the records dating from 1964-1983. The collection documents the establishment and operations of this contemporary American art gallery and consists of artists files, business and administrative files, exhibition files, photographic materials, and interviews and lectures in the form of sound recordings.
The bulk of the records consist of Artists' Files that document the professional and personal relationships Kasle fostered with the artists represented by the gallery, including sales and exhibitions. The files contain a wide variety of materials and the amount of documentation for each artist also varies. Typically the files contain personal and business correspondence, sales documentation, exhibition photographs, photographs of works of art, family photographs, photographs of the artist, exhibition announcements and catalogs, other printed materials, greeting cards, and other documents. Some of the artists well-represented in the files include Lee Bontecou, Wilhem De Kooning, Jim Dine, Helen Frankenthaler, Brenda Goodman, Robert Goodnaugh, John Goodyear, Adolph Gottlieb, Philip Guston, Grace Hartigan, Ray Johnson, Robert Motherwell, Robert Natkin, Lowell Nesbitt, Claes Oldenburg, Charles Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Julius Schmidt, Babe Shapiro, Michael Todd, and Jack Tworkov. Additional general information about exhibitions is found in Series 3, Exhibition Files and additional photographs are filed in Series 4, Photographic Material.
Gallery and personal business and administrative files house documents relating to the founding and incorporation of the gallery and general operations, as well as some of Gertrude Kasle personal business files. Also found in this series are files related to fine art prints and the gallery's business relationship with Universal Limited Art Editions.
Scattered exhibition files are found for a few of the gallery's exhibitions and also include general exhibition related files, such as clippings, announcements, guest lists, and schedules. Most of the information about the gallery's exhibitions is found in the Artists Files. Photographs and slides are found throughout the collection, particularly in the Artists Files, but Series 4, Photographic Materials houses an extensive collection of slides documenting art work by artists represented by the gallery. There is also an autographed photograph portrait of Lowell Nesbitt.
Sound recordings are of interviews and lectures. Interviews are with Tatyana Grosman, Lowell Nesbitt, Paul Jenkins, and Bill Tall. There are recorded lectures by Paul Jenkins and Jack Tworkov. The sound recordings are on both audio cassette reel to reel tapes. Transcripts are not available.
The collection is arranged into 5 series:
Series 1: Artists Files, 1949-1999 (Boxes 1-5, OV 11; 5.1 linear feet)
Series 2: Gallery and Personal Business and Administrative Files, 1961-1995 (Boxes 6-7, OV 12; 1.2 linear feet)
Series 3: Exhibition Files, 1963-1976 (Box 7; 7 folders)
Series 4: Photographic Materials, 1953-1985 (Boxes 7, 10; 18 folders)
Series 5: Sound Recordings, 1966-1971 (Boxes 7-9; 7 folders)
Gertrude Kasle was born in New York City on December 2, 1917, and began her life-long career in the art world very early, taking art classes in high school and Saturday classes at the Art Students League. She began her formal studies in art education at New York University (NYU) and later transfered to the University of Michigan. Kasle interrupted her studies during World War II to devote herself to family work while her husband served as a military chaplain. The family returned to Detroit in 1947 and she began classes at the Society of Arts and Crafts. After raising her three children, she enrolled in Wayne State University in 1955, completing her degree in 1962.
While a student in Detroit, Kasle was active in the Friends of Modern Art group at the Detroit Institute of Art, and became Vice President. In 1962, she was approached by Detroit businessman Franklin Siden to help him open a gallery where she would have a one-third partnership. During the first year of Siden Gallery's operations, Kasle introduced Detroit to the work of many notable contemporay American artists, such as Larry Rivers, Grace Hartigan, Robert Goodnough, and Robert Natkin.
Her tenure with the Siden Gallery was short-lived and by 1964 she left and began to contemplate her next move. Several of the artists she had represented at Siden Gallery encouraged her to open her own gallery. Local art critic Joy Hakanson Colby who worked for the Detroit News interviewed Kasle and claimed that Kasle was "looking for gallery space". Responding to the article, the Fischer Building offered Kasle a very attractive lease in the "New Center" area of downtown Detroit that would later become known as the city's gallery center, housing several prominent galleries.
With the help of her husband and son, she opened the doors of the Gertrude Kasle Gallery on April 10, 1965. The opening exhibition featured Larry Rivers, Grace Hartigan, Robert Goodnough, Irving Kreisberg, and Manousher Yektai. Kasle's goal was to introduce the city of Detroit to the foremost contemporary artists in the country, some already well-established such as Wilhelm De Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Philip Guston, Grace Hartigan, Robert Motherwell, Lowell Nesbitt, Claes Oldenburg, Charles Pollock, Larry Rivers, and Jack Tworkov, as well as others just becoming known, such as Jim Dine. Through group and one-man shows, the Gertrude Kasle Gallery represented contemporary painting, mixed media, and sculpture, focusing primarily on the Abstract Expressionist movement. The gallery also fostered many local Detroit artists, giving them their first shows, including Al Loving and Brenda Goodman.
During her earlier tenure with the Siden Gallery Kasle had worked with Tatyana Grosman of Universal Limited Art Editions which produced original prints of contemporary artists including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jim Dine. In her own gallery, Kasle continued her business relationship with Grosman and fine art print publishers, allowing the gallery access to many artists that were previously unattainable.
For eleven years the Gertrude Kasle Gallery operated as a thriving contemporary art gallery, forming the nucleus for the growing Detroit modern and avant garde art scene during the sixties and seventies. Although financially the gallery was not as successful as hoped, it provided a cultural forum for artists and Detroit art enthusiasts to convene, learn, and celebrate. In April, 1976 the gallery closed. When asked why she was closing the gallery, Gertrude Kasle said, "Because the need for a gallery like mine isn't as great as it was in the 1960's. Today the public respects and understands more about creative innovation in contemporary art." (Hakanson Colby, March, 1976) Although the gallery formally closed, Kasle continues to work as a art consultant and live in Detroit.
This historical note relies heavily on the essays written by Gertrude Kasle's son, Stephen available on the Gertrude Kasle Gallery website.
Also available at the Archives of American Art is an oral history interview with Gertrude Kasle conducted by Dennis Barrie on July 24, 1975.
The collection was donated to the Archives of American Art in 1976 and 1982 by Mrs. Gertrude Kasle. A third accession was donated by the Cincinnati Art Museum in 2002.
The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment.