From the Horse’s Mouth: Leo Castelli

Leo Castelli opened a gallery in 1957 that promoted the work of artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Dan Flavin and Donald Judd—basically transforming the art world.

“I knew Pollack well, and can say that despite his rough edges, he was a highly sensitive and lovable man. IN the early fifties Ileana and I had a house in East Hampton, and as de Kooning was a good friend we were delighted to provide him with a space where he could work during the summer. He constructed a studio for himself where he could be alone, and he struggled and struggled and at the end of four long months he destroyed everything that he had done. Somehow though, I think they were very productive years for him. Both he and his wife, Elaine, were wonderful company, and when they were around a lot of artists would gather at our house: Ludwig Sander, a marvelous man who also did a Mondrainesque sort of abstract paintings; Franz Kline, a very poor driver who bought a Ferrari because he wanted one; and, of course, Pollack, who lived in the neighborhood. Pollack would come over in his Model T Ford (immortalized in a wonderful photograph by Has Namuth), jump out of the car without turning off the motor and storm into the house, perhaps to find de Kooning or just to make a nuisance of himself.”

“That same year I helped organize a show that came to be known as the 9th Street show, a celebration of Abstract Expressionism that centered around the work of de Kooning and Franz Kline. I decided to include Rauchenberg in that show, even though at the time the work seemed to have little to do with the Abstract Expressionist dogma. Perhaps it was an advance sign that I already saw beyond the Abstract Expressionists. For whatever reason, from then on I followed his career closely, and remember being overwhlemd by his show of ‘red paintings’ at Charlie Egan’s Gallery the Christmas of 1954.”

“Somehow the name Jasper Johns came up, and I told Bob [Rauchenberg] about the green painting I’d seen. “Jasper Johns? His studio is just below mine.” Jasper later came in to bring ice for the drinks, and I suggested going down to see what he was doing. It was uncharacteristic of me to interrupt my visit, and no doubt Bob was not too happy about it, but he was eager for me to see the work of the friend he admired so much, so we al went down. It was an extraordinary experience: incredibly mature paintings by a young man of twenty-seven, many of them done since 1955. They were masterpieces, an amazing array of images—alphabets, numerals, flags, targets—a treasure trove. To say that I was tremendously impressed is understating it. I was bowled over. Then and there I asked him to join the gallery.”

“The art scene today is a supermarket compared to the grocery type of operation it was when I first opened my gallery over twenty-five years ago. You can no longer keep your artists together by saying, imperiously, that you will help them surviv from month to month on a modest stipend while they finish the work. The artist of the eighties has grand ambitions and the dealer who fails to realize it will soon lose his artists to the enormous competition around him .”

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