Leo Castelli

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Leo Castelli (born September 4, 1907 in Trieste , Austria-Hungary , † August 21, 1999 in New York City ; actually Leo Castelli-Krauss ) was an American art dealer , art collector and gallery owner . Castelli was at times one of the most influential people in the international art market of the 20th century .


Early years in Europe

Leo Castelli was born as the son of the Hungarian-Jewish banker Ernest Krauss and the wealthy Italian heiress Bianca Castelli in Trieste, which at that time still belonged to Austria-Hungary . During the First World War , the Krauss-Castellis lived in Vienna , where Leo, who was raised in several languages ​​(he spoke English , French , Italian and Greek ), also learned perfect German . With the annexation of Trieste by the Italians in 1919, the Krauss-Castellis shortened their name to Castelli. Leo studied law in Milan and worked for insurance companies in Trieste and Bucharest . In 1932 he married Ileana Schapira , just eighteen , daughter of one of the richest men in Romania . In 1935 the Castellis moved to Paris , where Leo Castelli entered the banking business. In the cultural metropolis, the Castellis soon made contact with the Surrealists around Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí and began to collect their first works. In 1939 Castelli opened his first gallery together with his friend, the architect René Drouin on Place Vendôme (No. 17) .

new York

With the occupation of Paris by the Germans, Castelli's flourishing trade in pictures, furniture and art objects ended. In 1941 the Castelli family moved to New York. Leo Castelli began studying history at Columbia University . In 1943 he went to the US Army , where he was subordinate to the Intelligence Service . At the end of the war, Castelli received American citizenship . His father-in-law Michail Schapira got him a job in the textile industry , but Castelli was still interested in art and the art trade. At the beginning of the 1950s, Castelli began trading paintings intensively, thereby increasing his private collection . In 1951 he made a financial contribution to the Ninth Street Show in New York, which was to become an important exhibition for the Abstract Expressionists . In the 1950s Paris was replaced by New York as an art metropolis, and new artists flocked to the “ Big Apple ”. Castelli recognized this trend and demonstrated a keen sense for newcomers and worthwhile investments, while he turned his attention increasingly to young avant-garde artists, with whom he often kept friendly contacts. Castelli is quoted in an article in New Yorker magazine : “Anyone can discover an artist. The secret, however, lies in making the artist what he is and giving him meaning. In addition to a good eye, you also need an open ear ... "

Leo Castelli Gallery

At the suggestion of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg , Castelli opened his own gallery in his living room, which quickly became the interface and meeting point of the European and American art scene. The cultivated, cosmopolitan and linguistically gifted Castelli counted Americans like Jackson Pollock , Franz Kline or Cy Twombly as well as the Europeans Alberto Giacometti or Marcel Duchamp to his circle of friends, and thanks to his rich wife, he soon belonged to New York high society .

Leo Castelli included almost all modern art movements in his gallery catalog: Starting with early, still expressive works by Kandinsky , as well as the Surrealists, Abstract Expressionism, Informel and Neo-Dada , he also turned to Op Art , Pop Art to Hard Edge and Colourfield Painting too, featured minimalist and conceptual art and many more movements. In contrast to the established, rather conservative galleries, Castelli's interest lay in the artist's “originality” and so his sensational group exhibitions quickly made the rounds in the New York art world; By the end of the 50s at the latest, the Leo Castelli Gallery was the hip showroom of New York society. From the 1960s onwards, all of the major contemporary artists exhibited there: Pollock, Johns, Rauschenberg, Willem de Kooning , Frank Stella , Lee Bontecou , James Rosenquist , Roy Lichtenstein , Robert Morris , Donald Judd , Dan Flavin , Ron Davis , Jim Dine , Bruce Nauman , Ed Ruscha , Hanne Darboven , Salvatore Scarpitta , Richard Serra , Lawrence Weiner , Joseph Kosuth and Andy Warhol . Warhol is said to have harassed Castelli and his gallery owner Ivan Karp in the early 1960s until both finally agreed to look at or buy some of Warhol's early comic pictures.

Competition with Ileana Saturday, late years

In the early 1970s, Castelli moved his gallery to SoHo , which quickly turned the district into a cultural hub, but sales of the gallery stagnated during the 1970s and so Castelli joined gallery owners Mary Boone and Larry Gagosian in a larger showroom in 1981 Greene Street together. Nevertheless, numerous, especially younger artists, migrated to other gallery owners, including Ileana Sonnabend, Castelli's ex-wife (the marriage had been divorced in 1959). Although Ileana Sonnabend was still friends with Castelli in private, both fought fierce competition with each other; Ultimately, on Saturdays, galleries in Paris and New York covered the market for artistic shooting stars . Another heavy loss for Castelli was the departure of Claes Oldenburg , Dan Flavin, Richard Serra, Donald Judd and John Chamberlain , five major object artists and sculptors , to the Pace Gallery . Over the course of the year, some more discrepancies arose between the gallery owner and his artists: Castelli put Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein in the foreground and neglected the "offspring". With the death of Andy Warhol in 1987, Leo Castelli lost another essential representative of his gallery: The name Warhol was always closely linked to the Castelli Gallery; The savings and loan crisis in the USA at the end of the 1980s made matters worse. At the beginning of the 90s the Castelli Gallery only represented a few internationally known artists, including Johns, Lichtenstein and Stella, who were increasingly represented by other galleries. Finally, Julian Schnabel and David Salle left the gallery.

In 1990 Castelli initiated the Leo Award as an art prize , which is given every two years for special achievements in contemporary art . Leo Castelli, who was now in his third marriage to the art critic Barbara Bertozzi (his second wife Antoinette Fraissex du Bost, who headed Castelli Graphics , died in 1987), died on August 21, 1999 at the age of 91 after a brief serious illness. Castelli left a son and daughter.

The Leo Castelli Gallery is now located at 18 East 77th Street in New York City .


  • Calvin Tomkins, Philip Yenawine: Castelli and His Artists / Twenty-Five Years: A Catalog and Exhibition Marking the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Castelli Gallery , La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, 1982. ISBN 0-934324-03-4
  • Susan Brundage: Jasper Johns: 35 Years: Leo Castelli: 35 Years , Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1993. ISBN 0-8109-3508-2
  • Leo Castelli, Jasper Johns: Jasper Johns , Christian Brandstätter Verlag, 2000. ISBN 3-85447-767-8
  • Mary Lublin: American Galleries in the 20th Century. From Goldfinch to Castelli . In: American Art in the 20th Century. Painting and sculpture. 1913-1993, ed. Christos M. Jochimides u. Norman Rosenthal . Munich: Prestel 1993. pp. 171-178. ISBN 3-7913-1240-5

Web links

Individual references and sources

  1. Calvin Tomkins: An Eye for the New , The New Yorker, January 17, 2000, p. 54 [1]
  2. Stefana Sabin: Andy Warhol , Rowohlt, 1992, p. 42.