Gladys Barker Grauer

Gladys Barker Grauer in her home and in her element. Photo by Colleen Gutwein.
Gladys Barker Grauer in her home and in her element. Photo by Colleen Gutwein, 2014.

About Gladys Barker Grauer, 1923-2019

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.

Grauer sharing her textile art
Gladys Barker Grauer sharing details about her textile art. Photo credit: Colleen Gutwein, 2014.

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.”

When looking at my work, what the viewer sees and feels is important, not what the viewer thinks I am saying.” 

— Gladys Barker Grauer

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.

In addition to her artwork included in permanent collections at museums, libraries, private institutions, universities and more, Grauer has exhibited in countless solo and private shows throughout her multi-decade career. Here is a partial list of select exhibitions that has included Grauer’s work over the years:

Selected Solo Exhibitions

  • Gallery Aferro, Newark, NJ
  • William Carlos Williams Center, Paterson, NJ
  • Courtney Gallery, Jersey City, NJ
  • Paul Robeson Galleries, Rutgers University, Newark, NJ
  • 1978 Gallery, Maplewood, NJ

Selected Group Exhibitions

  • Morris Museum, Morristown, NJ
  • Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
  • Noyes Museum of Art, Hammonton, NJ
  • City Without Walls, Newark, NJ
  • Johnson & Johnson, Newark, NJ
  • Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art, Newark, NJ
  • Bell Labs, Murray Hill, NJ
  • Passaic County Community College, Paterson, NJ
  • Douglass College, New Brunswick, NJ
  • Trenton City Museum, Trenton, NJ
  • The Clocktower, New York City
  • Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City
  • African American Museum of Dallas, Dallas, TX
  • National Gallery of Art, Dakar, Senegal
  • Iandor Fine Art, Newark, NJ
  • Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD
  • Art In The Atrium, Morristown, NJ
  • Cape May Center for Community Art, Cape May, NJ
  • Mason Gross School of the Arts, New Brunswick, NJ
  • William Patterson University Galleries, Wayne, NJ
  • Paul Robeson Galleries, Express Newark, Newark, NJ
  • Newark Public Library, Newark, NJ

Artwork from this Collection for sale

Below you’ll find several examples of Gladys Barker Grauer’s artworks we hold.

Native American Woman Warrior, woven plastic and acrylic, 15×23.5, 2017
Self Portrait, gouache resist, 26×20, 1972
Untraveled Road, woven plastic, 55×23.5, 2005
Sweet Thing (from 4 Women series)
Sweet Thing (from 4 Women series), woven plastic and acrylic, 55×26, 2013
 Killed by Law Enforcement, woven plastic and acrylic, 64.5×27.5, 2013

Gallery Aferro as curatorial liaison for Gladys Barker Grauer

Gallery Aferro proudly serves as liaison for the estate of Gladys Barker Grauer to help facilitate all research, purchases and exhibition services for Grauer’s art catalog. 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 about her extensive collection of paintings, prints, textiles, and sculptures we now steward. More than five decades of artwork are held at the gallery, ranging from striking early prints dating from her radicalization in Chicago ca. 1940s to recent double-sided textile masterworks made in 2017.

To learn more about this curatorial relationship and how to review and purchase works by Gladys Barker Grauer, please contact Gallery Manager Candace Nicholson at cnicholson@aferro.org


All images provided by Colleen Gutwein. Gutwein is a digital and analog photographer from the Northeast United States. She works predominantly in documentary and portraiture styles. Her days are currently filled working on The Newark Artists Photo Documentary Project. This multi-year endeavor documents established and emerging visual artists in the City of Newark, creating an archive of their contribution to the dynamic arts and cultural scene that has defined Newark’s artistic community for the past century.