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Gertrude Kasle Exhibition Highlights Detroit Gallery’s Influence

'Exercising the Eye' On View March 10

UMMA presents Exercising the Eye: The Gertrude Kasle Collection, 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,” says 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. 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.

William Tarr, Study for 'Gates of the Six Million,' ca. 1980, bronze. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Bequest of Gertrude Kasle, 2016/2.113In 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,” says Jennifer M. 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.

After her husband Leonard Kasle retired, she moved to Sarasota, Florida, in 1992. Kasle passed away in June 2016.

"Exercising the Eye reflects the University of Michigan's strategic commitment to supporting Detroit and exploring its remarkable history and impact,” says Olsen.

Exercising the Eye is on view from March 10 to July 22, 2018.

Exhibition Related Programs

SMTD@UMMA Performance
Exercising the Ear: Music and Conversation with Augusta Read Thomas – Wednesday, March 14

Family Art Studio: Mixed Media – Saturday, April 7

Building Contemporaries: Art and Economies in Detroit – Friday, April 20

In Conversation
Gertrude's Eye: An Intimate Look at the Gertrude Kasle Collection with Exhibition Curator Jennifer Friess – Sunday, July 8

Gallery Talks & Tours
Sundays at 2 p.m.: March 25, April 22, May 13, June 10, July 1, July 22