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Martha Jackson and The Martha Jackson Collection

Until she opened her own gallery in the fall of 1953, Buffalo native Martha Jackson aspired to be a practicing artist. Eventually she realized that her own talents lay more in the recognition and promotion of others’ artistic achievements, and that she could be more influential as a dealer. The prospect of owning a gallery appealed to her for a number of reasons: as a business proposition, as a way to help fellow artists, and as a way for her to live with art.

The Martha Jackson Gallery patronized mainly American art during its inaugural year, but by its second season, following a trip Jackson took to Europe, its roster became more international. Between 1953 and 1969, Jackson gave such noteworthy individuals as Karel Appel, Sam Francis, Barbara Hepworth, William Scott, Billy Al Bengston, Paul Emile Borduas, Paul Jenkins, Alfred Jensen, Lester Johnson, Morris Louis, Marino Marini, Louise Nevelson, Antoni Tàpies, and Bob Thompson their New York debuts.

Jackson preferred long-term relationships with her artists. If she conceded a business philosophy, it was decidedly pro-artist: an equitable model designed to benefit both parties. Contracts were generally pro forma, and on occasion she would exhibit an artist, or a group of artists, if the opportunity might bring greater recognition to the gallery. Her early sponsorship of the Gutai group, in 1956 and 1958, is a case in point, as is her subsequent collaborations with Allan Kaprow on New Forms—New Media I & II, 1960, and Environments—Situations—Spaces, 1961.

Beginning in 1944, when she accepted Albright Art Gallery Director Andrew C. Ritchie’s invitation to join the museum’s Members’ Advisory Council, Jackson maintained a cordial and productive relationship with the museum. Over the years, notable paintings and sculptures by Francis, Adolph Gottlieb, Jenkins, Jensen, Alfred Leslie, Nevelson, Ben Nicholson, Larry Rivers, David Smith, and many others entered the Collection, in no small measure due to her perseverance. To review the list of works she brokered is to realize that Jackson tirelessly negotiated on the Albright-Knox’s behalf by making sure that its primary patrons, as well as its directors, were given first dibs on the best work, and by offering them significant discounts whenever possible. The museum obviously represented a bright light in her history, because she was committed to enhancing its Collection and reputation.

At the time of her death, Jackson’s own collection of postwar art had grown substantially. Most dealers are natural-born collectors who make a point of holding on to some of the best work for themselves. In 1974, David and Becky Anderson—Jackson’s son and daughter-in-law—donated eleven paintings, ten sculptures, and twenty-three works on paper (totaling forty-four works by forty artists) from Jackson’s collection to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery with the designation “The Martha Jackson Collection at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.” Many of the chosen artworks were personal gifts from artists Jackson had known, represented, and befriended. 

Related Exhibition

The Long Curve:
150 Years of Visionary Collecting at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery

November 4, 2011–March 4, 2012