Gladys Barker Grauer
Gallery Aferro Artistic Director Evonne M. Davis often writes about the “importance of recognizing artists who were making socially engaged work before this kind of art-making had a label, let alone dedicated graduate programs.” In that respect, Gladys Barker Grauer’s significant and varied contributions as a culture worker — artist, educator, organizer, curator, originator, agitator, mentor — must be illuminated and honored because they inform our current moment (is another world possible?) and the curatorial fight against erasure in regards to both the hyperlocal and global art scene
Gladys Barker was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1923, and grew up on Chicago’s South Side. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to New York City, where she worked as a freelance artist, became involved in civil rights and political movements, and met and married Solomon Grauer. In 1951, they moved to Newark, NJ, to raise a family and continue their community and political involvement.
Her sociopolitical influence and support led her to run for the U.S. Senate as the Socialist Workers Party’s nominee in 1960, when women were still a rarity as the face of a political party. In 1972, Grauer fulfilled a long-time dream and opened the Aard Studio Gallery in Newark’s South Ward. Through her community-based art gallery, Grauer helped launch the careers and critical evaluation of numerous black and brown artists. Her gallery addressed the needs of artists of color by providing a forum for mutual support, professional networking, exhibition and selling of their art, and helped set the stage for the larger appreciation of the creativity of artists of color.
Those early steps at the Aard Studio Gallery led penultimately to the Newark Museum’s 1983 exhibition “Emerging and Established.” This exhibit pointed the way to the future of visual arts in Newark, as well as a higher standard of cultural literacy in New Jersey. Grauer’s commitment, support and promotion of the arts reached beyond the walls of gallery spaces and museums to engage the larger community as a whole. She was a founding member of Black Woman in Visual Perspective, New Jersey Chapter of the National Conference of Artists, and the Newark Arts Council, and served on the Boards of Theater of Universal Images, City Without Walls, and the Newark Arts Council. When not serving on a board or running her own art space, Grauer was mentoring young art students and teaching commercial art in the Essex County Vocational High School system in Newark.
Read the interview between Grauer and guest curator Adrienne Wheeler, conducted for the 2018 solo exhibit at Gallery Aferro, “Speaking Her Mind, Then and Now.”
Over the past 70 years, Grauer’s artwork has been exhibited locally, nationally and internationally — from the Newark Museum of Art to Dakar, Senegal. Since 2006, she has completed four murals in the Newark metropolitan area, including one at Arts High School and along Hawthorne Avenue in a tribute to Newark jazz clubs. Her life and work continues to inspire the next generation of artists and to express, through visual discord, her social, political and personal views. Her work is a part of many private collections, as well as in the permanent collections at the Newark Museum, Montclair Museum, Zimmerli Art Museum, Newark Public Library, Morris Museum, Noyes Museum, National Art Library of the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Library of the National Museum of American Art, New Jersey State Museum, Morgan State University, and Johnson & Johnson.
The Being Gladys documentary
In 2019, a local filmmaking collaboration was finally presented to the arts community of Newark and beyond in the form of a tribute documentary dedicated to the Gladys Barker Grauer called Being Gladys. Thanks to independent filmmakers David and Zelda Patterson, the creation of the visual homage to one of the most dynamic voices in late 20th-century and 21st-century New Jersey art has left generations with an engaging retelling of the life and spirit of this multifaceted pioneer.
Being Gladys chronicles the legacy of Grauer in a wide range of milestones that defined her life, including her early Chicago roots; running for the U.S. Senate as a member of the Socialist Workers Party; opening her own gallery, the Aard Studio, in 1971; her work as an art teacher at Essex County Vocational Tech; and her 2007 lawsuit to have two of her works of art, “Free Mumia Abu Jamal” and “Free Leonard Peltier,” reinstated in an exhibition in Morristown when a local prosecutor took issue with the works’ subject matter. She won and the works were reinstated.
The documentary also features commentary from local, national and international artists who spoke to Grauer’s influence on their work and careers. To learn more about the film and its premiere during the 2019 Women In Media-Newark Film Festival, read Whitney Strub’s detailed blog post, “Radical Art, Radical Politics, and Community-Based Filmmaking in Newark: Being Gladys (2019).” The small teaser trailer from the documentary below is just a sample of the film’s irrepressible honoree and a glimpse into her worldview of the artist’s work in a society uncertain about the importance of art.
Gallery Aferro as curatorial liaison for Gladys Barker Grauer
Gallery Aferro proudly serves as curatorial liaison for the estate of Gladys Barker Grauer to help facilitate research on Grauer’s life and works. For art collectors, curators, scholars, educators, students and enthusiasts, you can now inquire with the gallery staff about Grauer’s body of artworks, as well as access catalogued images and information on this site about her extensive collection of paintings, prints, textiles, and sculptures. More than five decades of artwork can be viewed, ranging from striking early prints dating from her radicalization in Chicago ca. 1940s to recent double-sided textile masterworks made in 2017.
Gallery Aferro is an artist-owned alternative arts space located in the heart of Newark, New Jersey’s downtown district. Founded in 2003, it is home to two major public exhibition spaces in a 20,000 sq. ft. building at 73 Market Street, offering exhibitions, events, and a studio residency program available all year-round.
1923 – 2019
The Star Ledger; September 11, 2019
Matriarch of Newark Arts; Mother, Friend
Gladys Barker Grauer departed this life peacefully at home on Sept. 5, 2019. She was born Gladys Frances Barker in Cincinnati on Aug. 15, 1923, to Maudie and Charles Barker and raised in Chicago during the Great Depression. She graduated from Englewood High School and attended the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1946, she moved to New York where she met and married Solomon Grauer. In 1951, they moved to Newark’s South Ward.
Gladys’s artwork has been exhibited locally, nationally and internationally and she is included in numerous art publications. Gladys is the mother of the mural movement in Newark, having completed five murals in Newark since 2006. “Being Gladys,” a documentary on her life, won best documentary at the 2019 Newark International Film Festival. Gladys leaves to cherish her memory children, Antoinette (Wayne), Edie, Eddie, and Leon (Dorothy); 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren and a host of relatives, fellow artists, former students, and friends.
Essex County Council; 2019
Everyone could use a Gladys Barker Grauer in life.
Principled and disciplined, unapologetic and fearless, Barker Grauer was a Newark artist with plenty to say on a canvas. She used her paintbrush to illustrate social and economic inequality, artistically wearing the garments of community organizer and political activist to protests against racism and oppression. With her talent and conviction, this pillar of Newark’s art community emboldened countless African-American women to pursue art careers as she captured city life with colorful strokes.
“Art is my life,” Barker Grauer once said in a 2016 interview. “It’s the way I express my feelings, my emotions, my anger, my joy.”
Those who knew her opened their hearts to her this past Saturday at the Newark Museum. They came to say goodbye and celebrate Barker Grauer, who touched many with a kind word and stimulating conversation, humor and straight-forward honesty.