A biography of Leo Castelli mistakes the outward charm for the man
Leo and His Circle:
The Life of Leo Castelli
by Annie Cohen-Solal
$30.00 List Price
In 1950, few Americans bought modern art. Fewer still bought modern American art. The rags-to-riches story of the next fifty years, when New York transformed itself into the hothouse of the art world, is well known. Usually, the story centers on art and artists. However, powerful dealers also played a significant, if less examined, part. Two in particular, Sidney Janis (1896–1989) and Leo Castelli (1907–1999), are now emblematic figures from those glory years. They had a telling touch. Something more interesting, that is, than a Midas touch.
Janis was the pioneering market maker of the period. His gallery opened in 1948, when New York's galleries mainly exhibited safe European art. Cash was still short, and the memory of the war and the Depression vivid. But New York was recovering its animal spirits, well before a prostrate Europe would, and the Museum of Modern Art was promoting the world's best collection of European modernism. Janis's first step was to develop a market for lesser-known European modernists, notably Piet Mondrian. But he soon took a more radical step. In a 1950 exhibit called "Young U.S. and French Painters," he juxtaposed contemporary French and American modernists: de Kooning and Dubuffet, Pollock and Lanskoy, and so on. The subtext was polemical. The Americans were just as good as, maybe better than, the French.
There was a moneyed gadabout, and sometime assistant, who helped Janis develop the idea of juxtaposing American and European art. His name was Leo Castelli. Everyone at the time thought Castelli would open his own gallery, and he finally did