Jerry Tallmer and Helen Gee (during renovations for Limelight).
The first exhibition at Limelight featured the work of Joseph Breitenbach (and was installed by Sid Grossman), May 1954.
Helen Gee retouching transparencies.
(In the late 1950s, Limelight was the busiest coffeehouse ...)
In the late 1950s, Limelight was the busiest coffeehouse in New York and the only photography gallery in the country. This is the story of Helen Gee's efforts to open Limelight and her fight to keep it afloat for seven years. The major figures in photography appear in this story - Edward Steichen, Robert Frank, W. Eugene Smith, Berenice Abbott, and others and so do the big events of the period: the opening of The Family of Man, the publication of The Americans. Gee has her own personal stories as well, raising her Asian American daughter alone, dealing with a landlord with underworld ties and bookies who did business in the hall of her apartment house, and coping with unwelcome advances, quixotic employees, and suicidal photographers.
Helen Gee found work painting roses on furniture and garbage cans, eventually gaining employment as a color transparency retoucher at the beginning of her career. This proved to be a lucrative career, and Gee's skills were in much demand at magazines and advertising agencies. Having become enamored by the art of photography after visiting an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Gee decided to open a gallery in Greenwich Village devoted to photographs in 1954.
At the time, photography was not as in great demand as it is today, and the gallery, which Gee named the Limelight, struggled to stay afloat. Nevertheless, it found some acceptance with various showings by such artists as Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, W. Eugene Smith, and Aaron Siskind, among other now-famous photographers. The Limelight had to shut its doors in 1961, it had just been too far ahead of its time to prove successful.
Gee then found work as a curator at museum exhibits, as an art consultant, and as a lecturer. From 1982 until 1992, Helen taught at the Parsons School of Design.
Gee decided to write about the gallery then, publishing “Limelight: A Memoir” in 1997. She was also the author of “Photography of the Fifties: An American Perspective” in 1980 and, with Sheila Ortiz Taylor “Imaginary Parents” which was published in 1996.
(In the late 1950s, Limelight was the busiest coffeehouse ...)1997
Helen fell in love with Yun Gee, a modernist painter from China. He was thirty and she was sixteen when they met, and this age difference and the fact that he was Chinese meant the two found no acceptance from their friends and family. Running away from home to be with Gee, she married him in 1942 and the couple had a daughter, Li-lan Gee. Unfortunately, the artist suffered from increasingly severe schizophrenia that eventually made him violent. Gee had to divorce him, taking her daughter with her. Soon after that she was married to Kevin Sullivan but the couple divorced too.