Gee, Helen (Charlotte) 1919-2004

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GEE, Helen (Charlotte) 1919-2004

OBITUARY NOTICE— See index for CA sketch: Born April 29, 1919, in Jersey City, NJ; died October 10, 2004, in New York, NY. Business owner, consultant, curator, and author. Gee is best remembered as the former owner of Limelight, the first gallery in the United States that was devoted to the art of photography. Her exposure to great artists began early when she met and 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. Unfortunately, the artist suffered from increasingly severe schizophrenia that eventually made him violent. Gee had to divorce him, taking her daughter with her. The young single mother found work painting roses on furniture and garbage cans, eventually gaining employment as a color transparency retoucher. 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 arts consultant, and as a lecturer. From 1982 until 1992, she taught at the Parsons School of Design. Despite its eventual failure as a business, the Limelight would be remembered for decades by the photography community, especially in the 1990s when the art form finally came into wide acceptance. 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 (1980) and, with Sheila Ortiz Taylor, Imaginary Parents (1996).



Los Angeles Times, October 14, 2004, p. B11.

New York Times, October 13, 2004, p. A25.