Alice Denney (b. 1922, Western Pennsylvania) intended to study medicine at Duke University, and later transferred to Drexel University where she completed a masters degree in nutrition. It was at Drexel where she began her interest and studies in the fine arts. Her studies would continue throughout her husband’s graduate studies after World War II, first at the Boston Museum of Art, and later more informally gallery-hoping and visiting the Cedar Bar in New York. After relocating to Washington, DC in 1950, it would be five years before she rekindled her education in the fine arts.

Encouraged by her professor, Ben L. Summerford, to stop painting, Alice instead formed the Jefferson Place Gallery as a cooperative galley supporting local artists working in “contemporary idioms.” With the buzz and interest the gallery generated, Denney left in 1961 to plan and open the Washington Gallery of Modern Art in 1962, and would serve as the museum’s assistant director under Adelyn Breeskin (formerly of the Baltimore Museum of Art.) As Assistant Director, she helped secure a memorial retrospective of the work of Franz Kline, and curated The Popular Image, one of the first museum exhibitions related to Pop Art and Happenings. She left the position in 1963 to become the Vice Commissioner of the American Pavilion, under Alan Solomon, at the 1964 Venice Biennale.

Denney would later go on to found the Private Arts Foundation, raising money for select events related to performance art, avant garde dance, and experimental theater. Eventually, her experiences would culminate into founding the Washington Project for the Arts in 1975.

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on LinkedIn
Alice Denney, 1959
Photo from Washington Star, used by permission DC Public Library [ #124 ]

connected archival press clips

D.C. Gets a New Kind of Gallery
D.C. Gets a New Kind of Gallery
October 13, 1957
The Washington Post
The plan behind the gallery is new for Washington, although it has been tried successfully in New York: the gallery is owned and run cooperatively by the participating group of 10 artists, who have banded together because they feel that they represent a common interest and direction in their painting and sculpture.
Nesta Dorrance and the Jefferson Place Gallery
Nesta Dorrance and the Jefferson Place Gallery
September 21, 1969
The Washington Post
Sometimes an artist’s only customer during an entire show would be Alice Denney herself. She gleefully concedes that much of her own strong collection came from those shows that wouldn’t sell. In 1961, when the members decided to disband their non-profit cooperative, Alice went on to involve herself in other local art events. She helped […]
D.C. Gets a New Kind of Gallery
D.C. Gets a New Kind of Gallery
October 13, 1957
The Washington Post
The event of the past week in Washington art circles was the opening of the new Jefferson Place Gallery at 1216 Connecticut Ave NW, just above M St.
D.C. Gets a New Kind of Gallery
D.C. Gets a New Kind of Gallery
October 13, 1957
The Washington Post
More than half of the artists in the group teach, or have taught, at American University, and they represent the most avante-garde group working in Washington today. All of the painters are abstract, and all are very competent.