Leo Castelli was an art dealer who played an extraordinary role in shaping Contemporary American Art and fostering international acceptance of painters like Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Stella. He was born Leo Krausz, in Trieste in 1907, the second of three children of a prominent Hungarian banker and an Italian merchant heiress, both of whom were Jewish. The family took his mother’s maiden name in 1934, when the Fascist government banned non-Italianate patronymics.
May 14, 1969 - Interview with Leo Castelli - Conducted by Paul Cummings
LEO CASTELLI: I was born in a rather provincial city, Trieste, which at the time of my birth still belonged to Austria. At that time, it was not as sleepy and provincial as it is now; because it was the principal port of the mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was quite a busy, cosmopolitan port. As to my family background, my father--when I was very young--already had a pretty important position in a bank there. It was an Austrian bank that had branches all over in the most important cities of the Empire. I think he had some kind of managerial position. I think he had that because we lived in quite comfortable circumstances. I was about four when we moved to a very nice house with a garden, which he bought; so he must have had the means to buy a little house and garden and so on. We are a family of three. I have a sister older than I am and a younger brother. They are both, by the way, here in the United States. I went happily to school for a couple of years. Then the war broke out. This was in 1914. You see, it's a long while ago.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Was it a private school or public school?
LEO CASTELLI: I don't know, public probably. No, maybe private. It was just a grade school, whatever it was. Then, when the war broke out, the whole family moved to Vienna. Well, actually Italy got into the war later, in 1915 I believe. We stayed on in Trieste while the war was already going on between Austria and Germany, and France and England on the other side. When Italy entered the war on the side of the French, the Allies, then it seemed dangerous to be in Trieste, to be so close to the Italian frontier. So my father was moved to Vienna, as well as the family and myself.
Trieste was a place where all languages were spoken. The native language, of course, was Italian--not really Italian but we spoke a dialect which is very close to the Venetian dialect that we spoke at home. Everybody in Trieste, as a matter of fact, did not speak Italian; they spoke that dialect. In school you learned Italian; it was almost a second language. Now the difference, say, between the Triestine dialect and proper Italian--which is an artificial language anyway because you have dialects all over, in Venice, which is close to ours, and Milan.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Rome.
LEO CASTELLI: Piedmont, Naples, Rome, etc. Well, you learned Italian almost as a second language. You do that in all of Italy even now still, a little less now. The difference, let's say, between the Venetian language we spoke in Trieste and proper Italian would be similar to the difference between Spanish and Italian.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, it's that much different?
LEO CASTELLI: Now just to give you an idea, the Sicilian dialect is so different that I would not understand a word of it. Whereas any Italian-speaking person would understand the Venetian dialect more or less if he followed very closely.
PAUL CUMMINGS: That's interesting. That's right, most people in Trieste speak three or four languages, don't they?
LEO CASTELLI: So Trieste, as I said, was a very cosmopolitan port at the time with lots of Greeks and Austrians and Hungarians, Armenians, Turks, what have you--you know, a port city. German was spoken, at least by people with a certain background. It was necessary to know German if you wanted to get ahead in life. After all, we did not know that Trieste would become Italian. So at the age of three or four, you would get a German or German-speaking or Austrian fraulein (a nurse) and then you would learn to speak German. But, again, my mother tongue was this dialect. I had very little schooling before the war broke out and we moved to Vienna, just a grade and a half. So then Vienna was important in my life because that was three years I was in a German-speaking country.
PAUL CUMMINGS: In Vienna?
LEO CASTELLI: In Vienna. I went to German-speaking schools. I spoke German fairly well, you know, as a child does. But to begin with, I had some slight trouble in school. But, as a child does, you very rapidly get to learn the language that is spoken around you; so I got along pretty well in school. I went through the third and fourth grade. Then, after that, I went to high school for one year and a half. Then the war was over and back we went to our own little house in Trieste. By this time, Trieste had become Italian. I completed my second half year of high school in Italy.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How old were you then, by the time you finished the schools and the traveling?
LEO CASTELLI: Finished school where? Altogether in Italy?
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, I went to that Italian school which was.... Well, it's very similar to the French lycee system. The grade school is four years or five. If you're sort of brightish, then you do only four (as I did). You go at the age of ten to high school. Then you have eight years of high school. Then you have five years, which are just.... You learn all kinds of subjects: Italian literature more or less, and mathematics, and whatnot in five classes. Then you have another period of three years which is called actually lyceum (?), you see. In those three years actually, it's a little like the humanities program that you have here in the first two years of college. You have it much earlier there because at that time you are 16, 17, 18. Then at 18, you go to university. There is no college in Italy. So, for instance, I went to law school. Or you could go to medical school, or you study literature, or whatever.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Where did you go to law school?
LEO CASTELLI: At Milan. So, what had developed during my high school years.... Well, as soon as I got to be about 12, I was very interested in reading, in literature. I was learning French at that time when I was 12, because in Italy every properly educated person speaks French or used to speak French. Well, even now, you'll find lots of Italians who speak French. Almost everybody does. So, I had these French lessons, and I was very interested in reading. I read a lot, always.
PAUL CUMMINGS: What kind of things did you read? Do you remember?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, up to the age of 12 or 13, it was just mere adventure stories like every boy does. But then I started getting interested in real literature quite early. I'll tell you more about it. But, anyway, at 12 I began to learn French, and at 13, there was a number of books that I could read because I had read practically everything there was to read in Italian. So a new field opened up. When I got to be 15 or 16, then I was reading real literature.
I remember when I was 17, for instance, I had scarlet fever at that late age. At that time, when you had scarlet fever, you had to be quarantined for about 40 days. By this time, the family had grown more prosperous, and we had changed houses, and we had a much bigger house, a bigger garden. There was not only first floor, second floor, but there was also a third floor with all kinds of spare rooms. They had put me up there with some kind of nurse to get over my scarlet fever--my 40-day quarantine. There, I remember, I was reading night and day, ferociously. During those 40 days, I read something like 15 or 20 books of--practically all the works of Anatole France. I didn't know exactly what to read. I found out about things from reading various literary magazines that I could pick up. Then I decided that that was the thing to read. So I taught myself actually about French literature. You did not study French literature in Italian schools. So I think that I caught on, or perhaps my French teacher had mentioned earlier when I had French lessons that Anatole France was an important French writer. So I read all of that. Every day someone had to go out to the bookshop and buy me another volume. I also read all of War and Peace in something like one day and a half, you know, just reading continuously.
PAUL CUMMINGS: This was all in French then?
LEO CASTELLI: No. War and Peace, I don't remember whether I read it in Italian or in French. By that time, I also was reading German. Well actually, I had always kept up with German; and it seemed to me that at that time German literature was very fascinating--even more fascinating than French actually, because you had that fantastic period where Kafka and Thomas Mann and all those terribly interesting people were writing. They were writing about problems that seemed to be closer and more interesting to me than, say, what the French in their more classical manner had to say about the world.
There was also Freud and all that that happened in Germany. At this time, when I was about 17 or 18 or a little later, I started reading the famous book of Freud's. I don't know what it's called exactly--Lectures for an Introduction to Psychoanalysis. I read all those things and Kafka and Thomas Mann and other people.
I read ferociously to the point where, actually, I was reading so much that I did not do anything else in school. I was not reading the subject I was supposed to read like Dante or Machiavelli or whatever you had to study in school but just things that had absolutely nothing to do with school. I wasn't doing my school work at all. I actually had to repeat one year because I wasn't doing anything.
PAUL CUMMINGS: You weren't following the program.
LEO CASTELLI: So then, since I was sick, (I had that scarlet fever and I had an appendicitis operation and all that) at the age of 17, I had to have a tutor to help me out with school; because I was pretty bad not being interested in knowing the usual school subjects. This teacher, who came from some other school, was absolutely amazed. He was a good literary man; he was a poet in his own right. He was absolutely amazed at my knowledge of foreign literature--German, French. There was not much contemporary literature that was interesting at that time. He just couldn't understand how somebody that knew so much about literature could be made to repeat a class when he felt they should already be in college or some such thing. Anyway, that is just to indicate that I was very interested in one particular field and neglected everything else. I was reading even when I was in school. I wasn't even listening. I had a book, reading. I was just obsessive about that. Then at that time also, I started to teach myself English; and I started to read in the enormous field of English literature.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Languages were easy for you?
LEO CASTELLI: Yes, languages were easy. Then, when I was about 19 or 20, I was reading (the idol at the time was Huxley, you know) Point Counterpoint, that kind of thing but also more serious things. I tried to read Joyce, but I didn't get very far. Anyway, he was a major figure for me. I was trying to read poetry by Eliot. I was trying to read Proust and so on. It was difficult at that early time, but I got interested in English romantic literature of the 19th century. I was reading Dickens, Thackeray, and all that, which was good basic stuff. I read quite a lot of that. Anyway, I ended my school years at the age of 18. At 19 I went to begin my law studies. In the beginning, I was pretty good at it.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How did you pick law?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, I'll tell you why: because my father--being by that time very much involved with the whole economic life of the city and trying to direct my career--felt that I should follow more or less in his footsteps. He was a director on the boards of many important enterprises there: oil refineries, insurance companies, shipping companies, and so on. Well, there were two particularly gigantic insurance companies with world identification in Trieste, one of which my father had some control in, being on the board. He felt that that would be the most interesting career that I could embrace. So, of course, having a legal training would be very good for anybody doing anything. Also, in America, by the way, a lawyer can do practically anything, can also become, I don't know, president or defense secretary or....
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right.
LEO CASTELLI: So that seemed to be the idea--that a man with legal training would be able to handle all kinds of things in industry and commerce and so on. That was his idea. I was not really terribly interested in law, but I was happy to get out of Trieste to go to a big city. I had various friends in Milan, so we had a rather happy life. In the beginning, I was pretty conscientious and did study. For the first couple of years, it went pretty well. Then I started neglecting my studies more and more, and, by the end, I just squeezed through and got my degree doing just the minimum. So, I can't say that they were brilliant law studies at all.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How many years did you study law?
LEO CASTELLI: Four years of law, but I wasn't there very much actually. You see, in Italy you have the system where attendance is not strictly necessary. You get all those mimeographed sheets of the lectures at the end where they come along as the lectures develop, so you don't have to be there. I can guarantee that I was in Milan pretty much, not, well, sometimes a month or two. Then I would go and do some skiing or something else that would be more amusing, and play tennis, and be back in Milan for exams. I did a lot of sports at that time. I liked skiing very much. I was especially good at mountain climbing, where I did some quite good things, and played tennis. It was a very pleasant life that one had in Trieste, I must say, not very conducive to deep studies and activities. But anyway, I finished my law studies.
Then I got into that insurance company to begin with. I found it just terribly boring. Since everybody there was very friendly, the older friends of my father, they really did not exact much from me (which was wrong of them). I was just around; and if I didn't do anything, they wouldn't feel that they should tell me to be serious. So that job didn't go very well. I was still very interested in reading, in literature. That went on.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How long were you with the insurance company?
LEO CASTELLI: I was there for about one year. When my father saw that things were going very badly there, one day we discussed the subject. I said to him that this really was not what I wanted to do, could I just switch and go back to studies and to study literature seriously. I was pretty good at foreign languages, and I could probably do something with that. There weren't many people who could speak so many languages. Since I could, probably I could get a professorship in English literature or something like that. It would be pretty easy for me. I always wanted to do something more creative than that, but I sort of thought that would be a good beginning to get immersed in it and not have to do anything else. So my father said, "All right, I'll let you do it. But please do me the favor of giving it another year. I'm going to send you abroad; and then perhaps being abroad, you'll find it more interesting and you might change your mind about devoting your time to literature." My father was a good man. He was not a tyrant at all. He was sort of precise and severe, but he would understand problems. He was very good. So I said, "All right. Fine."
PAUL CUMMINGS: This was your first big travel by yourself?
LEO CASTELLI: He said that he'd send me to another branch in Bucharest, which is a very big city in Romania; and if I didn't like it, then he would be willing to help me with the project of devoting my life to literature. Well, I got to Romania. It was, indeed, a very gay city. I got terribly bored with the insurance company there exactly as I was bored with the one in Trieste. This naturally was to be predicted because I was sort of hopeless. Well, I had a good time. Finally, I did get married there, so the whole literary project naturally evaporated. My father had sort of figured it out right. But anyway, I was still bored with things and not liking it in the insurance company. There was a man there who was a friend of my father's and also of my wife's family who was running there a branch of the largest Italian bank. So I decided to switch to the bank. I thought it might be a little more interesting, but it also turned out to be uninteresting to me. I was just hopeless. So this gentleman, who was the manager, saw that I didn't make much headway there; and he thought, well, we'll send him to do something else in Paris, which, of course, was something to be seized upon joyfully.
I went to Paris in 1937. Well, I was in some kind of office of the Italian national bank or, as it's called, Bank of Italia, which would be like the Federal Reserve Bank. There I had some kind of a job connected with the special currency that was around there, tourist currency, which I was supposed then to promote, to see to it that people in the various banks understood how to distribute it, what its special interest was. Well, people who got this particular, it was called tourist lire would get it much cheaper than the real lire; and so it would promote tourism, etc., etc.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, I see. Right.
LEO CASTELLI: At that time, there was Fascism abroad, too. In fact, I forgot to tell you that I was very glad to get out of Italy when I went to Romania, because I found the Fascist regime rather intolerable.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Did you have interest in politics or was it just...?
LEO CASTELLI: No, except that I found it sort of in bad taste and gross. It was really not.... I was not so much politically conditioned or interested; but, you see, there were restrictions. England and France were sort of the enemy, and to me they really were the countries I was most interested in. It was a vulgar kind of illiterate movement as you probably know--Fascism. The whole atmosphere was oppressive and certainly no one who had any kind of intellectual life would want to stay there. So I was glad to get out of Italy, although I still remained involved with the Italian government. That didn't bother me too much, since I was in the Federal Reserve Bank business, as long as I was in a free country. So really, it was not serious political opposition on my part. It was just that the whole thing was distasteful, because of the anti-intellectual attitude of the regime.
PAUL CUMMINGS: In your traveling, did you meet a lot of people who had intellectual interests, like writers, etc.?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, not much. I had a friend who attended law school with me and who was also from Trieste, and we shared literary interests. In Trieste itself, I was pretty much alone. There was a tradition there, but there was just like a shadow of it. Because James Joyce had been there, and he had left a certain imprint. The memory of Joyce's being there in 1914 still lingered. Well, all in all, Trieste was a pretty literate kind of place without anything exceptional. The possibilities of finding material in libraries and bookshops was really very limited. I did the best I could to find whatever I needed.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Did you have any interest in music or things like that?
LEO CASTELLI: I liked music, yes. Well, that is sort of something that one likes. One begins with opera, and then there was the symphony orchestra there. There were good concerts occasionally. I was interested in classical music--not a great interest. Yes, I rather liked it at the time. Those were the days when one was terribly interested in Wagner, I would say. In Milan, I saw the whole performance of the Nibelung, say, and the Meistersinger under Toscanini. So, there was a considerable interest. That friend that I just mentioned was very good that way, and we had musical experiences. There was a common literary interest, too.
But, generally speaking, say, in Bucharest, in my wife's family, there was a certain literary culture, French culture, because French was a great influence in Romania. They had a good library in which you would find all the French classics and so on. There was a certain cultured atmosphere there. At least my wife's mother was pretty good at that. My father-in-law was a big industrialist with not much interest in literature.
But, anyway, we got to Paris, my wife and I. My wife at that time, as you probably know, was Ileana. There I had this job for a little while. I soon got pretty tired of it. I had a friend there who was an architect; he was French. I had known him because he had decorated the French Embassy in Bucharest. His wife was Romanian. Anyway, we were friends, and we had a group of friends that were not terribly interesting. But this one was the most interesting of them all.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Who was he?
LEO CASTELLI: He was Drouin.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, he was an architect.
LEO CASTELLI: He was an architect to begin with, yes. And so, we sort of had all kinds of projects at that time. I still was involved in that currency business, but we were thinking about doing something more interesting. By that time, I had also started collecting, although I didn't know much about anything. I was not in the proper group to know much about what painting actually was. But still being in Paris, I had an idea about contemporary painting.
PAUL CUMMINGS: What kind of things did you collect?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, wait a minute. I knew about Picasso, about Matisse, of course. I had, as a matter of fact, read Fry and some basic books at the time. So I had an idea about what Cezanne meant and what Picasso meant and other artists.
PAUL CUMMINGS: You visited the galleries and the museums?
LEO CASTELLI: Not much. But I did visit them. I had a general feeling about them, since it was connected a little bit, after all, with my interest in avant garde literature. That had some kind of relationship. But the interest was really not really tremendous. My literary interest still dominated. Well anyway, I had started collecting little things here and there, drawings. Maybe I had a Matisse drawing, something like that.
I had also been collecting all kinds of antique furniture. For instance, in Romania we used to travel around in the country and go to the peasants' houses and buy old ceramics, chairs dating back to the 18th century that were painted and that you could hardly recognize as old chairs. But we knew the type. We would find them popular everywhere. There was a certain painted ceramic that had been done at the end of the 18th century with a pewter lid, with very nice images. You would find them in the peasants' homes. You would spot them as you would go through the peasants' homes; and you would offer them a modest sum, which seemed enormous to them, for those ceramic things. So there was this interest already in finding things.
But then one day walking through the Place Vendome, we saw that there was a place in one corner there between the Ritz Hotel and Schiaparelli's (there was an arch there) that was for rent. We had to go to the management of the Ritz to find out about it. Drouin said what about seeing what that is and inquiring to see if you could do something with that, because he had sort of an idea of doing.... I was the great art expert, as you can imagine; and he was the man who would decorate apartments in the new manner, mixing antique with modern furniture. So his role, it was decided, would be to make furniture and my role would be to pick out the paintings and the painters to decorate these things.
So we went in and found that the rent was very, very cheap. It was supposed to be very cheap to begin with the first year and more expensive the second, the third; and then it would attain its full figure later on to give us a chance to develop. So we were very optimistic, and we found it was very nice, and we should really seriously consider it. I spoke to my father-in-law, who was in Paris at the time, and asked him would he finance a project like that. He thought it was an interesting idea, and he knew that I was completely uninterested in the bank and hoped that that would really give me something to do that I would have a feeling about. He said okay, he would give us some money. So we started working there. We got the place because it was really absolutely splendid. It had an entrance stairs going up between two large columns and then a series of rooms, something like five rooms but all larger than this one here, very high ceilings with windows on one side which looked out on the garden of the Ritz where people would take tea.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Marvelous.
LEO CASTELLI: So it was very, very beautiful. Then we started putting the place in order and working at it. Drouin started building certain pieces of furniture. As soon as a group of surrealists that were around, like Dali, Max Ernst, Tchelitchew, and so on, found out that we had this place, they rushed upon us like locusts and immediately had all kinds of plans for our first show. They would do all kinds of things.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How did they find you or how did you find them?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, I knew one of the artists that was extremely active at that time there, because she was from Trieste and she knew about me. This was Lenore Fini. I don't know whether you've ever heard of her.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, yes.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, we had been childhood friends more or less. She knew that I was there. She found out about my project. Of course, she was the chieftain there and everybody came. Then we decided to do a great show. Drouin would make furniture. Since I was the specialist in antiques, I would pick bizarre antique furniture--special things that you would find with surrealist designs--bizarre chairs, bizarre tables, and so on. That was my province. Then all the surrealist people would do panels, furniture, objects, all kinds of things. There was also Millie Oppenheim there and Lenore Fini and Berman, Max Ernst, Dali, Tchelitchew. The gallery was not quite ready and the lights were not installed, but we showed one large painting that Tchelitchew had just completed. It was our first show, interim show. The painting was called Phenomenon. We showed that by candlelight.
So that was our first show, and then this other show came about. Oh, there were all kinds of things. Lenore Fini and Berman did two special painted cupboards. Lenore Fini's had doors that were like swans, lady swans. Berman's was a rather sinister setting that looked like a wild landscape. His theme would be something coming out of Canaletto--not Canaletto--Guardi, you know, those romantic landscapes. It looked like that. It was quite nice.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Was there a catalogue for the exhibition?
LEO CASTELLI: There was just an invitation catalogue. Then Millie Oppenheim designed a table with legs that were the legs of some animal or bird--and a hand mirror that was all like hair, like locks. I wish I could find it. Lenore Fini designed tall panels with all kinds of heraldic figures. There was all that antique furniture and then the modern furniture of Drouin's. We had a grand opening. That must have been in April or May, May rather.
PAUL CUMMINGS: 1939?
LEO CASTELLI: 1939, yes. That was our first and last show in that particular place.
PAUL CUMMINGS: What happened after the show?
LEO CASTELLI: The war broke out. Well, we all went away for the summer; and then, in September when we came back, the war had broken out and Drouin got into the army. I went to various parts to begin with, but finally we were in Cannes where my father-in-law had a house. Then, when France fell, I little by little felt that it was about time to clear out. Then we all went--Ileana and Nina, the child (she was six then), and the English nurse that we had (who by the way is still with Nina and takes care of her little children). We went by a very complicated and circuitous route, and we got finally to New York. This was in 1941.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Did you go through Spain or something?
LEO CASTELLI: I couldn't go through Spain. I got stuck for a long time in Morocco, and finally I got false passports so we could go through Spain. There were all kinds of things that you could do at that time with money. So I got these false passports, Moroccan passports, and we could go to Tangier and across Spain to where we got an old creaky boat. It took us about 15 days to get to Cuba. Morocco was pretty good to begin with; we spent about two months there. When we got there in the fall, food was pretty plentiful; and then, as we stayed on, it get scarcer and scarcer. But anyway, there was no real suffering.
PAUL CUMMINGS: So it took about two years to get here?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, no. I started actually thinking of going away in June 1940 at the time of the fall of France. At least I began thinking it was time to go from there because the Germans occupied half of France. I was in the sort of free part, in Cannes; and, well, one never knew when they would start occupying the rest of it. So then it was time to think and clear out of there.
We had many friends who helped us. It was very complicated. By November we had collected an impressive number of visas of all countries including Mexico, Brazil, because we didn't know where we could get to. So, we had those passports and visas. Finally, we got to New York in spite of our Brazilian and Argentinian and other visas.
PAUL CUMMINGS: From Cuba, you went where? To Florida?
LEO CASTELLI: No. From Cuba in the same ship.... We just stopped in Cuba and then went on to New York. Then, after a few months, I went back to Cuba to come in in the regular way because I had come on.... I don't know what kind of visa it was at the time--a most provisional one that wouldn't permit me to stay more than four weeks, I guess. Anyway, I got here on a regular basis by March 1941.
Then here there were all these people that I had known like Dali, Max Ernst, and so on--and Julien Levy, who knew about me and my activities. Julien Levy said, "Well, why don't we start something terribly interesting." But I was very.... Well, I had little money. My father-in-law was here, too, but.... Well, he had saved some money, but he was not very willing to do much about me at this particular point. There wasn't really much left; he had lost plenty of money. So I really didn't know what to do when I got here. So I sort of started vaguely.... I thought that maybe I could go back to my teaching project. By this time, my interest had shifted to other things. Curiously enough, I didn't think of doing studies in art but rather in history. Perhaps I was terribly interested in history because I wanted to know why this war had broken out. I wanted to know. This was something that interested me more than anything else. So I thought maybe doing serious studies here would sort of give me the key to why we were at war and so on.
So I went to Columbia. There, since I had the law degree, they gave me full credit for college; and I could start on a master's degree and Ph.D. I did that for a year. I really liked it very, very much; but I never finished because I got drafted into the army.
PAUL CUMMINGS: You had an interesting time in the army, I understand.
LEO CASTELLI: I had a very interesting time in the army, yes. I had basic training at Fort Bragg. They treated me like everybody else. It was pretty tough. I really didn't like it very much to begin with, but I got adjusted to it after a while and did nicely. Then a captain in my company said that I was being thrown away in the regular army and that he would try to get me into some kind of outfit where I could put my knowledge of Europe and my languages to better use. So after I was through with basic training, I was sent to Camp Richard, which was a military intelligence training camp. It was very, very, very interesting there. There were all the simulated conditions there. At times you'd have thought you were in Japan or in Germany or God-knows-where. There was German materiel and people in German uniforms. There were those war games that we played, and everything looked very authentic.
So there I was trained for France, something that was called M.I.S. My role, if I ever got to France, (which I didn't), would have been to find out from the civilian population data about the enemy. For instance, I'd go to a village and the people would just have seen some German units go by. I would find out (knowing all the German armament and knowing all about German uniforms, etc.), figure out from data that I would extract from them like what the guns looked like.... I would figure out what kind of unit it would be--anti-tank or whatever--that had just passed. I would piece this information together. But it never got to that because they felt that I would be wasted on a job like that. They didn't really need personnel any more for that because the war was drawing to an end.
They felt that I could be much more useful as an instructor. That seemed to be what I was going to be; but then one day they called me and said, "Would you like to go overseas?" I said, "Yes, of course." I was bored. "We've got something for you. We cannot tell you what but you'll find out." I was sent to Washington with some other people I knew who were in my class or had been. Since two of them spoke Russian and one other one spoke Romanian, it was very clear to me right away that we were going to Romania. Actually, that's where we went. We were part of the Allied Control Commission. You know that Romania was invaded by Russia. There was something like one million Russians there. The fate of Romania was sort of going to be decided by several commissions. There was the Russian army, and an English outfit, a United States outfit, and a French outfit. These allies were supposed to decide the fate of Romania. We were a unit of about 50 people altogether. There were more officers there than there were men actually. I wasn't an officer. I just, at that time, had finished reaching.... I was something like a private first class. So I was sent over there; and I got up to the rank of techmaster sergeant, but slowly, over a period of two or three months. My role was to be interpreter to the general. There was a general, a few colonels, you know, a sort of intelligence outfit. There were signal corps people to keep communications with Italy. That was our headquarters at Caserta and a plane that would take things over, back and forth.
In the beginning, it was very, very interesting. I was constantly with the general, interpreting for him with Romanian political people--like prime ministers and so on--about what ought to be done there. Then they objected at my not having an officer's rank. They said it was not proper that they should discuss things with a mere sergeant. On the other hand, the general did not have the power to give me a commission. There was all kinds of red tape involved there. So he said to me, "Well, you can't do that anymore, so just go around and find out about things." That's all. My role was just to be around. So I had total freedom. I had no precise role anymore.
I knew lots of people there; I had a very good time. There was an underground resistance movement against the Russians because things went from bad to worse. After a while, the Russians became dominant, and whatever we did was just absolutely to no avail. We had absolutely no strength there, no voice. I remember Averill Harriman coming there and we talking to him and explaining to him what the situation was, how really we had no control anymore at all with the situation and that he should tell the optimistic President Roosevelt that, as far as we could see, the Russians were no friends of ours, that they were just taking over. He did a good job, but he did not convince Roosevelt. As you know, at Yalta, if he had listened a little more closely to what Harriman had to tell him, probably it would have turned out very differently. Anyway, that was it. I sort of went around and observed the underground movement that I was in contact with at that time.
PAUL CUMMINGS: What did you have to do with them?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, I was interested to find out and to report what they were doing, what the chances were for them to re-oppose the political takeover by the Communists, and so on. I mean, it was all a hopeless thing; but it was interesting to find out what was done there, what could be done. After all, we tried to help them as much as we could. I became very, very unpopular with the Romanian C.I.A--whatever it was called in Russian, NKVD. Well, we got reports in in which I was mentioned very often as an element that they didn't like at all there. So I often feared that in one way or another on a lonely road they would bump me off. But it didn't happen, fortunately. Well, I went through that, and then I came back in March.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How long were you there, then?
LEO CASTELLI: From December 1944 to March 1946, one year and a few months. Apart from doing the job, which was interesting, it was a great deal of fun actually. First of all to begin with, we lived (all the personnel, not the officers) lived in a hotel which was very, very comfortable, each room with bath and food downstairs whenever you wanted to eat. But then, that didn't seem to be good enough for us, and so each one got situated in a house of his own. You know, what happened actually was that all the rich Romanians who had marvelous houses and didn't want the Russians to take over had some kind of vague protection if an American was there. So they were very eager to have an American around. So I got to live in a marvelous house with good treatment. Well, that was the war experience.
Then back to New York in 1946. That's really when things started. As I told you briefly, I really couldn't do anything with Julien Levy and the group of painters like Dali and so on, who were around and who all urged me to do something. There was no money, and especially there was a total lack of experience on my part. I didn't know anything at all. I had started a gallery, but it had been going for something like two months and that was the end.
But an interesting thing is how did I continue my career in art. After a year in Romania, I got a furlough and went to Paris. This was the end of 1945. That was a rather complex trip because first of all.... Well, our plane took me up to Belgrade and I had some papers saying that I could use any kind of plane that came along up to Paris and then back. In Belgrade I was lucky and, after a few hours, I found a plane that was going to Vienna, a military plane. In Vienna I was less lucky. I got stuck there for something like three days before I found a plane going to Paris. But that was very lucky because every morning I was hanging around the airport to find a flight. There was a pilot waiting there and he said, "Where do you want to go, Bud?" I said, "I'd like to go to Paris." He said, "Hop in." It was some general (I don't know who he was) who was going from Vienna to Paris. So I had a very nice trip from Vienna to Paris in a general's plane.
Then in Paris to my great astonishment, I found the Drouin Gallery. I had had absolutely no communications with the outside world, especially with France, since it was occupied by the Germans. Well, it was not occupied any more; by then it had been cleared. I found Drouin there in the gallery functioning and it had become a serious art gallery. It was no longer the kind of nonsense that he had wanted to do.
PAUL CUMMINGS: What could he do at that point?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, it was very easy. There were all kinds of experienced gallery directors who were famished to find a good gallery to work in.
PAUL CUMMINGS: But there was no market.
LEO CASTELLI: So he didn't do anything. But here was this man (I can't remember his name now) who he hired to run the thing, and he brought in a few painters, more or less indifferent, who were around in Paris at that time. It was during the war. Then after that, he got two better people who actually now still own the Galerie de France--Caputo and Prevo. They brought in better things like Picasso. I don't mean Picasso himself but paintings of Picasso, paintings of Rouault, and things like that. So what I actually saw when I got to the gallery were some very nice Picasso gouaches and little Rouault paintings and so on. These two people also knew quite a few real painters of the post-Picasso era, such as Manessier and Le Moal. He had also got to know Michel Tapie at that time. As a matter of fact, I think Michel Tapie really succeeded those two and then brought in really art. And there was Dubuffet and Albret that Michel was collecting at that time, and people like De Stael and Wols. I saw a beautiful Wols show in March when I got back from.... (You see, I went on that furlough but then went back to my base and then stayed another three months there and then back to Paris.) Then at that time, I saw the Wols exhibition. Yes, it must have been then. So there was Wols, there was Fautrier, not Fautrier, yes, Fautrier, too. All had the beginning of their career there at Drouin's.
He also had gotten in touch with Mrs. Kandinsky, so there was Kandinsky there. He had gotten in touch with Pevsner; there were Pevsners there. So it was really great. The possibilities were immense. There was no money and nobody was buying. But, just imagine. He had Kandinsky. He had Pevsner. He had these new people like Dubuffet, Fautrier, and Wols, and so on.
But everything was going very, very badly. No money, nothing. No market, zero. Well, he asked me at that time, "Do you want to continue with me?" I said, "Of course I'll continue with you." He said, "That's wonderful. So you go to New York. Maybe in New York there's more business than here." I said, "Fine, we'll do that." He really had something there.
So then I got back home, and he started sending me things. For instance, a roll arrived and in the roll was a Kandinsky and other things like that, especially there were lots of Kandinskys. Well, I didn't know anybody really. I had an apartment up here on the fourth floor. This house had been bought by my father-in-law back in 1942, so I had an apartment up there which didn't cost anything. There I had parties, you know. I had some paintings that were hanging there. I had bought little by little. I didn't have much money, but I bought a few here and there. So I had some very nice modern things. I was especially in contact with Nierendorf at the time, and Nierendorf had Klee and Kandinsky.
Then I had a great windfall. This was in 1947. Agatha Scheyer out in California had sent all her stuff to Nierendorf, and a few weeks later Nierendorf died. So there was all of Agatha Scheyer's stuff and all of the Kandinskys that Nierendorf had there. His directrice, directress, Mrs. Pritic, was a great friend of mine who had sold me....
PAUL CUMMINGS: Who is that? I don't know of her.
LEO CASTELLI: She was called Mrs. Pritic. She disappeared out of circulation. Anyway, she had sold me a few things. I don't know how I bought her things because I didn't have any money really. Drouin was sending me all those Kandinskys, and my only customer was the Baroness Rebay of the Guggenheim. She would buy those fantastic Kandinskys. I had some early ones there, say like 1914, 1915 Kandinskys that would fetch something like $250,000 today. I remember the best one that I sold her I sold for $4,000, which seemed a tremendous sum of money at that time. She seemed to be the only one who bought them, for the Guggenheim. So she was there. There was Sadie May of Baltimore that I got to know. She has died since. And there was Albert (Alfred) Jensen going around with her.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right. With her.
LEO CASTELLI: He was new. He was very well-informed about art, had a good eye, and so I had.... Well, it was much later though. It was in 1949 that I broke up with Drouin, so I don't want to jump the gun. I want to stay in the earlier period. So I had this apartment.
Oh! The windfall was that at that point this Mrs. Pritic said, "It's just terrible. Now we'll have the estate on our necks, and these things actually don't belong to Nierendorf. They're here on consignment. The things of Balcashar (?) are here on consignment. They belong to Mrs. Kandinsky in Paris. What shall we do? We have to get them out or we'll be blocked for years while this estate thing goes on." So she said, "I'm going to send a telegram to Mrs. Kandinsky and see what we can do."
It was just really like a whodunit. Right away she got a telegram back saying, "Give everything to Castelli." So we whisked all the things out before anybody came. One day, while the body of poor Mr. Nierendorf was still warm, we whisked all the things out, and they put them all here down in the basement, all the Kandinskys. There were something like, I would say between large oils and small oils, more than 30 oils and a great number of watercolors and drawings. Those I started to sell plus the ones that Drouin was sending over from Paris in rolls. I was selling those things especially to the Baroness Rebay and maybe to a few other people. I can't remember now.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How did you get to meet her?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, I was in the art world. When I got here back in 1941, everybody knew me from that very brief experience I'd had in Paris. Julien Levy knew me. Dali knew me. Max Ernst knew me. I got to know Peggy Guggenheim right away.
PAUL CUMMINGS: All the European artists.
LEO CASTELLI: It was all there, right from the beginning. I can remember going to Peggy's before I got mixed up in the war, say in 1942, and seeing a huge Pollock there. I don't know whether I met Pollock; maybe I didn't at that time. I met him later. Anyway, she was already talking about Pollock. She invited me to have lunch with her. To them, I was sort of an interesting person though I couldn't offer anything at the moment really. But they sort of felt that I was one of them, and they all knew me.
And I invited them. I had great parties at my house up there on the fourth floor with everybody around in the art world. In the period between the time of my arrival and my going to war, I didn't do much there; but after the war really, I had a substantial kind of activity in my apartment--all kinds of good paintings that I had bought. It was fantastic. I had a Mondrian that I had found.
All that I had got between 1946 and 1947 when Nierendorf died. In that span, I really had developed quite an activity. Yes. Still there was no question of my opening a gallery. So I had all those people, Peggy Guggenheim, Julien Levy. I can even remember one party that we had. It must have been after Christmas or just around Christmas. Julien Levy got terribly drunk, and he fell into the Christmas tree that had real candles on it. That was a real catastrophe.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, boy!
LEO CASTELLI: It was very nice. We had very simple kind of furniture--Eames furniture, you know. I always tried to keep things as modern as I could as soon as I could. So there was some Eames furniture, and there were especially simple sofas and things. A table, the dining room table, was a round Victorian table. Maybe you can still see that table, but you could see it for a long time in de Kooning's studio. When I changed my furniture and bought something else (I don't know what), Bill, who was a great friend at the time, said, "Could I have the table? I like the table." And I gave it to him. It must still be around in East Hampton, I'm quite sure. It was in his studio for many, many years in his various studios, on Fourth Avenue first and on Tenth Street later on. I can still remember it there. So there were these parties, and I really was doing quite nicely in developing my relations with the art world.
But I still sort of appeared more like a collector about town than an art dealer, although I was doing some selling here and there of the Drouin things, as I told you. Well, actually what happened is that Drouin was sinking. He had no money; things were getting worse and worse. I was doing all the sales here, and then he would write me desperate letters, pages and pages long, explaining the terrible situation he was in, that he needed $1000, $2000 immediately. I was supposed to make some money on these sales, but I never could keep a dollar because he was so desperate. He was sending me telegrams so that I thought the world would come to an end (which it actually more or less did for him). I was sending all that money back.
I was involved in some kind of business at that time; because, during my absence, my father-in-law had bought an interest in some kind of textile thing for himself. Then there was an annex with the family that he was involved with that did run the textile mill in Jamestown, New York, I believe. There was a brother there who manufactured sweaters, so he had bought an interest in that. I was approached to take care of that. That was a horrible experience that lasted much too long, and again one of those things like the bank and the insurance company in which I was not interested at all. I spent just a little time there just to be present more or less--too much for my taste. A little money but not much came out of that to keep me alive. Otherwise, with Drouin clamoring for all that money, I wouldn't have made a penny; although probably, if I had no other source of income, I wouldn't have sent him the money.
But really, there were a few very, very meager years that we had from 1946 up to, oh, I would say 1955, 1956. Fortunately, we had the apartment here which didn't cost anything; but, believe me, at that time for many years, it was rather difficult to pay the grocery bills and things like that actually. Really to the point that, when I did that Ninth Street show in 1951--I was the rich man there--I paid for materials to paint the place and for the famous announcement that Franz Kline did, and it cost about $125. I had spent all in all, I think, something like $450; and I don't know how because, actually, I didn't have it. But anyway, I always managed to wheedle out money from one thing or the other.
PAUL CUMMINGS: That was a lot of money in those days.
LEO CASTELLI: That seemed a tremendous fortune to all those people, and they were all terribly grateful. So I got a present from all of them. For instance, I got a marvelous oil on paper from Bill called Philip Square that, very regretfully in the beginning of my gallery, I had to sell to just survive in the gallery. I sold it to Ben Heller for $10,000. Just imagine, my $450. This is just one example. I still have the Kline that Franz gave me that I didn't sell, but other things that I got I had to sell little by little to survive. So that was that period.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right. Before we get into the '50s and the Ninth Street show, I'm just curious about the artists that you knew in New York and the kind of activity that was going on.
LEO CASTELLI: You see, I had an approach that other people didn't seem to have here. The art world was really rather green, immature.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, there were not many galleries.
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, you can't imagine how few there were actually. There were very few shows, very few galleries. Kootz had just barely begun. Janis did not exist. Betty Parsons had barely begun, although she had begun. Who was 19 here? There was Nierendorf. There was Curt Valentin, who had a good gallery; but he was handling, you know, Klee, Juan Gris, and Lehmbruck, and those things. There was really nobody handling American things; there was no American painting. Except, Julien Levy was handling Gorky and there was Peggy Guggenheim.
PAUL CUMMINGS: And Charles Egan was...
LEO CASTELLI: Charles Egan came later. Charles Egan wasn't there when I began my career. He began about that time, in 1947 or 1948, but there was nobody.... There was Nierendorf. It was an entirely European-oriented kind of art market here. There was Edith Halpert. She had the American thing, and she was showing Ben Shahn and Reginald March and those things.
PAUL CUMMINGS: And Rehn nobody was interested in. It was an older gallery.
LEO CASTELLI: It comes back to me now how provincial and how poor this market was. The only people who were doing something were Julien Levy.... He was showing Gorky (that's to his eternal merit), who he considered to be a surrealist. Pierre Matisse was doing a good job relatively speaking, because he had Matta and Lam, who were, after all, two very live forces then, much more than anybody else and a great influence also. Especially Matta is somebody who animated everything in a fantastic manner. He was in touch with everybody, and he was responsible really for Gorky's waking up.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I've only met him a couple of times.
LEO CASTELLI: He's very bitter now.
PAUL CUMMINGS: He seems to be somebody who had enormous energy and was involved.
LEO CASTELLI: Enormous energy, enormous influence. He was incredibly active. Unfortunately, he left under very sort of sad circumstances. You probably know, since you are doing this thing. No doubt you've heard it from others. He was certainly partly responsible for Gorky's death, we can say, indirectly. The way he carried on with his wife, and Gorky having that terrible accident, and also having cancer to boot certainly led to poor Gorky's suicide. So then, the situation being so ugly.... This was back in 1948, I think, Gorky died. Matta left and went to Italy and, from then on, he never came back actually. Except, a few years later, he came back and he found the situation with abstract expressionism with de Kooning dominating the scene. He sort of tried to make friends in a condescending way, saying that Pollock wasn't so bad after all and de Kooning.... And those people didn't give a damn about him and didn't want to hear from him anymore. So, he left in anger and never came back, actually, and became an embittered political Leftist-oriented man going to Cuba, being a bosom friend of Castro and so on. He made a lot of money, too. He still makes a lot of money.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, yes. As far as I know, the only critics who were active then were Greenberg and Rosenberg.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, that's another chapter that I have to talk to you about a great deal if you want to hear about the strange situation there with Greenberg and Rosenberg. Greenberg I've known from very early times. As a matter of fact, it was Greenberg who first introduced me to certain painters, and I think he introduced me to Gorky. Yes, in a certain indirect way, because I met Gorky for the first time at a party to which Greenberg, I think, had invited me. That must have been in early 1947. Somebody, V.V. Rankine, reminded me of that, and she knows a lot. V.V. Rankine was involved. Her brother-in-law or something was Gorky's wife's brother or something.
PAUL CUMMINGS: That's right. There was some....
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. There was some connection there with Gorky. I have even visited Gorky's place in the country in Connecticut with her. I can remember very well. She was young at the time. So anyway, Greenberg had taken me, I believe, to that party at Gorky's. V.V. Rankine, who I saw the other day, reminded me of that party; and she even told me what house it was in. It was her house maybe (I don't know) that she shared with somebody. That was the party where I really, I think, met Pollock for the first time. He was terribly drunk.
PAUL CUMMINGS: This is May 22 and it's reel two. Well, could we start again after the war when you returned to New York and were getting involved with the New York scene as it was then?
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. How did I get involved with the New York scene? Well, I told you that I had some contacts with it before the war.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right. With the surrealists and Julien Levy.
LEO CASTELLI: With the surrealists, the people that had come over from Europe to America to the Julien Levy Gallery and so on. Then my contact in Paris again with Drouin right after my return from the army assignment and also money problems relating to my connection with Drouin. I told you also how this connection ceased in 1949.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right.
LEO CASTELLI: So, in the meantime, how had I gotten to be more involved with the New York art world? Well, there was a general attitude, I think, that I had that perhaps was a literary one in a sense, for which there was a tradition in Europe and perhaps less of one here, of groups forming like the surrealists and before them the Impressionists or the post-Impressionists, and Gauguin and his group around, and so on. Well, I'd heard.... I'd read about what all these incredible people were doing--how they had friends, protectors, hangers-on.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Like critics and poets.
LEO CASTELLI: Critics, poets, Apollinaire, and all that.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, I'm just curious about that because you had read so much. Did you ever have any interest in writing?
LEO CASTELLI: Yes, I did have that. As a matter of fact, I did want to become a writer, novels and things like that. But, actually, I never subjected myself seriously to the discipline of writing. Perhaps I didn't even understand in an odd way just how it was done. You just couldn't sit down and do it. It really took quite much more knowledge about the process. Perhaps I would know how to do it now. I know that it's just tedious handiwork. At that time, when I was very young, it seemed to me that the inspiration should be there and that I should be able to write my first biographical novel without any preparation, without any trouble. But it never came about. I started writing something or other, but this was not the way in which a book is written, I suppose. At least I was not successful with that approach.
What was interesting for me though were the groups that gravitated around literary figures and around great painters. To me, for some reason, there was fantastic prestige attached to that, to the great painters-- well, a sort of hero worship, perhaps, of which there is more in Europe than there is here. This is supposed to be a very democratic society, and that kind of thing (what they now call a personality cult) is generally discouraged.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, except the movie stars and things like that.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, there is that about movie stars perhaps, but the cultured people didn't seem to be then very, very much.... Nobody seemed to be very interested in cultured people, which surprised me. But I was, because in Europe one was interested in cultured people. They were heroes. Here they were not. So, I followed the European bent. I was also, after all, otherwise involved; because my livelihood, too, in a way, I hoped it to be. I really didn't want to make it my livelihood actually. I was more interested in the environment, in the milieu, than in making money out of it. Probably, if I had been a clever businessman, I could have made much more out of it than I did. For me actually, that was not the point. The point was to be with these people, to live their lives.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, I'm curious. Was your wife interested in the art scene? Was she very involved in it?
LEO CASTELLI: My wife was Ileana at that time. At that time, maybe she felt a little bit left out, but she went along pretty well. She had a certain interest in it. As it turned out, later on she got very, very involved when I opened the gallery here with the artists, with Rauschenberg and Johns and Lichtenstein. She had a keen eye for all the activities that the artists were involved with. In fact, she still goes on being terribly good at it, much better than I am. She's freer than I am. So, when she comes to New York, for instance, she spends days and nights with the artists again, is present at performances, happenings. She's very good at that, better than I am, actually. But, anyway, in the beginning, perhaps all these parties that I was giving at the house (and really we couldn't quite afford them) but they were very good and everybody did come to those parties. Well, she probably disliked certain people that I was very much involved with in the beginning like, say, Matta. She probably liked the abstract expressionists better. They seemed to her less snobbish, more sincere people. So, when I got more involved with the Pollocks and the de Koonings, then she was much more with me than before with those other...
PAUL CUMMINGS: With the surrealists.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes, with the surrealist crowd, which was also rather inhuman. As you know, in their paintings, too, they tend to be sadistic; and they tend to be extremely egocentric. Well, all artists are; but they particularly were in a very, very patent way.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes, I know.
LEO CASTELLI: So, after Matta left, I think that was really a turning point, I would say--Matta's leaving. I was very friendly with Matta and was very influenced by whatever he thought. He had a very lively spirit. For me at that time, he seemed to be the ideal of the very much aware, intellectual, involved artist.
PAUL CUMMINGS: When did he leave? Do you remember?
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, yes. Well, everybody, I think, knows that there was Gorky's suicide that played a role in his leaving America abruptly. And he was also married at that time to Patricia (now Batiste), and that marriage was going very, very badly on both sides. One can't say that anybody in particular was responsible; they were both responsible maybe. I don't know. It begins always somewhere. As you probably know, Matta had an affair with Gorky's wife, Agnes; and Gorky was very sick. He had cancer to begin with and also he got into an automobile accident with Julien Levy. Something happened to his neck. He wore one of those braces, and he couldn't use his arm any more very well. As a matter of fact, I remember going out to the country (I don't remember exactly where. Was it somewhere in Connecticut that he had a house--actually an old barn transformed) after the accident. He seemed to be pretty steady then. That must have been pretty close toward the time when he committed suicide. It was after the accident; he was sick. He had the brace. I can remember him walking around with the brace. That must have been in the spring, and then he killed himself in the summer. Yes, that's right. So it was really close. There were his children there.
A person that you should see about Gorky (and about that period), who knows a great deal about it because she happened to be also at that time (I don't know what relationship she had to Agnes Gorky) was called Moguch (?). He had probably invented that rather mean-sounding name for her. It was V.V. Rankine.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, yes, yes. You mentioned her.
LEO CASTELLI: V.V. Rankine, actually I think, was a sister-in-law in a way. I don't know exactly. You'll have to find out from her.
PAUL CUMMINGS: There is some relationship, I know.
LEO CASTELLI: It's very interesting, because I saw V.V. not so long ago at a party, and we started reminiscing about that period. Lots of things came up that she remembered that I had completely forgotten. She remembered, for instance, that visit to the Gorky's where she was and Gorky with his brace quite vividly. Also, she remembered a party that apparently took place in a loft that she had with her sister. This was a party for Gorky in which I think I really met Pollock for the first time. At least, I have a very vivid memory of seeing him for the first time as Pollock and very drunk. Maybe I had seen him before the war at Peggy Guggenheim's, but of that I have no clear recollection. I remember seeing that large painting that he did at that time. But anyway....
PAUL CUMMINGS: Did you get to know Peggy very well?
LEO CASTELLI: Peggy? Well, it was not a terribly.... How could one have a close relationship with Peggy? That was impossible. She belonged again to that arrogant, surrealist troop and unless you were incredibly "in" (which I was and wasn't, really. I didn't have enough to offer, I believe, at that time to be really "in" in), you couldn't really be her friend. She had a few close friends but.... Well, I was also too young perhaps, too unimportant. She came to my parties and she invited me to hers. And we had occasional lunches and things like that, but the relationship was not close.
Then, of course, it lapsed because she left. She left about that time, too. It must have been about 1948 that she left the gallery, Art of This Century, that she had up on 57th Street that is now Bonwit Teller's. So she disappeared, and then.... Well, after some going around both in Paris and Venice, I think she bought that almost immediately and settled there. Then after that, she became to me entirely uninteresting because she lost touch with America. She didn't pursue her search at all. She didn't buy any Pollocks any more. She stopped dead. She continued to sort of be interested in a few local Venetian painters of no consequence. So that she indicated something that I always suspected--that she actually had no original ideas and that all her ideas came from the people that surrounded her, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Matta, and whoever was a close friend and advisor. Once she isolated herself in Venice, that was the end. I think that's the truth about Peggy, and I think that probably lots of people will have the same hunch about her that I have.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, one would even suspect that from reading her book.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. So I was just saying that because I feel that V.V. Rankine could provide you with very, very interesting material about the period of Gorky's death, Matta, and Agnes, etc. that she would best have. Anyway, Gorky then committed suicide. Matta went away. I think that must have been 1947. Yes, the fall of 1947 if I'm not mistaken.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Something like that.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. It was the fall of 1947. Peggy went away also about that time, so two figures disappeared there. Peggy was doing a very interesting job, and it's a shame that she left. Of course, she was under the influence of Matta, but Matta had quite a few friends in the budding American movement. I won't say the abstract expressionist movement, because she was showing Baziotes there at Art of This Century. She was showing Motherwell especially. Well, and really de Kooning hadn't come up seriously, and Kline hadn't come up seriously, and Pollock she was showing also. She had all the elements there to become a very, very important central focus for this movement. But then she left. It is really interesting to ponder over what would have happened if she had stayed. But then all those painters were taken over by two galleries at that time, as you know. One was Betty Parsons and the other one was Kootz.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Didn't Howard Putzel have something going at that time?
LEO CASTELLI: Putzel was around. He was a man about town; but always, as far as I can remember, he was very ineffective. No, he didn't have anything. At that time actually, there were still some very active galleries, important ones, but European, exclusive European folks, I would say, like Curt Valentin.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Curt Valentin and Dudensing.
LEO CASTELLI: Valentine Dudensing, whom I also got to know briefly. I knew him well. He also left. Pierre Matisse, of course, was there. Pierre Matisse was interesting at that time because he was really pioneering. He was handling Dubuffet right after the war, and Giacometti. He was involved with the surrealist Tanguy and so on. So he was one of the really live galleries--European, if you wish, but Europeans that had been in America, that had lived here during the war years and some who had also remained like Tanguy, for instance. At that time, for instance, I got to know two people from California. One was Bill Copley, and he was associated with a man called John Ployart, a very handsome, elegant man. He looked like John Barrymore.
PAUL CUMMINGS: He was his brother-in-law.
LEO CASTELLI: He was his brother-in-law, yes. He was a designer--quite talented, too--John Ployart. And, of course, little Bill Copley, who now married Stella Yang.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, really?
LEO CASTELLI: Do you know about that?
PAUL CUMMINGS: I'd heard that he'd gotten married recently.
LEO CASTELLI: He got married to Stella Yang, who used to be the girl friend of Kiesler--first his assistant and then girl friend. What a life he had with her! She's Chinese.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes.
LEO CASTELLI: And now she's happily married (I don't know whether they're happy or not) married to Bill Copley. Now Bill Copley had a lot of money that he had inherited from his father--or actually his adopted father--millions and millions of dollars. They wanted really to get rid of him, so they gave him (it was rumored then) $30 million just to get out of the way of the rest of the family. He then with Ployart decided to open a gallery in Los Angeles. It was the first Los Angeles gallery. It's been largely forgotten because it didn't last very long. It lasted as long as the two sisters (who were quite beautiful, by the way), one married to Copley and the other one to Ployart, remained their respective wives. Then one day they sort of almost simultaneously abandoned their husbands, and that was the end of the whole thing, I guess. Ployart went to pieces; he really was terribly affected by it. And, I don't know, Bill recovered.
PAUL CUMMINGS: He went to Europe, I think, afterwards.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. Bill had more means; he could do all kinds of things. He got married to Norma, the famous Norma Copley, to whom he stayed married until quite recently, and then they divorced. But anyway, there was this gallery. Since I was friendly with Pierre Matisse and everything was so available at that time, they got in touch with me. Well, being a sort of man about town, they knew about me. I don't know exactly when that was. It must have been in the late '40s. They asked me to organize shows with them. So I did the Matta show for them. It must have been really in 1947 or 1948. I would like to trace it. Do you know about it?
PAUL CUMMINGS: There were six exhibitions and they were all surrealist.
LEO CASTELLI: These are my six exhibitions.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, really?
LEO CASTELLI: Yes, sure. I know. At least I remember Tanguy, Matta. What other exhibitions do you have?
PAUL CUMMINGS: There was a Magritte.
LEO CASTELLI: Magritte I was not responsible for. It didn't come from.... Whatever came from Matisse was sort of organized by me. With fantastic ease, I went to Matisse and said, "Look here, there are these friends of mine and they want to do a show of Tanguy." Matta was easier because, after all, he was a young man and was going to stick around. Well, Tanguy also. After all, one didn't sell Tanguys so easily at that time. (One didn't sell anything, for that matter, at that time.) So Matisse would say, "All right. Fine. Let's put a show together." And here there were 12 or 15 beautiful Tanguys--that would amount probably to $1 million now--that were sent out to those unknown people in California. No, there was another show that I was responsible for. Tanguy, Matta....
PAUL CUMMINGS: Cornell?
LEO CASTELLI: Cornell probably I was instrumental in, too, I imagine, because I knew Cornell at that time. Anyway, I remember Tanguy and Matta certainly that I was responsible for.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I talked to him about those shows.
LEO CASTELLI: Who?
PAUL CUMMINGS: Copley. He's very vague about them. He remembered certain things, but they had a funny contract where he said they would buy ten percent of each exhibition or something.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes, probably, because they were sort of the European idea that was imported here.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes. And the whole time they had the gallery, they only sold two paintings.
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, sure. Nobody bought paintings. Nobody bought paintings in New York, so you can imagine it would be much less so in California. But this comes back to me--that episode that I hadn't really thought about for a long time. Ployart I didn't see for quite awhile. About maybe four or five years ago, he suddenly appeared; and he was a total wreck, a real alcoholic. I really didn't know what to do with him. I wanted to help, but what can you do? But then I haven't seen him for a long while, and I wonder what's happened to him.
PAUL CUMMINGS: But Copley you still see, don't you?
LEO CASTELLI: I've been seeing him occasionally but not after he got married. I haven't seen him since, but I saw him on and off. I had a good relationship with him.
PAUL CUMMINGS: He lived in Europe for a long time and came back and forth.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. Well then, to come back. Matta and Peggy Guggenheim left. I was indulging in all these things, as you can see, without getting a penny out of it. It was just sheer friendliness and the pleasure to do something for those people out there--for Matta, of course, and for Tanguy, who I knew pretty well, too. He was also an incredible alcoholic. He was married to that American woman, Kay Sage. She tried to keep him alive by training him so that he did not start drinking until noon or the cocktail hour. But he really died of that. He was an incurable alcoholic. He was a nice guy, by the way, otherwise.
So then after Matta and Peggy left, I got.... I don't know. Probably I lost interest in the surrealist movement since my friend Matta went away and began to gravitate toward what was going on here. That really was the beginning of my involvement with New York art. Greenberg, of course, like all those people, if they found somebody who was really interested, they would sort of get hold of you as the surrealists had gotten hold of me in Paris. Then, a few other people like Greenberg thought that here was an ally and why not. He didn't know exactly what I was going to do. He knew about Drouin and my involvement with that gallery. I had probably not finished my relationship with Drouin yet. So Greenberg felt, well here's somebody maybe we can do something with. In fact, I had organized a show with Drouin, which again was something fantastic. It couldn't happen today. It must have been in 1947, 1948 at the very latest. Also, Marcel Duchamp was one of the committee. The Gallery Razzo in Rio de Janeiro.... Drouin had sort of convinced him to do an important show of Americans. Was it only American painters? I think. I was in charge of the American section. It must have been sort of like 1948 or 1949, because I remember that the de Kooning that I got was one of those black and white ones.
PAUL CUMMINGS: What show was this? I don't remember.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, it was a show that never came about. It was one of those things. The people that I knew (I don't know through whom, maybe through Matisse or somebody), who took care of (oh, maybe also because I had imported things through them) was Bodwell. They had a huge loft up there, just incredible, in their warehouse where there were no bins or anything; and the paintings were just leaning around. So I was in charge of picking that show, and I wish I could remember what I picked. It must have been terribly interesting. I remember the de Kooning. I picked probably all those people that were then working in America that.... Well, the Peggy Guggenheims and the Greenbergs sponsored it; so it must have been Motherwell, Baziotes, Pollock, and so on and so forth. The thing is that everybody was very generous. I went to their studios and galleries and said that I need this painting or that painting for this show in South America.
All expenses were supposed to be paid by this guy Matarazo (?), who is still very active in art. He is involved, for instance, in the Sao Paolo Biennales. I think he finances it in part. I imagine it's something like that.
So I got all those things together in that loft of Bodwell's. There those things were for months and months and nothing happened. We didn't get the money from South America and, in the end, nothing. Or did they leave and were never exhibited? I can't really quite remember what happened. I think that the paintings didn't even leave. They were there, stashed away at Bodwell's for months and months. I had a terrible time with Drouin not producing the funds, Matarazo not living up to his commitment. Finally, I was very happy at the very end, that I could retrieve all those paintings, that nothing got lost, that the whole damage was that they had stayed there for several months. But no one really cared very much about it. One de Kooning more or less, or one Matta, or one Pollock more or less didn't really matter at that time. So that was something that I got involved with. It must have been 1948--before the demise of my relationship with Drouin. After that, I would certainly not indulge in things of that kind any more.
PAUL CUMMINGS: You didn't really say exactly what happened, why you stopped. You said he was declining and sending for money.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, I can tell you that in a very few sentences. The fact is that the thing didn't work at all, that he got more and more deeply into debt, and that he counted on my sort of salvaging the situation, which I certainly didn't have the power or the know-how to do. In the end there was such an anxiety. I had very little money at the time anyway, and the little I had (as stupid as it was) I would sort of save every penny to send him more, some few more hundred dollars. Because he said that he would practically commit suicide if he couldn't get a few hundred dollars to get out of a terrible scrape.
PAUL CUMMINGS: It became untenable.
LEO CASTELLI: Absolutely. You can't imagine the moments, the days, the weeks and months, and the anxiety that I went through with the Drouin business. I have largely forgotten it, and I'm afraid that all the correspondence that I had with Drouin somehow is lost. I didn't really keep it, but if I just delve back into that, probably all this fantastic period would come out.
Anyway, I couldn't cope with it any longer, and I decided that I would go to Paris (this was in 1949) and would just sever the relationship and try to salvage a few things. Drouin was very nice and generous. He sort of set aside some paintings for me. In fact, he really wasn't even entitled to give me anything, or himself anything; because he was so deeply in debt that everything that there was in the gallery was more or less completely mortgaged, all mortgaged. So actually, what he did there was to cheat his creditors. He had an idea that by giving to me perhaps then I would, in case of need, be very generous with him. But it never went that way, and I kept those paintings and then little by little sold them. It helped me survive.
PAUL CUMMINGS: When do you think you met Clem Greenberg? Do you remember?
LEO CASTELLI: It must have been at the time of the party I was describing, the party for Gorky. As a matter of fact, I think it was probably Greenberg who invited me there. Maybe he sort of organized that party or was involved in it. It must have been in 1947. Well, depending on when Gorky killed himself.... It must have been in 1948. We ought to know. Do we have a Gorky book or something? I haven't got one here. Maybe it was 1948. So that must have been the end of 1947 or the beginning of 1948 maybe.
PAUL CUMMINGS: But did you get to know him well? I haven't been able to figure out any association on his part with you.
LEO CASTELLI: No, there was no close association with him. But, as I told you, he took me around one day and showed me various artists--the new artists that he found, well, more than interesting, the great artists that would emerge. One of them was de Kooning, and the other one was Paul Resika that he was interested in. At that time, he was quite abstract. He was not doing those landscapes that he does now. No, I saw him on and off, but there was no close relationship with Greenberg ever. We have known each other forever; we have rarely really talked to each other. It's always been a loose relationship, not much talking to each other about problems of art. I considered him in a way my senior. I admired his perception, visual perception, very much. It was only much later that I began to disagree with him here and there, because it seemed to me that he was focused too much on just one possibility in art and not on others. So, there was Greenberg, who really led the way there. I think that the one whom I knew best at that time was really Motherwell, because he was a friend of Matta's and was a more, let's say, European-oriented person at that time. So he made the transition for me from the European surrealists to the American painters.
PAUL CUMMINGS: You knew him through the Guggenheim Gallery, through Peggy?
LEO CASTELLI: Through Matta, I think, especially. Matta introduced me to lots of people at Guggenheim who gravitated around that group.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, the point I'm driving at, is there anybody who was an interesting theoretician or critic at that point that interested you?
LEO CASTELLI: No. I didn't really need that because, in my case fortunately, I came across a movement when I really started my career seriously that was a visceral movement. There was no need for theory as far as the abstract expressionists were concerned. They were all emotions, I would say, or at least it seemed to me that they were. There was some subtlety, of course, in a man like Motherwell, who was very familiar with European-type complex involvements of artists, poets, writers, and so on. He knew a lot about the Dada movement. He had written that book that Wittenborn published in 1948 or 1949. But anyway, I don't know how, but little by little I got more and more involved with the abstract expressionists. Well, actually, my favorite artist at that time became de Kooning. I used to see all those people quite a lot especially after The Club started. The Club started, I would say, at the end of 1949 if I remember rightly. First, there had been that other kind of club there on Eighth Street.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes, with Motherwell and....
LEO CASTELLI: With Motherwell and Rothko and that crowd. But The Club which really then moved me to this sphere completely....
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, you were one of the early members of it?
LEO CASTELLI: I was one of the early members. There was always some dispute about whether I was a charter member or not. Some people, my friends, maintained that I was a charter member. My enemies said no, not at all, I came a few weeks later and I was not a charter member. That was always a point under discussion. Anyway, there was that whole group there at The Club and some really quite active like, I don't know....
PAUL CUMMINGS: Pavia was there.
LEO CASTELLI: Pavia especially ran it, and there were some people who were more involved with it who were there at the time. Well, de Kooning was there pretty often, not very active in doing things for The Club because he was not that kind of person. Marca-Relli, Lud Sander, who by the way is somebody that you should absolutely see.... He's not a young man nor a very healthy man any more. Did you see him?
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes. You actually met him once in the Army at some point, I think.
LEO CASTELLI: No, I didn't, but we were in the same outfit I found out later when I got back. We were in that Military Intelligence at Camp Richard. We found out about that later when I got back from the war. He's been my good friend all through the years. I don't see him very often now, but I still see him and we've remained very friendly. We were friends right from the beginning. He--I don't know whether you had long talks with him--should be an incredibly good mine of information, because he's got total recall. I think he remembers everything.
PAUL CUMMINGS: It's amazing.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. Well, so there was all this life that went on there with those Friday evenings--I think it was Friday evenings--at The Club. There were things that we had to do. Some people were supposed to do the cleaning.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Somebody sent out postcards and so on.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. Everybody did a bit of work there.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, what do you think The Club meant to the people who went to it in those days?
LEO CASTELLI: You mean to the members or to the outsiders?
PAUL CUMMINGS: No, no. to the members. What was it about The Club that they really.... It seems that it was more than just a get-together and to listen to talks or discussions.
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, no. It was really something that had great meaning to us all. It was a very important thing as long as it lasted. It was like almost something that we had great faith in, something that we relied on to perform all kinds of miracles for us.
PAUL CUMMINGS: You mean kind of social and aesthetic and everything, or what?
LEO CASTELLI: Not social. It was not really....
PAUL CUMMINGS: I mean within the group. I don't mean outside.
LEO CASTELLI: No. It was, I would say, really almost a mystical affair there. As far as I recall my feelings about it, it wasn't meant to do anything terribly useful.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I know it was never like the American Abstract Artists who published books and catalogues.
LEO CASTELLI: No, no. It was nothing of this kind. We wanted just to be together and do some things that would perhaps make the people outside and the people that guided it understand how important all this was, how involved we were. It was really an incredibly involved group. It's true, if you wish, ignorant, not terribly bright, getting sort of interested in all kinds of fads like Zen Buddhism at one point.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, yes. Suzuki was there, I think.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes, that's right. Well, we wanted to make people feel--it was the core of American art--and we wanted outsiders to understand like, I don't know, Max Ernst, who gave a lecture there, and others to understand what all this was about. We wanted to understand what they felt about us. There were question and answer periods where we wanted to find out from....
PAUL CUMMINGS: It was an educational kind of thing in a way.
LEO CASTELLI: Not really educational in the ordinary sense of the word. No. It was a mystical fraternity. It was a curious thing.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Is there any one of those evenings that specifically stands out for you, that you remember?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, I remember in the beginning they had some nice evenings. There were the Rosenberg evenings, for instance. He was, of course, very articulate, very literate, and very much involved with the Trotskyite movement of a certain older group. They were very intelligent. I was very impressed by him. I really never had...although I knew him very, very well. We saw each other often through the years. I always considered myself a child next to him. He was a little bit scary.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, he is.
LEO CASTELLI: I have lost my fears now. I feel very relaxed with him now, or with Greenberg for that matter. But at that time, they were real great figures.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes. But there were very few writers involved who were interested in the artists.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, very few. The Partisan Review was mildly interested through Rosenberg and that type of intellectual--Philip Rahv, I think.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Paul Bowles was there a few times.
LEO CASTELLI: Paul Bowles was there very little. He belonged more to the surrealist crowd. He was a friend of Matta's--Paul and Jane Bowles. No, they didn't have much connection with The Club. Pollock really didn't have much to do with it but he came occasionally. He was living out in Easthampton anyway, and he came only occasionally. Well, there was Max Ernst who lectured and there was Suzuki. Arp came. There were some really interesting evenings.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Lots of interesting people.
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, whatever interesting person in the art world did pass through New York would certainly be invited to spend an evening with us. Then there was the annex to The Club, which was the Cedar Bar just across the street, where, after The Club proceedings were over, everybody went. That was really quite a place.
PAUL CUMMINGS: That was the great social club.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, everybody went there. It was a very interesting kind of thing. Irving Sandler is the historian of that, as you know. There were all kinds of girls around there called the dancing girls.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Really? I've never heard them referred to that way.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. They were called dancing girls. Well, all this was immensely meaningful to us for a few years. Then, like everything else, it petered out.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes, it changed.
LEO CASTELLI: It still goes on but it's no longer....
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, I think the Max's Kansas City thing is....
LEO CASTELLI: The Max's Kansas City thing is over now. There has to be some kind of point of gathering. Then it was the Cedar Bar and The Club itself. All kinds of nonsense went on about membership, about how to pick members, whether women should be admitted. There was quite a fuss about making Mercedes Matter the first female member of The Club and things like that.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I don't know. I don't sense The Club in that way, because it's been revived, I gather, recently.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes.
PAUL CUMMINGS: And it doesn't work any more.
LEO CASTELLI: It can't work any more. It's just a revival of a dead nostalgic thing. I don't know who goes there. I'm a member of it but I have never gone. I don't even know where it is.
PAUL CUMMINGS: The first show you did was what? The Ninth Street show.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, it was the only show that came about in connection with The Club, and we were already pretty far advanced.
PAUL CUMMINGS: It was 1951 already.
LEO CASTELLI: 1951. At that time, I think The Club had reached its peak. It was at the height of its glory.
PAUL CUMMINGS: But you had worked on some exhibitions with Sidney Janis?
LEO CASTELLI: I had worked on some exhibitions with Sidney before that. There was, for instance, an American-French show where comparisons were made. Really, it was a very silly idea. It's very amusing in retrospect--of comparing painters that seemed similar working in France and working in America, the opposite numbers, which, of course, was absurd because there was a certain formal similarity. But, as far as substance was concerned, there was absolutely no relationship, say, between.... Well, maybe the only one that was valid perhaps was the one between Matta and Gorky--Matta, because he was a European, and Gorky, the American. There was a real relationship there because Gorky had been inspired and freed by Matta in some way.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How did you get involved with Sidney? ...because he had just opened the gallery a little before that time.
LEO CASTELLI: He opened his gallery, I think, in 1948 or 1949. Was it that?
PAUL CUMMINGS: I think so, yes.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. No, wait a minute. He had his 20th anniversary a year ago? Two years ago? Well, anyway, about that time. Janis I got to know well. First Drouin spoke to me about Janis in the late '40s when I was still involved with Drouin. He told me about this person (Janis was not a dealer yet) who had come to see him and he seemed to be very knowledgeable and why didn't I meet him. Exactly when I met Sidney I don't know, but I met him well before he opened the gallery. In fact, we discussed at great length his opening of the gallery. We had been sort of seeing each other for quite a while before that. Probably I met him in connection.... He was writing that book, you remember, about.... Or he wrote that book....
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, the surrealist book?
LEO CASTELLI: No, not the surrealist, the other one. The one about the Americans in which also Pollock....
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, yes, right.
LEO CASTELLI: What was it called? I don't know. Was it Surrealism and Abstract Art or something like that? I don't know. Well, anyway, that book. So he was around. He knew me. Of course, he knew all the painters like Pollock and de Kooning.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, he'd been collecting for years.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes, but he didn't collect Pollock at all or de Kooning.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right.
LEO CASTELLI: He had been collecting Picassos and Arps, but perhaps not Giacometti yet, but de Chirico and, you know, the classical choice at that time of Alfred Barr. Barr was his master. So that was Sidney Janis. So I probably would have met him in connection with one or other of the artists. By the time he opened the gallery, we already knew each other exceedingly well; and it must have been 1948 or 1949, 1948 probably. I think that he had his 20th anniversary last year.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I think so, yes.
LEO CASTELLI: So that seems very far away, but then it had seemed also that he had hesitated a long time. As a matter of fact, Kootz, when he abandoned his gallery...and I think, at that time, he moved into a private apartment. Or did he move into another gallery? I think that he didn't want to have a gallery any more. He had the idea that he would function better in an apartment. He had an apartment on Park Avenue from which he was selling the paintings. I think that was....
PAUL CUMMINGS: This is Kootz?
LEO CASTELLI: Kootz, yes; or maybe he moved to another space. I don't remember.
PAUL CUMMINGS: He closed for a while, and he moved to so many different locations.
LEO CASTELLI: There was one on Madison Avenue in a house that doesn't exist any more.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right.
LEO CASTELLI: I don't know whether, after he left the present Sidney Janis Gallery...if it was after that that he got this apartment on Park Avenue and thought that he would do his business there and then, of course, found out that that was very difficult. Anyway, before Janis opened, Kootz came to see me or phoned me or whatever and said he had something to propose to me. You see how much advanced I was along the path of doing something; because he came to me and he said, "You are the first person I'm talking to about this. I'm leaving the space and I would suggest that you take it." So that means that back in 1948 everybody took it for granted that I should open a gallery. And just imagine, it took me another nine years before I did so. But anyway, I didn't. Then the next person that he talked to was Sidney, and Sidney took that space.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, Kootz has always been active, hasn't he?
LEO CASTELLI: He's still pretty active now. He does all kinds of things in his apartment--swapping, buying, selling. I haven't seen him for a while. Occasionally he comes and proposes all kinds of swaps that are not very good. So I generally say, "No thank you, I'm not interested."
PAUL CUMMINGS: But he showed all sorts of people, didn't he? I mean Picasso was his big thing in a way.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, if you want to talk about Kootz, he's been extremely erratic; but, at one point before the appearance of Janis on the scene.... And Janis the first couple of years was very tentative; he really didn't know what he was going to do here. As a matter of fact, no American painters except some old pals of his like Lucia Chavonetti, whom he showed, and Morris Hirshfield, the primitive.... He was really interested in the classics, and there he had certain artists that he favored over others, like Leger. Perhaps he was easier to get over Picasso. He was interested in the whole gamut of recommended painters of classics, and he got maybe a little bit through our long conversations about it. I used to see Sidney very, very often. We had lunch at least twice or three times a week and talked about things and worked out plans, projects, and things like that. Although not many projects did come about, but some did--that show that I'm going to talk about again at another time and sort of try to remember the names that were covered with some very interesting things. So before that, in the '40s, apart from Valentin and Valentine Dudensing and Matisse, there were those two galleries, Kootz and Betty Parsons. Betty Parsons, now in retrospect and even then, was, I thought, the better gallery of the two--the more interesting one with Pollock, with Barney Newman, with Rothko.
PAUL CUMMINGS: She had everybody there at one time.
LEO CASTELLI: And Kootz had really.... Well, apart from Hofmann, who I don't think anyway is a great painter, had these secondary people like.... Who did he have now? I've almost forgotten. Well, he had Baziotes right from the beginning, and he had Hofmann right from the beginning. One thing that he did that was very interesting was one of those "new talent" shows, which he must have done back in 1948 or 1949, in which painters like Franz Kline were shown for the first time. Nobody had heard about him.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Was that one that Greenberg organized for him?
LEO CASTELLI: I think it was Greenberg who did, or, I don't know. There were two. I think probably the second one was done by Greenberg, not the first. You'll have to find out about all those things. We just mention them, and I don't remember them so well.
PAUL CUMMINGS: But it's interesting. Even, say, up until 1950 or up until, say, the Ninth Street show in 1951, there was very little activity and very little dealing.
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, well, not really. There was considerable activity at Betty Parsons. Those Rothko, Pollock shows at Betty's were very, very important events.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes, but she didn't sell very much.
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, no. If you mean by "activity," no, there wasn't much selling going on. Real selling began, well actually began, when Sidney began to handle first de Kooning, then Pollock, Rothko, Kline, and the others. That really started, well maybe through natural circumstances, because we were getting out of the doldrums of the aftermath of the war--but maybe also it was Sidney's great merit to have promoted these artists. I won't say on an equal footing with the Europeans to begin with, but the fact that Sidney was handling them--Sidney, who had sold all those Legers, those beautiful Cubist paintings--was important. His choice of paintings was really about the best that could be. He really only showed very, very good material. It was, in a way, better than anybody else's. He never, for a long time, had one single lemon in those famous shows of his.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right, one after another. It was incredible.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. So this man who had handled all this superb material was now handling Pollock or de Kooning. So, therefore, Pollock and de Kooning must be good since Sidney was handling them; and that really started the American collectors. The monied people, who would not touch an American painter from here to there up to that time, started then collecting Pollock and de Kooning. It took a year or two but it was Sidney who started the ball rolling. That was his great merit.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes. I don't think Kootz ever was able to do that, and certainly Betty Parsons....
LEO CASTELLI: Nobody could do it. Only Sidney could have done it, and he did it, too.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes. I think Betty Parsons is very important, because of all the people she's showed, although she never sold anything. It's just unbelievable.
LEO CASTELLI: No, she couldn't. At that time, it was impossible to sell. It was only through those incredible circumstances of Sidney's having handled the great men and handled incredibly good material, marvelously-chosen material, and then coming up with the Americans, with beautiful, well-selected shows that convinced the American public, the collecting public, that the American painters were really perhaps not equals of the Europeans but were worth considering. That they became the equals of the Europeans happened much later, only toward the end of the 1950s. They became the equals or were considered the equals. Okay, Paul, I think we'll stop here because it's getting late.
PAUL CUMMINGS: You were going to talk about the American Vanguard Show that you were involved in with Janis in 1951.
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, you mean where we were comparing, rather naively, artists in Europe with artists in America.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right.
LEO CASTELLI: At that time, we still thought, everybody did, (there was some doubt but not so much of it) that, after all, similar things were going on here and in Europe. (That show, by the way, took place in 1950, so that really was quite early.) There was some kind of chauvinism apparently over here about the difference in quality, in spirit, and everything else between European and American art. It was not as evident then that the really important things were being done here and not in Europe. So there were, as a matter of fact, strong objections against that show and the spirit of that show on the part of Charlie Egan, who was very nationalistic and did not much understand the Europeans. Substantially, probably, he was more right than I was at that time in his judgment of the show. There was a rather sharp exchange between Charlie Egan and me at a party that's remembered by Walter Gutman in an excerpt from a book that he's writing concerning some of the New York leaders. He speaks about Egan and me and about this exchange. So it's recorded anyway in his recollection about that famous show.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How did the idea for the show originate?
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, I used to see Sidney Janis pretty often and at that time everybody liked those theme shows very much, you know, with black and white, man and wife, God knows all kinds of nonsense to make things more interesting and amusing to the public at large. So this was an interesting thing actually--screwball, if you wish, seeing it in the light of our experience today. But still, it seemed very amusing and interesting to do a thing like that, also, to make it interesting for the European public because the show was destined to be seen in Paris at the Galerie de France. So, well, it was showmanship in a way.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Did you go to Paris while it was there?
LEO CASTELLI: I did not go to Paris. I didn't see it there, no. But I had been in contact with the Galerie de France, and they were very eager to do a thing of this type. As I think I said on a previous occasion, there were these comparisons between Rothko and de Stael. If you could see the photographs of the things that we then showed there, it wouldn't really seem so bad as a comparison. There was Dubuffet with one of those figures and a de Kooning Woman. There was Matta and Gorky. Well, everybody knew that there was an influence there of Matta on Gorky. There were some comparisons that perhaps were not so good, but there were a few that weren't bad at all.
PAUL CUMMINGS: What did the painters have to say when they saw the show up?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, you know, at that time, people were not as pretentious maybe in that way as they are now. There were very few galleries around--Janis or Egan.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Betty Parsons.
LEO CASTELLI: It seemed to be a miracle that one did anything at all. We discussed that dearth of show places. So everything that was coming along that had to do with American and European painting put together, that looked imaginative, was imaginative--even if they were perhaps a little bit screwball--was a welcome happening or event. How we thought of it, I really don't know. There was this thing there that American painting was becoming very important. We began to understand that this movement could finally stand on its own, that it was no longer dependent on Europe; and we wanted to see at that point perhaps not so much the similarities as the divergences, in spite of similarities perhaps in form, the difference in spirit. Oh, yes. There was another comparison--a Kline/Soulages comparison--that was not bad. Everybody was talking about that comparison between Kline and Soulages at that time. So that was that show.
PAUL CUMMINGS: It's amazing the reactions of comparison-type shows and the things people say about them. But they don't do them anymore. No one has done a show like that for a long time.
LEO CASTELLI: I would sort of be against doing theme shows altogether. It is interesting, but again things are always stretched, as you find out in retrospect. For instance, that Primary Structure show of Kynaston MacShine's at the Jewish Museum seemed to be at that time a very well-conceived show. It was, too, but for the time. But then nobody could foresee that many of those people in that show really had something entirely different in mind--had different things in mind than others. For instance, just take Morris and Judd. At that time it may have seemed that there was a similarity in the spirit of the two, but we found out later that they were as different as artists can be in every respect. So, at the time, you do the best you can. You think that there you have a valid standard of comparison and you can analyze a movement with a certain chance of doing something. But it is constructive anyway because it has to be done at one point. It was probably that that show, which took place so long ago, had its importance in its time. And then we can think back and say, "Well, it's interesting to see that one could do and wanted to do a thing like that at all." That's already very interesting. What we are doing now, for instance--putting together again a group of people at the Whitney of a certain type. That will also seem at one point probably a show that really had no unity whatsoever. The Guggenheim show has no pretense to unity. It's just so many painters from various parts of the world. And--well, that's that.
PAUL CUMMINGS: It's like Dorothy Miller's Ten, Twelve and Fourteen Shows.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes, that's right. It's like a Dorothy Miller-type show. Those shows where you try to prove something are infinitely more interesting although infinitely more risky, too, and difficult to put together. But I think they're worth doing. Some are quite successful, some less so. For instance, in Lawrence Alloway's Systemic Painting Show, there was less of a theme there than.... Even then one could see that whatever he wanted to prove wasn't really there.
PAUL CUMMINGS: No. Well, it changes. Theme shows are just impossible sometimes. Well, getting back into the middle of the '50s before you opened the gallery, you were still dealing privately in a sense?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, the private dealing really was a little bit incidental. As I said, at that time I was terribly involved with the art world. I wanted to be part of it, was part of it. There was a real hero worship of artists, or some artists in particular, and of that world in general and probably some kind of attitude that actually could not be easily found in New York at that time. It was more, I think, a European attitude about art and about writing. Writers and artists in Europe are real heroes. Here they really are not. There is no tradition of....
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, and they don't mix very much either.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, there are collectors now, rabid collectors--the great ones like the Sculls or more recently a man like Joseph Hellman--well, real worshippers of art. They do it well or they do it less well, but their incredible enthusiasm can never be denied. In the case of Scull, you can approach him with all kinds of things, but something that cannot be questioned is his very deep involvement. Hellman, a more recent addition to the art world who is out in St. Louis, is really quite a phenomenon, too. There you can see the case of real fantastic involvement. So, I had that type of involvement.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Who were the people that you were most closely associated with or interested in?
LEO CASTELLI: I think that my real hero at that time probably was de Kooning. I liked Pollock very much, but he was difficult to deal with.
PAUL CUMMINGS: He lived in the Hamptons, too, for a long time.
LEO CASTELLI: He lived out in Springs but he used to come and go. I was also out in the Hamptons pretty often. I had a house there. We had de Kooning at a house that I owned for two years running for the whole summer. Pollock used to come, and we used to go to see him. So I did know Pollock well. I mean, I saw him often; but, really, rapport with him was very difficult because, when you saw him afternoons or evenings, he was usually very drunk. Occasionally something interesting would be said but....
PAUL CUMMINGS: He doesn't seem to have been a very, very good conversationalist.
LEO CASTELLI: No. He would say very interesting and important things occasionally. He was highly intelligent and particularly when he wanted to be.
PAUL CUMMINGS: But he wasn't really somebody that talked a lot.
LEO CASTELLI: We would not talk often; but, when he would say something, it certainly could be very, very interesting. The person that I saw most was de Kooning.
PAUL CUMMINGS: He's more of a conversationalist, isn't he?
LEO CASTELLI: He's very pleasant to talk to, it's true. One would not talk too much about (well, one never does) art, really, with the painters. Whenever you meet, you speak about a million things; but you don't speak about theories about art. One speaks about practical things with him, what goes on in Europe.
PAUL CUMMINGS: And exhibitions.
LEO CASTELLI: And what goes on in the galleries and things, but one doesn't speak about aesthetic theories. Nobody is interested in talking about that. Kline I used to see. With Kline, really, one wouldn't talk very much. There was his famous stream of consciousness talk, which was extremely entertaining, full of extraordinary ideas. If one could have taped at the time, God, one would have volumes on Kline as I mentioned. Then there was this whole crowd at The Club.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Did you go to The Club frequently when it first started in the early years?
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, in the early days, I was one of those (as I told you) almost charter members. It was sort of affirmed by some people and denied by others that I was part of the original group of 20. Anyway, if I was not part of the original group of 20, I was 21.
PAUL CUMMINGS: What purpose do you think The Club served other than just a place to meet and talk?
LEO CASTELLI: And be together. To exchange--not ideas primarily. To feel that one belonged. One would also have guests who would deliver lectures like, I don't know, somebody like Max Ernst and then a lot of people like Rosenberg or some Japanese Zen expert...
PAUL CUMMINGS: Suzuki was around.
LEO CASTELLI: ...or on Existentialism. There was William Barrett who spoke several times on Existentialism. All those things that interested us, that were talked about, were discussed there more or less competently. There were also talks about them that occurred every Friday. I guess it was Friday. It was a very active thing. Then it resulted, as you know, in that Ninth Street show of 1951.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right.
LEO CASTELLI: It was not its swan song, because it went on functioning for a few more years.
PAUL CUMMINGS: But it changed.
LEO CASTELLI: After a while, people lost interest. Many of the people, like de Kooning, got involved with other problems, and myself. So little by little, it fell to pieces, but it's still there. It still exists, does it not?
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, it's been revived.
LEO CASTELLI: It's been revived.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, what led you to decide that it was finally time to open a gallery?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, mostly, I think, the fact, the very banal fact, that I did have to make a living, that I saw that there was no other way for me to make a living and that I had to become serious about it if I wanted to go on paying my rent and my grocery bills. That thing with Janis had been sort of helpful. There were some occasional joined ventures that brought in some money, but obviously it proved to be insufficient after a while. Also, Janis began to feel.... After all, he was running a gallery, an expensive place, and there was no reason for him (at that time I did sort of feel peeved about it) for him to just share profits when he had all the work to do--to pay the overhead, publicity, and what not. There was no reason for us, for instance, to buy something together for $2000 and I should get $1000 and he $1000. So it seemed that the beautiful days of naivete were over. This relationship with Janis seemed to be too sketchy. He also began to feel that, after all, he couldn't do me all those favors anymore, that it was not appropriate. We had some kind of project going for a while for me to open a branch in Europe, which really would have been a fantastic thing to do at that time. Probably it would have changed my life, my career, and perhaps also a great deal of things in the promotion of American painting.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, tremendous.
LEO CASTELLI: But I had no capital and he did not seem to be interested enough to provide it and also felt that perhaps whatever he was doing should stay in the family. He had two sons to take care of. I went to Europe back in 1955 and explored possibilities there, talking to various people in other galleries how they felt about this project. Everybody seemed vaguely to feel that it would be very interesting and they were encouraged. Then I came back and I spoke to Janis about it. He said he would discuss it with the family, etc. Then one evening we met and he said that they had discussed it all, thought about it, and felt that perhaps he would not want to put any money into a venture of this kind. After that I tried to get some kind of grant from.... I don't know. I spoke about it to Alfred Barr, who was vaguely interested and who made a few suggestions. At that time, and even now, it's difficult to get money for a project that seems to be very much up in the air.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How interested was Barr in what was going on at that time?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, as you know, they were not terribly involved in abstract expressionism. They came to recognize the importance of the movement a little later. They were not with it right from the beginning. The only artist that I know of that Barr got enthusiastic about right away and felt was an incredible man was Jasper Johns when I first showed him in 1958. Really I don't know whether he acted that way in other cases, but there he came. He was bowled over by the show and then spent literally hours looking at the paintings and coming back and wanting to see Jasper to find out from him what this was about, how it was motivated, and so on.
PAUL CUMMINGS: That's very interesting, because he never seemed to have visited The Club or was not....
LEO CASTELLI: He did. As a matter of fact, I want to tell you of an episode there. When we had the famous Ninth Street Show, well, he came. There was a big streamer over the street. I don't know whether other people told you about that. Then after closing the show, we all went up to The Club, and Barr was there. No, no, no. To be correct historically, Barr came to the show, and he looked around and, as a matter of fact, got very excited about it. Then he said, "Please do come over to the Bar and tell me about it. How did all this come about?" So I went with Barr to the Cedar Bar while the show was still going on and told him a little bit about how it came into being. There were photographs that were made of the installation, and he was interested to the point where he wanted us to sort of write. I don't know whether it happened at that time or later on; but anyway on the back, corresponding to each painting, he wrote the names of the artists. They probably have the document at the Museum. So there was that, the excitement. And, oh, Barr came to The Club very often.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, he did?
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, he did.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Because I don't think anyone has mentioned him.
LEO CASTELLI: He did come. He did come. I remember we went up to The Club and; well, for whatever I did there, I appeared, I think, with Barr or a little later; and there was that very touching burst of applause for my entrance.
PAUL CUMMINGS: That's interesting because either people don't want to talk about Barr's activity or lack of activity, but it's very hard to find out.
LEO CASTELLI: People have forgotten. The end results seem to be poor in what the Museum has done for that movement and now, more recently, for other movements. For instance, they have ignored the Pop movement completely.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, were they just getting enthusiastic about abstract expressionism?
LEO CASTELLI: They were never enthusiastic about abstract expressionism. It took them a long time to understand Pollock and de Kooning and Kline. They got to Pollock a little earlier, but it took them quite a while to get to de Kooning. Kline they probably understood a little earlier than de Kooning.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, but de Kooning kind of held off, too, didn't he?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, he held off because he was peeved at their attitude. He understood that they really didn't particularly understand what he was about and what he was doing. They missed the great de Koonings that they could have bought, like Excavations, for instance. Do you know when they got excited about de Kooning? When he did that Woman, and that was when?
PAUL CUMMINGS: 1953.
LEO CASTELLI: 1953. The first great Woman that they have.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes, 1952, 1953 somewhere.
LEO CASTELLI: Anyway, it seems to me that it took them a long time to understand de Kooning. But that's when they got really excited about de Kooning. That's the first major work of his that they bought. They had bought the very beautiful black one that they have, but that would be considered just a routine purchase. It's a relatively small painting. There were paintings around like Excavations that I myself would have just died to have and that the Institute then bought, and collectors like the Steinbergs at that time, you know, Al Newman who bought that other marvelous de Kooning painting called....
PAUL CUMMINGS: I don't know which one you mean.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, it was here in the de Kooning show anyway, another major painting that just went to Chicago, bought by private people. No, the Modern was not after the great works of de Kooning or Pollock. Now they got themselves, thanks to the Janis gift, Number One. But they had no Pollock of consequence when other people were buying them. Ossorio was buying important de Koonings. No, they were not very with it, as they were not with Pop Art. You know that they haven't got a major Lichtenstein except a very little one to begin with and then one early one that they'll get from Philip Johnson, perhaps another one, I don't know. Well, as for instance, Dr. Ludwig there in Aachen has his collection now at Walter Fritch's Museum in Cologne where he has, I don't know, something like 13 or 14 major Lichtensteins. So does Lou Sochs, for instance, whose collection again has been sold to a German collector. So there are actually more major Lichtensteins in Europe than there are here. There are some in private collections like Scull's. Or Rowans in Los Angeles has got the big Tempo.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I'm curious about the collectors, say, up to 1955 or 1956. There were not very many who were really....
LEO CASTELLI: There never are very many. There are not very many now either. There aren't ever very many what they call "collectors." There are some people who buy paintings but they are not collectors.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, right.
LEO CASTELLI: Even though they buy paintings, but they occasionally, and then, when they have sort of more or less filled all the walls, then they don't buy anymore. The real collector goes on buying irrespectively. So there are not too many. Collectors like the Tremaines, like Scull, are rare. There's Ludwig now. Oh, there was Crochart who specialized in Pop Art. There's Carter Burden who is more focused on Stella and the color field painters. He's a rabid collector. He also buys others but those are....
PAUL CUMMINGS: His specialty.
LEO CASTELLI: He goes on buying one Stella, two Stellas, three Stellas, five Stellas, ten Stellas, and so on. The same with Noland. There's Eugene Schwartz, who is a pretty good collector, too, now. They don't come to mind so easily because there are none. There are museums now. Some museums--not the Modern--but, for instance, the Whitney buys, thanks to Lipman especially. He has really revived the Museum with his acquisitions of sculpture which were daring.
PAUL CUMMINGS: They had nothing before.
LEO CASTELLI: Then the Guggenheim buys good works but one at a time. For instance, they bought that Morris piece when they had that show.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Places like Buffalo though and Chicago and Walker....
LEO CASTELLI: Buffalo is already getting old. Walker hasn't got much money, but Martin is always still very good and very active and very much up-to-date. Now, we have a better situation in Detroit where you have Sam Wagstaff who really has a very, very fine eye for the most recent things. He buys Judd and Morris and whatever is subtle and up-to-date. Minneapolis has a good setup with Walker and with a very good gallery at Dayton's Department Store. Phyllis Wenda's Gallery is really run like an important gallery. It's worthy of New York the way she runs her gallery--very intelligently, with good shows, with good daring purchases. Phyllis Wenda is really a great dealer.
PAUL CUMMINGS: It's amazing because I was out there 15 years ago and there was none of that.
LEO CASTELLI: In the Middle West, there was some hope already quite a while ago, like Ted Coe in Kansas City. But that did not progress very much because there are no collectors there. There has to be just more than an enthusiastic museum director. You can say the same thing of Milwaukee. Tracy Atkinson is a very good young man, but he does not get enough support. St. Louis is good. The museum collection is not extraordinarily developed, but they have a very good curator there, Emily Rauh, and an intelligent director in Charles Buckley and especially one fantastically enthusiastic collector, Joe Hellman. He can just move the whole of St. Louis by organizing very daring shows. One he did recently was similar to the Whitney show, and that got there before anything of the kind ever appeared in New York. So you see, one good collector supported by one museum can turn the tide.
Now we have the example of the miracles that are accomplished by museums in Europe, for instance. The Stedelijk in Amsterdam has done pioneering work on American painting or the museum in Eindhoven, another Stedelijk museum run by a man like Leering. They do shows about the new trends well before we do them here in New York or in America. A modest place without funds like the Kunsthalle in Berne, financed by Philip Morris, curiously enough, did a show of these new trends similar to the Whitney one but much more complete.
PAUL CUMMINGS: A huge exhibition.
LEO CASTELLI: Much more complete, the like of which has never been seen here. So the Middle West, I would say, is terribly interesting. California is very special. There is not much collecting going on there. There's been a sort or brief efflorescence there of collecting. Those people like the Friedmans or the Wisemans, very eclectic collectors, bought all kinds of things--Clyfford Still and de Koonings and Pollocks and what not. But it was just limited to four or five people, and it has not developed as much as we hoped. But there is an over production there and good dealers. Blum has been around for a while. Dick Wilder was very daring. Now more recently, a young man from Vancouver, Douglas Christmas, has the Ace Gallery there. So there is activity there. There are many good local artists that are also shown here in various galleries.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Do you think they really have to get a New York gallery and show here before they can even do well in California?
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, no. That's not true at all. They can begin in California. That's the advantage of California (of Los Angeles, that is), that some artists or an artist like Petit or Peter Alexander can begin their career there and be noticed then in New York. They don't need to have their show here before they get noticed. So that is the advantage of Los Angeles over any other.... If some artist appears in Chicago, nobody cares about that. They won't expect anybody in Chicago to be able to do a good painting or a good sculpture. We do expect good artists to appear in California, and it's proved by so many good artists that have appeared there like (just to quote a few) Kienholz, Bob Irwin, Larry Bell, and so on.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, there's a whole group developing who will come out of there, I think. Very interesting people will come out of California.
LEO CASTELLI: They do come out. They have come out. More will probably come out. Some people, like Bruce Nauman has come from.... Well, he's come from San Francisco, oddly enough. He comes out of that funk art movement that started there three or four years ago and that sort of died and then produced really one, perhaps two, artists. Then there are good "light" artists there. There's Terrell. There's Doug Wheeler. Those are very good. There is now Bob Irwin, who works with light and shadow images. They are very good, and they are getting to be known all over in Europe in various shows like Dokumenta or in galleries in Europe. In fact, Sonnabend certainly has promoted more artists than anybody else in Europe. She has shown many of the California artists apart from the ones that she has from New York. She has shown McCracken, Larry Bell.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, we're way ahead. Let's....
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. We are ahead of our time. So then to come back to Janis, just as he said that it could not be done. Then I said, "Well, it's a matter of life and death for me. I just have to work out my own salvation." Since I had done a little bit of work from upstairs on the fourth floor and people knew the place (there had been many parties and they had seen paintings around), it seemed quite natural to turn that place into a gallery. Our daughter at that time was married to Ian Sullivan and had gone to, was going to college; so we didn't need her room anymore. So then this apartment up on the fourth floor was just formed into a gallery. What used to be our living room became the gallery. The room that used to be Nina's, my daughter....
PAUL CUMMINGS: You had two rooms up there, didn't you?
LEO CASTELLI: There was the L-shaped room that was the living room, and there was the back room that used to be the bedroom of Nina. Those were then the gallery. The L-shaped room was the exhibition room, and there was a room back there that was the office, and there was a walk-in closet and that was the storage space. And that was that. There was that little elevator, as you know, going up to the fourth floor. People managed. They went up with the little elevator. Some felt claustrophobic about it and walked up the four flights, but everybody came. We lived there, too. There was a little kitchen right at the entrance. The door was kept closed. Then there were two rooms in the back which were, well, our living quarters. One room was mine and the other was Ileana's. There was no living room, no dining room, nothing else. That was all. Well, one didn't eat there very much. It was good enough for breakfast, and the life that we led then was entirely Bohemian. It was up in the gallery and perhaps downtown most of the time.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I'm curious about the first show, which was a group show.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, you have the Ten Years of mine.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right.
LEO CASTELLI: And the first show. Well, I had been involved, of course, in....
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, were these things part of your collection or were they things you'd gathered?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, there were some things that I owned and some things that I gathered for the occasion, borrowed or otherwise. They were all for sale though. A show like that, like the first one that I did, would be rather difficult to put together--even for a Janis or for a Perls or for a Matisse today. There were many masterpieces in that. One thing I did, that I think was done for the first time, was mixing so-called European masters with American masters. I think that nobody had done it before. Janis was still in 1957 not doing it. He would keep those shows separate.
PAUL CUMMINGS: You didn't have a stable then or any particular artists in mind?
LEO CASTELLI: No. I didn't have a stable, and there were all kinds of friends that had shown in the Ninth Street show, like Paul Brackt. I also wanted to show a few Europeans. I had very vague ideas frankly for the first two or three months until that show that I did. Let's see, that started February, March, April, May. So it was my fourth show that really became my program, and it was called "New Work." In that show, I had a painting of Bob's [Rauschenberg] that's now in the Cleveland Museum, a flag of Jasper's [Johns] that's now Philip Johnson's. I also had some people that I got later on, that became part of my stable, like Norman Bluhm, for instance, and Marisol and Alfred Leslie (that I never took on) and Morris Louis (that I never took), Dick Budd, Friedel Dzubas that I had for a while. The first show had David Smith. I had Pollock. Next to Mondrian, there was Dubuffet. There was a beautiful early Kandinsky. There was Giacometti. There was Van Doesburg, Leger, a very nice mixture. I didn't get a Picasso.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Did you have any idea of the people you were going to represent?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, I began to have an idea after my "New Work" show in May 1957. Then I began to think about Jasper and Rauschenberg.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How did you find them the first time?
LEO CASTELLI: I had known Bob Rauschenberg since the Ninth Street Show. I was saying today at lunch [that] one does not find artists. They just occur. One doesn't know how. They certainly do not appear at the gallery with slides and then you take them on the basis of that. They do appear at the gallery with slides, but you hardly ever will take an artist on that basis. If you do, it usually is a mistake even if you do go on with them. No, artists exist in groups. They gravitate around the de Koonings, or they are part of the more subtle kind of the environment. Like, for instance, Jasper Johns was in a group in which there was Rauschenberg, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham, a grouping that was not exclusively a group of painters. John Cage was the great force there at that time, not so much Rauschenberg or Johns. So you know those people. You meet them.
Jasper Johns was a real discovery in a certain sense because, although he existed, not many people knew about him. I saw him for the first time in a show at the Jewish Museum. That was in March of 1957, and that was the Green Target that the Modern has now. I saw that green painting. It didn't, of course, appear as a target to me at all. It was a green painting. I didn't know that he was doing targets. Well, going around and seeing the familiar painters of that time.... It was a show that had been organized by Meyer Schapiro and other people. There was Rauschenberg and Joan Mitchell, and, oh, all that younger generation. Well, I came across that green painting, and it made a tremendous impression on me right away. I looked at the name. The name didn't mean anything to me. It seemed almost like an invented name--Jasper Johns.
Then three days later, I went to Bob's [Rauschenberg] studio because I had to make up my mind about a show I was going to give him and so on and discuss his joining the gallery. Well, Bob was showing me various paintings. There were some larger ones that he wanted to pull out of the stacks, and he had some difficulty. I asked if I could help him and he said, no, no, we would leave that for later because he said Jasper Johns would come up any minute now and he would help. Of course, I had been sort of pronouncing that name, Jasper Johns, in my mind for the past two or three days wanting to phone the Jewish Museum people to find out who he was. So it struck a responsive chord. I said, "Do you mean the man that painted the green painting that's at the Jewish Museum?" And Bob said, "Yes, he has a studio down below." At that moment, Jasper appeared. So, I said to Bob, "I'm so curious now about seeing Jasper Johns' paintings, to see what this green painting relates to that I would like, if you don't mind to interrupt our looking at your paintings and go down right away and see what happens down there."
So we went down. It was just the floor below. There was a fantastic display of flags and targets. You know the target with the plastic eyes, the one with the faces. The green target was at the Jewish Museum, but there was a big white flag, a smaller white flag, numbers, the alphabet, anything--all those great masterpieces. There was about a million dollars worth of paintings that were worth nothing, just there. Yes, I would say absolutely a million dollars worth of paintings. I am not overstating. I could prove it to you. I was so stunned that I said, "Would you like to join my gallery?" It was as simple as all that. Jasper Johns didn't waste many words and just said, "Yes." So that was done. And then.... Well, there were those two shows that occurred the next year in 1958. The first was Jasper's in January with the cover on Art News, the target with the faces, and then a little later, two months later, Rauschenberg's show.
The Johns' show was tremendously successful. There are any number of anecdotes about that. A man you probably do know, Jan Street, came the first day. Barr came perhaps a day later. He saw the show and said, "I would like to buy the whole show." I said, "Well, that can't be done. That would be just idiotic on the part of everybody, but you can have one or two, maybe even three, paintings, but not the whole show." Then he got very angry and said, "Well, if I can't take the whole show, I won't buy anything." So I said, "That's all right. Don't buy anything." Many years later he said, "What a fool I was. I should have bought even one painting." There was that appearance of Barr, and he spent incredible hours at the gallery looking at the paintings, relooking, calling Soby or Dorothy Miller on the telephone, telling them they "must come up here immediately." And then between the Museum and the staff of the museum and the prestige, they bought practically the whole show.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How did Art News get so enthusiastic so quickly?
LEO CASTELLI: I don't know. Tom Hess came. Again, I can tell you that episode. That was even before the show went up. The paintings were around but were not as yet hung. He looked at those paintings; and, among other things, he saw the target, the faces, the Museum piece. He said (just imagine how sloppy I was at that time), "Can I take that along in a cab?" And I didn't even ask what he wanted to do with it. I said, "Yes, of course, you can take it." He said, "Well, you know, I want to make a color photograph of it." But he didn't say that he wanted to put it on the cover and I didn't ask. Then we had that wonderful surprise of having it on the cover. He, too, sort of felt that it was something new and interesting. He didn't come around to understanding Jasper just then but he did a little later. It seemed fascinating enough to him to put on the cover. That created a sort of fantastic scandal at that time. I think that nobody forgave Tom Hess for a long time for having put that odd thing on the cover of Art News.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, it was so different from everything else.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes, from everything that he stood for. He was a great de Kooning man, a Pollock man.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right.
LEO CASTELLI: This was the death knell actually to the abstract expressionists. I think probably that Jasper was more responsible for the rapid ending of abstract expressionism than anybody else, more than Bob Rauschenberg, I would say. Because his image really was different and became really the focus of all new kinds of things that sprang up as a result of that. Stella comes out of Jasper and Bob. He certainly triggered Stella, who was sort of more or less abstract expressionist to begin with. As Stella will tell you, through the stripes of the flag, the flag itself was the solution of the problem. The stripes led him to develop his famous stripe paintings because he had the same idea in mind that Jasper had to objectify the painting. He found that Jasper's was the solution. He went, of course, then a step further to the shaped canvas and all that. So Jasper, I would say, was probably the major influence, the turning point actually, in American painting with that show.
PAUL CUMMINGS: It's very interesting. You've mentioned they were all involved with Cage. Cage, for a long time, seems to have had a circle of friends who were very involved with him and his ideas.
LEO CASTELLI: He's an incredibly brilliant mind. I don't know whether you've read his prose, which is really probably about the best prose that is being written here in American today, his essays.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes. I've been reading Silence again.
LEO CASTELLI: So he was a brilliant mind around a group of young people who were not just involved in the formal aspect of painting but in the intellectual and philosophical sides of it, and he would be a great influence.
PAUL CUMMINGS: It's very interesting that Cage ended up doing what all the critics have always wanted to do, which was to have a circle of influence in a way.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, Harold Rosenberg was very influential in the midst of the abstract expressionist movement. Very interesting.
PAUL CUMMINGS: But, in a completely different way though, wasn't he?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, in what way do you think his circle was different from Cage's circle? In what way?
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, his relationship as an individual to the other people in the group up.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, they are two very different characters. After all, Cage is a sort of saint, a sort of guru, really so; whereas Rosenberg is a man of action. He is a man who was involved in the political struggles of the 1930s, a Leftist, a Trotskyite, belonged to this whole group of brilliant intellectuals of the period--the Cousins, himself, the people of the Partisan Review. They were a very interesting group of very politically-oriented writers, and he was one of them. So, you cannot compare him to Cage to whom politics is of no interest whatsoever.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I've often had the feeling in talking to Harold Rosenberg that he would very much like to have had the kind of coterie aspects that Cage does.
LEO CASTELLI: He had it to a certain degree. Now, there's Greenberg whose circle has a coterie aspect like Cage's.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right.
LEO CASTELLI: I would say that Cage and he and certainly Rosenberg, the three of them, played an important role in having a group of people around them by whom they were influenced and whom they influenced in their turn. So, I would say that these three probably are the ones that we can mention. I can't think of anybody else of that type.
PAUL CUMMINGS: No, who's been available and active over such a period of time.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. You have the same phenomenon all through art history. If you take, well say, the more recent history of painting in Europe, you have a man like Apollinaire, the poet.
PAUL CUMMINGS: And Breton.
LEO CASTELLI: Breton and Apollinaire. That's about it.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I don't think you'd ever had that ever before in this country.
LEO CASTELLI: No. Again, this country--probably thanks to the Rosenbergs, the Cages, the Greenbergs, and the fact that it developed an independent kind of total independence--became a real center of production as Europe had been for so many centuries. It also developed its own phenomenon, developed new kinds of galleries. You can speak of one. No, there were galleries here that were interesting; but the ones that were more similar to what's going on now perhaps were not the Valentine Dudensings or the Curt Valentins, but rather Stieglitz. That was the spirit, perhaps, that was closer to what we're doing now.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes.
LEO CASTELLI: ...or what Peggy Guggenheim and Betty Parsons and Egan even recently....
PAUL CUMMINGS: It's amazing the people that Betty has had in her gallery.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. So, we got our art, our own indigenous original art. We became the leading city in the country, the leading city as far as art is concerned, and then produced a phenomenon similar to the ones that occurred in Europe.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, it's interesting that the Museum was interested and got involved in that first show. Then what happened? They knew about you but they weren't....
LEO CASTELLI: Well, they were always very friendly toward me; but I never asked them anything. I didn't bother anybody. My attitude from the beginning of my gallery was one of extreme reserve; and although I knew the Museum people pretty well--Dorothy Miller, Barr, and so on--I always felt a little bit embarrassed and shy with them. To me, they were all great people. Although I really thought that I would accomplish something quite important right from the beginning, I didn't feel yet that I had proven anything. So I kept, I would say, a respectful distance. To meet people like, I don't know, Rosenberg or Greenberg even.... I really could have seen them often and could have talked to them more often than I did, but I didn't feel at that time that I had very much to contribute. I was inexperienced, and I just didn't want to bother them with irrelevant conversation. I thought that they knew so much more than I did.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, let's see, Tworkov was an early member, too, wasn't he?
LEO CASTELLI: Tworkov was an early member, too, yes. All that Egan group especially. There was Tworkov and Kline, de Kooning and Egan himself was part of The Club.
PAUL CUMMINGS: No. I mean in your gallery.
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, in my gallery? There was Tworkov, yes. He came late. He was a great friend of Jasper's and Bob's. They liked him very much as a person and as a painter. So, when he became available--he left the Stable--I felt perhaps, well, I would like to have him. Bob and Jasper were very much for that. So, I had him for a while, but he did not quite fit. At that time, I thought that everything could or would fit. Then I found out that my gallery itself became a type of coterie. Yes, it is that. A live gallery that is an organism can only function on that basis. Although it's strange that the coterie extends from Rauschenberg, Johns, Stella, through the Pop Art group and now to Morris, Judd, to Serra, Sonia. Where is the coterie aspect? Well, it is a very cohesive group, although it extends from that pole to the other pole. There are a few irrelevant people, but those get either shunted or eliminated. There is actually only a group. I was talking to Frank Stella (we had dinner together yesterday), and we were analyzing a little what is happening. And he said, "But you have so many artists!" And I said, "No, Frank, I haven't got many artists." Then I told him the artists that I like that are functioning in the gallery are maybe ten.
PAUL CUMMINGS: And then some experimental.
LEO CASTELLI: And then there are some other things that are, you see, experimental: Neumann, for instance, who is quite new, and Serra and Sonia. Well, Sonia I really don't know much about. But it seems to me, although they are younger, they are more part of the group than some people that I've had for two or three years who, for some reason, have not been functioning and probably will be ejected, you know, like the organism does eject gradually.
PAUL CUMMINGS: People change and they want to do something else.
LEO CASTELLI: No. The fact is that there are mistaken choices, and those just cannot stay. They cannot be kept. Sometimes it's a long and painful process. Sometimes it's easier to.... Generally speaking they realize that they don't belong. I've never really sent anybody away. They do realize that they don't belong. It becomes a very difficult and impossible situation for them, and then they go away. Sometimes they stay very long and don't realize it. Sometimes they realize it right away and go away right away. But they're never told actually. It just so happens that one understands that they don't belong.
PAUL CUMMINGS: They feel like changes and get out, too.
LEO CASTELLI: No, no. Whatever really belongs is there from the beginning to date. Whatever did not belong.... Well, there was one moment where I didn't know. I had Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg. Okay. And then Stella. My enthusiasm for Stella was similar to that which I had for Johns. Strangely enough, I had the same kind of immediate reaction to that, because I knew Johns and I understand perfectly well that this was totally related to what Johns was after.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How did you find out about Stella?
LEO CASTELLI: Somebody told me vaguely there was this young painter who was very good. Probably one painting had been seen in a group show at Johnny Meyers back in the spring of 1959. That person who saw that painting probably told me, "There is a young painter who you probably will be interested in. Go and see him." He gave me an address, and I went. It was on Broadway. Again, it was, as the French say, le cou de foundre, you know, just immediate reaction. It was fantastic work. Well, practically nobody understood it at that time, you see, except again Barr and Dorothy Miller did understand Stella because there was that episode when she was preparing one of those 14 Americans or 16 Americans shows in 1959 and she was still looking for some artists. She had included already Johns and Rauschenberg in that show. I sort of imprudently or wisely, I don't know, told her that there was this young painter (I just had seen him a few days before) that I had really been terribly taken with and would she like to come and see him. So we went and she looked and she said, "I must have that young man in my show." I said that was just absurd. Nobody has ever seen him. He's 23 years old. After all, the people that you have in that show are people that have had shows and are known, and you shouldn't do that to a young fellow. By the way, I have planned to show these black paintings of his in my first show I told her. So what do I do? She said, "Never mind, you will find something else to do, and I must have him." I did find something else to do, and she had him.
Again, there was a painting that they had shown, and at the end of the show they wanted to buy it. They used to buy one painting of every artist in the show. The trustees or whoever decides there said it was absurd to buy that painting of Stella's, that it was much too big, never mind the money (I think it was something like $900), it was just too big, they didn't have enough space to store a stupid painting like that. Barr at the time, from what I heard later what happened, made a long speech explaining what the painting was about and ended by saying that, if the trustees did not accept his opinion, he would resign because he would feel that his staying at the Museum would be sort of useless if his advice was not taken on major aesthetic matters of this kind. So Barr was very good about Stella, excellent. Although they never pursued anything, that was the great mistake of the Modern. They bought that Stella and from then on they didn't buy Stella anymore for years and years and years.
PAUL CUMMINGS: They seem to use a shotgun technique. You know, if they get a painting, that's fine; he's represented.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. Well, for instance, Howard Lipman, who I was talking to the other day, said to me that he bought one Morris, one Judd. He said now I would like to buy more. Of the major sculptors that I'm buying, I would like to have three, four, five of each and go on buying them. I find it a shallow technique of buying just one painting and consider that I have done my duty. It's just a ridiculous approach, but that approach has been followed by the Museum. Well, for a long, long time little by little, they acquired thousands of Pollocks by gifts and other ways, as they acquired thousands and thousands of Picassos. But they didn't seem to be interested in doing that with the American artists for many, many years. Their one example seems to be enough. They feel they have accomplished their duty.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Look at the Warhol they have. It's a very early Warhol.
LEO CASTELLI: Nothing. The Pop group they have completely neglected, completely. Now they're doing that Oldenberg show. Okay. That's the one they were less against for some reason because there was more of an abstract expressionist trend there in the beginning especially in those plaster things that he did. That was a mood that they understood, but they didn't understand Lichtenstein at all and still don't understand him. They don't have the vaguest idea about what Warhol is about either.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Eventually, eventually. Well, I think we could just keep talking about, you know, after the Johns and Rauschenberg shows and the next year and just kind of go through.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. This is a rather chaotic kind of thing, but it will necessarily be so. If it's of any interest, I just jump from one thing to the other as they occur to me.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Sure, sure.
LEO CASTELLI: Otherwise, I would have to sort of evolve a rigid scheme. Your questions bring me back to order anyway.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How about people like Sam Hunter or Leo Steinberg or Alan Solomon?
LEO CASTELLI: I'll have to talk to you about them and other people in the art world, yes. It will be very interesting for me to tell you about my relations with them.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Because they've all sort of been....
LEO CASTELLI: They've played a very important role. For instance, Steinberg critically with this one essay of his on Jasper Johns, about which I'll tell you more, really created a minor revolution. Solomon has been of extreme importance with his two Jewish Museum shows, the Rauschenberg and the Johns show, and even more so with the incredible 1964 Biennale. I will tell you more about that. It is a shame that people of this calibre really are not properly used. Through circumstances, they lose their job at the Jewish Museum. They still make an heroic effort and are used for a Biennale, like the 1964 Biennale, a very intelligent organization. Then there is no use for them anymore. It's partly due to the character of the man, sure.
PAUL CUMMINGS: It's in part due to the public wanting a new star all the time.
LEO CASTELLI: Then there was that fantastic book of Solomon's, The New Art Scene, which really is a very important document that had a very indifferent reception when it came out.
PAUL CUMMINGS: It's interesting. Fred McDarragh did a little one years ago, a little paperback.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. It's a very important document.
PAUL CUMMINGS: ...which is still in print. They still sell thousands of copies of that a year all over the country.
LEO CASTELLI: This, for instance, (I will suggest it to Alan) should be made into a paperback. It's a wonderful.... It's a really marvelous document.
PAUL CUMMINGS: It's very expensive.
LEO CASTELLI: It's not that expensive. It's ten dollars or twelve dollars. Anyway, it certainly should be done in paperback. It's a document of the first order.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Shall we go on?
LEO CASTELLI: Okay. But I have to go. Let's stop here now.
PAUL CUMMINGS: This is reel four, and it's June 18. So after the New Work show?
LEO CASTELLI: New Work show. Well, I don't know whether I actually realized at that time whether this was as significant a show for me as it turned out to be. I think I did. It's a difficult thing to say, because there was a feeling.... We had a party at my first secretary's. That was Ilsa (then) Goetz, and I remember she had a roof garden. We were on the roof garden and most of the artists--certainly Jasper, Bob, and others--were there. There was a feeling of elation about this show. Maybe that party did not occur at the opening; maybe it occurred at the close of the season. I can't remember exactly when, but there was a feeling that something important had been accomplished with that show. But I still.... If I look at my Ten Years "Castelli Ten" catalogue.... I better have a copy, Barbara, just to see how much I went on fumbling and how....
PAUL CUMMINGS: Then you had Norman Bluhm and Damian and Marisol.
LEO CASTELLI: Let me see what happened after that, because it's interesting to see. New Work. You see here Bluhm, Budd, Dzubas, Johns, Leslie, Morris Louis, Marisol, Ortman, Rauschenberg, and Savelli with collage. That's the beginning of the season. There would be also.... Oh, there would be the Norman Bluhm show. Let's see now what the consequences of that show were. I had Norman Bluhm in that New Work show and Norman Bluhm appears as the first show of the season. Then Marisol.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How did you find Norman?
LEO CASTELLI: He was somebody who was around. You know the artists who are around. Norman had been in Paris for quite a while before. He had just gotten back more or less. I was very interested at the time, as everybody was, in Sam Francis. Well, he seemed to be a Sam Francis. He was then. We considered him a good painter, one of those that one had discovered because he also had worked in Europe and had made his reputation in Europe rather than here. Bluhm seemed to me to be doing work that was in a similar direction and terribly interesting, which he really was at the time and, frankly, continued to be. He left the gallery because he felt that he was not at home here. He felt that the competition, especially from Rauschenberg and Johns, was very strong and that that was the dominant mood, perhaps, of the gallery. And he left, but not in anger. He felt that he was not at home. That was all. I still think that he went on being a very good artist. I let him go with regret, let's say. So, but to see the consequences of that show, I see that I had a show of a European painter whom I probably had contacted in the summer or before.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Damian.
LEO CASTELLI: Damian. Then there was Marisol, who appeared in my New Work show, Jasper Johns, Dzubas, Rauschenberg, and then again the Europeans. So, you see that I still had that idea that I would have interesting Europeans. Both Capogrossi and Damian (especially Capogrossi) seemed to be interesting and sort of acceptable here because of their (well, in the case of Capogrossi) quite original image--in the case of Damian because of a rather rough quality that made him pretty close to (or rather made him seem pretty close to) American painting, not the precious kind of European painting that we didn't like any more.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right.
LEO CASTELLI: Then, as I can see here, at the end of the season, I still was involved in having shows of the classics. I still thought that I might do something with that. As a matter of fact, the so-called classic show, every young gallery who can possibly do it (Bob Echel is an example) does, as long as you don't have a stable in which your painters become classics like Johns, Rauschenberg, now Stella, and Lichtenstein, and so on. If you don't have classics, you have to have painters on whom you can make some money if you want to develop your operations. If you want to stay very, very small with no overhead, then you can go on showing only modestly priced Americans. Otherwise, you can't survive if you are an ambitious gallery.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, you know the blue chip ones are very important to the finances.
LEO CASTELLI: They are important for the finances. They are important also at the beginning to attract people. At that time back in 1958, there were relatively few of the important collectors, if any, important collectors of European art that would even turn around to buy American paintings. They were beginning to buy, say, Pollock and de Kooning; but it was just the beginning. So that would attract them, yes.
PAUL CUMMINGS: So even to get them to see the Americans you had to show major Europeans?
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. Just to come to your gallery and say, well, this man who's got a show like this with Leger and Delaunay and Picabia here, and also has Pollock and de Kooning at the same time, that means that he does something. That was the idea. As I said, I think in our previous conversation, I was the first one, I think, to mix American with European and so forth classics. And that was certainly a ploy to attract collectors.
PAUL CUMMINGS: And it worked.
LEO CASTELLI: And it worked. So I had all those shows of which one, two, three, four, five were the direct consequence of the New Work show. So, it was really a programmatic show. I was very much involved, and I still am involved in group shows. I like those very, very much--shows that without any kind of theme just show good work of the artists that I have in the gallery. They always give me great pleasure, like the present one which is not complete. But when you see it, it will be, I think, a very good show. They're, in a way, more challenging and also more practical than a one-man show. Of course, you can't go on doing those. Since I have so many artists, I cannot indulge in that favorite sport of mine--of doing group shows. I have it here at the very end of the season, probably almost wasted. I would like to have another one--really be tough about it and have another one at the beginning of next season. End with one, begin with one. No?
PAUL CUMMINGS: Now the 1957-1958 season was your first full season?
LEO CASTELLI: The 1957-1958 season was my first full season, yes. And it ends with this Pioneers Show, so-called.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right. How was the reception of the artists in that year? How did the exhibitions fare?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, let's take them one by one. There was a nice, normal reaction to the Norman Bluhm exhibition. Damian, I really can't remember. Marisol's was a very nice show. She used to do those rather primitive wood carvings at that time and everybody loved it. There was that famous cat there, and Marisol with the big crown of plaster thorns. It was a very nice show. Then Jasper Johns, as I think I mentioned already, was a big sensation. There was a great deal of derision, but there was also a great deal of enthusiasm about it. I told you about the episode of Tom Hess' picking up the painting with plaster faces and it appearing on the magazine cover. The reaction he got from his faithful retainers was a bad one. They were mad at him as I understand. ...and the enthusiasm of Alfred Barr, the excitement. There were several episodes in that connection that I think I did not mention. One was that Barr was so excited that he spent hours, that he wanted to see Jasper.
PAUL CUMMINGS: You talked about that.
LEO CASTELLI: I didn't talk about the fact that he got very involved with my Target, the target with plaster that is mine and that has a green penis in it among other images.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, on the top, yes.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes, on the top. He would really have loved to have that rather than the one with the faces. He considers it more important. But then, he had qualms about having trouble with, you know....
PAUL CUMMINGS: The trustees.
LEO CASTELLI: Not the trustees so much as the public. Imagine now. But at that time, this limply hanging green penis would excite peoples' susceptibilities. But it was so. He was very worried about it--probably justly so. He said he had enough trouble remonstrating with groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution about the whole activity of the Museum, which was considered un-American in many ways. So that perhaps he wanted to avoid trouble and could he perhaps envisage having that case closed. So, I said I would not know what to tell him. But since we had already asked Jasper to come up, we wanted to talk to him. He was coming [so] why didn't he ask him what his feeling is about this. So, he asked Jasper when he came. Jasper said, "Well, if it's entirely closed, I really don't mind; but I do not want it to be programmatically closed. Since it's nailed down, it's not possible to open it; but, as a program, then, I would rather prefer that you do not take the painting." Barr is immensely honest, as you know, [and] said, "Well, under these conditions, I cannot take it then because I would have to violate your intentions and I don't want to do that." So they took that other one; they took the Green Target. I think I told you that Soby up-and-bought one for Mrs. John D. Rockefeller II or III--the second, I think. And Dorothy Miller got one. He got himself one. So there was great excitement about it. That was one thing. The other thing was the famous episode with (I don't know whether I told you that) with the Flag that Philip Johnson bought and how he bought it and what happened.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, let's go into that.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, Barr wanted the Flag very badly, but he felt that he could not buy it because it would raise a terrible storm of protest on the part of practically everybody--desecrating the flag and things like that. He wanted to secure it in some way or another, so he figured it out (he told me.) He'd get Philip up here to buy it and keep it until people get used to the whole thing and then, well, get it from him. So Philip came, looked at it, and said, "Well, I really don't care very much for it, frankly." Barr said, "Oh, it's not very expensive. It's only $900. You can do me that favor." So Philip said, "Okay, I'll be glad to do you that favor and I'll buy it for you." So he bought it. Then, the next thing was I see it in his office in the Seagram Building. Was it? Yes, it was the Seagram Building. No, it must have been somewhere else because, at that time, the Seagram Building wasn't ready. I'm being anachronistic. But it was there. I've heard from some other source (I believe it was Dorothy Miller who told me this) that, after a year, Barr realized that nobody was really very excited about the Flag. It was accepted as an idea by practically everybody. So it seems, according to the story I was told, that one day Barr sort of approached Johnson and said, "Now I think that you can give me my Flag." So Philip Johnson said, "Your Flag! No, it's my Flag, and I really got to like it so much that I want to keep it for a while longer." So he's keeping it until he.... Well, he's promised his whole collection to the Modern. But it's still his Flag; it's still there. He does not want to part with it until he must. So that was another episode in connection with the Flag. Then another thing that I remember is Sweeney's coming. Sweeney at that time really was not very involved with the new things that were happening in American art, and I remember his being very scathing about the big white Flag of Jasper's, considering it a big joke. But Sweeney came around not too much later. Now he does understand and has a great feeling for whatever happened at that time. So people came around.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes. I think you didn't show Europeans after that for a while, did you? Capogrossi was....
LEO CASTELLI: That was about the last. I gave them up. The reason for that was that I had really very close relationships with the most of my artists. There was the great friendship, the real friendship that I had with Jasper and Bob. We saw each other all the time. We were close friends, and my relationships with the others were also pretty close. I used to go often to their studios to see what they were doing. I would see them here at the gallery for a chat. The gallery has always been very much sort of a club. It still is now as you can see. If you spend an hour here, the people come and go and sit and talk. This atmosphere existed also at that time. The artists liked to come up. At that time, there was much more time; and we could all sit and talk. It was a very nice atmosphere. We used to have sofas. I had to suppress the sofas, as a matter of fact, (another little sidelight) a little later on because people just wouldn't go away. They would sit there for hours. First I tried to do something about it by putting the sofa downstairs instead of having it upstairs here in this room. Then people would go downstairs and sit downstairs, and they wouldn't move. So in the end, I had to give the sofas up and have these hard benches that we have now where they don't like to sit so much. Now, Dzubas' was a nice show, too. But again, normally he would have been understood more easily as an offshoot of abstract expressionism like Helen Frankenthaler. He comes out of that. He's already an offshoot like Helen, as we can see now. [Machine turned off.]
LEO CASTELLI: We were analyzing how I got down to that stable little by little that then gave the gallery its special configuration, aspect, how it was arrived at rather tentatively.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, the testing is in trying different things.
LEO CASTELLI: In trying, yes.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I'm interested in how you picked some of the people as we go along.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. Let's see how I picked them and why I picked them. I haven't thought about it. Sometimes there were actually false starts and blind alleys.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Sometimes you have to do an exhibition to make up your mind, too, I think.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, it's really not so. It doesn't work that way. You make your mind up, God knows, on all kinds of instinctive reactions that you have. Usually they show. Of course, after the fact, the show becomes a very important factor in how you feel about an artist. But then, you cannot make the decision on the basis of a show that you haven't had, and you can't tell an artist (you could really, but you can't).... An artist is sort of anxious and especially now where artists are picked up right and left by every gallery.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Ten years ago it was very different.
LEO CASTELLI: Ten years ago. Artists like Stella, or a little later Lichtenstein or Warhol, would not really lend themselves to be experimented with and told that I'll give you a show and then if I'm satisfied sales-wise I'll take you on. It won't work that way. You have to show faith, real faith, in the artist before you give him a show. You have to judge him on the basis of his work as it stands there against the wall. So that's not possible. It's a complex process actually, sometimes more in the beginning than later on. You find them almost yourself on the basis of a clue that you get from somebody else, just a casual remark almost by accident. You make a decision, and you don't know anything about that artist. He's not part of a group. Like Stella came from nowhere. I can't even remember who mentioned him to me; it was so unimportant. Stella I consider a real discovery, just as I consider Jasper Johns a real discovery, my discovery because I didn't know about his existence. He had been picked, thanks to the efforts of Rauschenberg, his friend, to appear in that group at the Jewish Museum in 1957. All the reputation he had was based on one painting.
PAUL CUMMINGS: One picture in one show, yes.
LEO CASTELLI: In that particular show actually, Rauschenberg almost had to run down the committee; although Meyer Schapiro had been interested in Johns right away. He had like him, so he didn't have to make much of an effort to convince him to show Jasper, an unknown young man. I consider Johns a real discovery. I didn't know anything about him. I had never heard his name. Practically nobody had, as a matter of fact. There were very few people who did until the day I saw one painting at the Jewish Museum and three days later he was in my gallery. With Stella, it was even quicker in the sense that I had heard about him from somebody (I don't know whom anymore), and I went down to the studio and I got him the same day. Another one whom I also consider a discovery really--Lee Bontecou. She shared a studio with a friend of hers who was a painter, and Dick Bellamy had gone down to see the other girl. After having been down to the studio, he said to Ivan [Karp], "I saw the paintings of that girl. I didn't think they were very interesting, but there's an artist there that Leo might like." (He sort of knew my taste a little bit.) Bellamy apparently was not interested in Lee. So, I told Ivan to go down and see and he did. Then Ileana also went to see, and they both felt it was terribly interesting. It's really fantastic, as a matter of fact, but I don't know what one can actually do with those things. They're frightening. The report was in a sense enthusiastic; but, in another sense, it seemed almost impractical to show an artist like that. So I delayed my going down to verify. I think it took me about a month before I got down there. When I went in, my first reaction was to feel that Ivan and Ileana were just mad not to rush me down there; because I found it so fantastically interesting. I got her right away; I didn't hesitate for a moment. So this I consider a discovery. That was Lee Bontecou. Another one that I consider a discovery was Roy [Lichtenstein] who came out from nowhere with those fantastic things that he brought to the gallery which were not particularly good but seemed to be supremely interesting and full of possibilities, although they were very, very uneven and some were even positively bad. Andy [Warhol] then we saw with Ivan. We went to his house on Lexington, and I felt that they were pretty close in many ways to the spirit of Lichtenstein's. It seemed to me, since Pop Art didn't exist, nobody knew that it was a movement at that time. I had seen quite rightly that they were close in spirit.
PAUL CUMMINGS: The early Warhols were the cartoon paintings?
LEO CASTELLI: Yes, the cartoon paintings, the nose jobs, and the dancing steps. There were some soup cans already, and at that time they were isolated soup cans. Had I seen the repeat ones at the time, I would have understood right away that they were based on an entirely different principle. But at that time, I didn't understand. It seemed to me that he was doing soup cans, and the other one was doing comic things--things that he would take out of newspaper advertisements, as Roy did too. The Ben Day dot at that time didn't seem to be.... Already you could see that it was a little bit of a trademark, but it was just the blowup of something that he found in small print. It seemed the logical thing in blowing up newsprint to have the Ben Day dot appear much larger.
PAUL CUMMINGS: But the Warhols were....
LEO CASTELLI: Warhol seemed to be close to Lichtenstein. Therefore, I voted for Lichtenstein who I had seen before. I told Andy that he seemed to be pretty close to Lichtenstein; therefore, I couldn't have two artists competing in the same kind of direction in the gallery. He was very distressed about that. I asked him if anybody else had been interested in his work, and he said Eleanor Ward had been. So I said, "Then do go to Eleanor Ward because in my gallery there would be this conflict. There you would be happy. She wants you very badly." So he went reluctantly, but finally got back to me after it became quite obvious to me that I had completely misunderstood what he was about, which was quite natural because he kept telling me that it was different. But how could he explain it? There was nothing to prove it.
PAUL CUMMINGS: He painted his things, didn't he, rather than the Ben Day dots?
LEO CASTELLI: Yes, there were big newspaper first pages like 109 Died, the marvelous painting that Ludwig has now. It seemed to be (and it was) based on the same principle; it was the Pop Art principle, which I then sensed. I didn't sense any relationship between Andy and Roy on the one hand and Rosenquist on the other. Rosenquist I went to see and I liked. But I felt that, in an odd way, he was too close to surrealism, to Magritte. At that time, there were many paintings that suggested Magritte very, very strongly. It was on that ground that I did not take him at that time, and a few days later Dick Bellamy took him on. Ileana saw it at the time. I really did think that those totem poles he had then were distinctly bad stuff. There were also a few of his new things there. But then, on the basis of those earlier things that I considered really clumsy, I said that a man that can commit such horrors as those wooden things with the wings up...
PAUL CUMMINGS: The totems, yes.
LEO CASTELLI: ...could not really be good; and it was an accident if those other things that he was beginning, those emblematic things which he was beginning to do, were good. Generally speaking, I feel that he really did not quite belong in the stream anyway, whatever stream there was then. He really didn't interest me. He was a hard-edge painter with some competence. Segal did not particularly interest me either. I didn't even see him. He went straight to Dick. So Lichtenstein was a discovery. Andy, well, perhaps was one, too. I saw him among the first, but also other people had seen him so it was not really such a discovery. That's about the end of the discoveries because, from then on, young people would gravitate toward some leading painter and you would gradually find out about them. Nobody just happened suddenly as Jasper or Stella did.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I'm curious about some of the people you showed the second year who were with you for a long time.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. Let's go back.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Like Savelli or Vicente.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. You see, I had a certain attachment, after all, to abstract expressionism. I had been involved with it, and my hope was always that some better men would emerge than just secondary followers from that movement--which actually happened. But those two men were Jasper and Bob, and they didn't seem to belong. They seemed very, very different. Later on we found that, after all, they came straight out of that; but at that time it was not so obvious. So I was expecting to see them come out to relate more closely. Tworkov, for instance, that I took on (he left the Stable) seemed to be a choice that is not really easy to explain; but it is explained by the fact that he was one of the good abstract expressionists. Bob and Jasper liked him very much. He was a painters' painter more than somebody that collectors liked. So, since he became available, I took him. It is one of those things that is difficult to explain. Well, he was Italian, he was lost, and he was around a great deal. He made collages at that time that were quite interesting. It was more out of weakness that I gave him a show just to help him.
Scarpitta, on the other hand, was an interesting situation. This is one of those things that happened very rarely. He came to the gallery with slides. He was a geometric hard-edge painter of some interest. I didn't think that he had invented gunpowder, but still he was interesting enough for me to try him out. Although, it turned out that he was really not a major painter. Well, he just stayed on. Occasionally, whenever I could, I went on giving him shows. His last paintings, the paintings that he did for his last show here, were really of more than routine interest; and it was really quite successful. I think many people were surprised to see that he could have such an interesting comeback.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes. I thought his show was very nice--that recent one.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. He had a show at the Albright-Knox which was really quite good, and he was really a great success this time. Also, Scarpitta was an interesting case, because he came with those shaped canvases.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes. That was marvelous.
LEO CASTELLI: There I instinctively saw a possibility that unfortunately did not get realized. He was really the inventor of the shaped canvas, and it's a shame that he got completely deviated by his fantastic enthusiasm for the New York School of Painting, for de Kooning, Pollock, and Kline, and that group. Instead of sticking with what he was experimenting with and carrying through to his own original conclusions, he got involved with de Kooning and Kline. That was the end of Scarpitta.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I know that those early canvases, and even some later ones, were terrific images, really strong.
LEO CASTELLI: They were terrific. My choice of Scarpitta.... I could still consider, on the basis of those canvases that I saw in Rome.... It's like Bontecou. It was a good, interesting choice that had many possibilities. Bontecou has also been lying low for several years now. That first spurt of great invention she did not really continue. She got stuck. Maybe she got stuck for internal reasons. She got married and had a child and maybe she....
PAUL CUMMINGS: Changed her outlook.
LEO CASTELLI: She changed around and became gradually a very different artist, as was indicated by that transparent piece that she had at the Whitney Annual.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes.
LEO CASTELLI: It seems quite promising.
PAUL CUMMINGS: She's the only girl with the exception of Marisol that's been in the gallery, isn't she?
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. Oh, Marisol is another case. I didn't keep her because she went away to Rome, stayed away for two or three years. When she came back, she was sort of rather uncertain about what to do. I asked her what were her plans. She said, "Oh, the gallery has changed so much, and I don't know whether I belong or not." So I said, all right. A few months later, she phoned and asked me to come to see those new things in her studio and I went down. They were of the type that she has been doing since then--those groups, those satires on all kinds of persons, portraits. I really did not like them. I thought that they were, I don't know, contrived. They were not, for me, serious enough. I told her then that I was sorry but I really don't dig them, and then she went to Janis after that. I am glad that I didn't take her on, because her art had lost the depth that it had in the beginning. That was Marisol.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Scarpitta, after the shaped canvases and some other things, started building his automobiles?
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. I must say that I gave him that automobile show that we brought up here to the gallery with tremendous effort. It was quite an enterprise, and they fell completely flat. I was really generally enthusiastic about them. I thought that they would have a great deal of success; because there was something very Pop-ish about it, very obsessive and curious. But people just didn't.... Nobody dug them except myself and maybe another person or two. Then he went on doing those automobiles.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I wonder if it was because they were too real for a lot of people?
LEO CASTELLI: They were too real. They had a little failing, a little fault somewhere. They were almost incredibly good. I don't know whether you saw the warehouse show of the automobiles.
PAUL CUMMINGS: No.
LEO CASTELLI: There are six of them there now, and they were really beautiful. There were the old ones and four new ones. Again, it's difficult to say where they failed, but they failed somewhere. Too real, but that really doesn't quite explain it.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes. I went to see the show.
LEO CASTELLI: So that fell flat, but he stayed on with me and gets a moderate support from me through the years in spite of the fact that really nothing happens. Now I have permitted him to get himself settled in teaching jobs and so on, and very soon he really won't need me any more. But there have been long years in which I would give him the support that he needed to go on living and pay his rent. Fortunately, he has a wife, Pat, who works and earns a good salary so that the strain on my finances hasn't been too hard.
PAUL CUMMINGS: And you have Gabe Kohn.
LEO CASTELLI: Gabe Kohn I picked. I rather liked his laminated wood things.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes. It's interesting the relationship between the cool things that he had and the cool things that Daphnis is doing in the sense that the Scarpitta things, which are cool and large as opposed to....
LEO CASTELLI: There is a relationship between Bontecou and Scarpitta, his shaped canvases, and Gabe Kohn. Again, they are rather strange configurations done in a very attractive way with those laminated things, which everybody likes. I mean, I do. It has to do with boats and things, you know. I like his work very much, but there we had some.... Well, he was difficult anyway to begin with, and then what happened was that his pieces were very badly made. They fell to pieces. They were not properly glued together and so on. He had problems. His ideas were good, but the execution was pretty poor. Then one really very good piece that I had sold to somebody was falling apart. I had it restored, and the restorer over-restored it and shined it up. Gabe was very indignant about that, and I had trouble getting it away from the collector, back to the collector. He accused me of tampering with the work of an artist. He made himself so unpleasant that I felt, "Look here you can have the piece back." And that ended our relationship--which has happened very, very rarely. I think this is the only case where I parted on bad terms with an artist. There were jealousy cases, but the parting there usually was not catastrophically bad. They sort of began to be jealous and annoyed at the fact that they thought (which was the truth really) that artists like Johns, Rauschenberg, Bontecou, Roy, Andy were taking over and getting all the attention and that they weren't. But that was due to natural causes. They were the ones on whom attention was focusing, and no amount of work that I could do could change that. So they would go away but, generally speaking, not in anger--except perhaps Vicente, who was a particularly jealous man and who resented especially Jasper and Bob. He had been a pretty close friend in earlier years before I opened the gallery; and he, of course, particularly felt hurt by the fact that he didn't get supposedly the same attention as Rauschenberg and Johns.
PAUL CUMMINGS: You can never judge what the public is going to do either.
LEO CASTELLI: That's right. Friedel [Dzubas] left also because he was jealous. Then finally Norman Bluhm left, because he felt that he did not belong. Others, like Daphnis, although they didn't have much success, did hang on. In a thing like this, there must be a lot of dropouts. Also, there are certain people that have been warmly recommended by artist friends, and you let yourself be convinced (although you are not entirely convinced) that they are terribly good--like, well, what's his name now? Well, there was Jon Schueler. But he was there from the beginning and seemed to be an interesting departure from abstract expressionism, a more lyrical type artist than abstract expressionism. But he turned out to be insufficiently interesting.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Al Newbill.
LEO CASTELLI: Al Newbill also seemed.... No, that was a real mistake, I think. Well, there was my secretary, Ilsa Goetz, who sort of found him; and she felt he was very interesting with her kind of optics. I sort of let myself be convinced, but I knew right from the beginning that it wouldn't work. So after one show, he fell by the wayside. And Ed Higgins. Both Ivan and I went to see him. We found him very, very interesting to begin with, and he also turned out to be a dud really. There was this piece that the Museum of Modern Art has which was a really good piece, and I almost based my taking him on this piece alone. Again, I was not a hundred percent convinced, and I should have followed my instinct there and not have forced the issue. Yves Klein, who was a foreigner, I was really interested in; because, again, there I saw in him a real Dadaist, a man who was able to show an empty room or those blue, blue paintings. Then he turned out to be, in my estimation after I had the show, a little bit too precious, not really just somebody who did something that was very spare. They were precious, precious blue paintings. Kiesler I showed because he was a real old friend, and I wanted to give him a show once. There were some interesting things there--those shapes of Kiesler's that I showed, not the paintings so much as his models for Henry's house--[that] were really of some interest and I don't regret showing him.
PAUL CUMMINGS: You had a Bill Giles exhibition.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes, Giles. Giles was a great friend of Bob's and Jasper's. They saw each other very often. He seemed to be really promising, all kinds of strange things. Then he turned out to be absolutely intractable. He had that show, which was nice; and then already during the show he was in a bad mood and all that. I asked him one day, "What is the matter with you?" He said, "Well, I feel that you don't treat me as you do Jasper and Bob, that I'm just considered a young nobody here." I said, "For heaven's sakes, I've had Jasper and Bob for so many years now, and they've proved their mettle. It's your first show." "Yes, but you're not convinced; you're not enthusiastic." So I said, "Well, Bill, if you feel that way, then we'd just better call it quits after the show"--which we did. It was a very quick and painless parting there.
PAUL CUMMINGS: But that's a kind of standard problem with him.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I've had that experience with him and so did his other dealers recently.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, he's been quite a while with Frumkin now, hasn't he? No?
PAUL CUMMINGS: No more.
LEO CASTELLI: He's no longer with Frumkin? Well, where is he now?
PAUL CUMMINGS: Nowhere.
LEO CASTELLI: Nowhere? I'm sorry to hear that, just for Lee, not for him. You know that he has never come even to see one of his wife's shows here.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Really?
LEO CASTELLI: Never. He's never set his foot in the gallery any more.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, it fits though. That's too bad.
LEO CASTELLI: Then there was Bernard Langlais, which definitely was a mistake, because he was much too primitive, although he had some interesting things when I first saw him. But he was too primitive. I should have seen that right away. There was no subtlety there, although there was some interesting invention to begin with.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How about Twombly?
LEO CASTELLI: Twombly has been an old friend. I've known him for many ears. He was an interesting and important artist already back in 1954-1955 when he showed with Rauschenberg at the Stable. He is a very subtle artist. He went away, as you know, and spent all those years in Rome. Then I had a good show of his, I think the first one, still with the American-type material. Then he sent me over a show without coming even, and it was not.... I didn't like it very much.
PAUL CUMMINGS: When was that? The 1963-1964 show? It was the second one.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes, it was the second show. Oh, here is another little mistake--Gerald van de Wiele. He seemed to be pointing in a new direction with this very rich kind of imagery.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Now he does lovely landscapes.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes, so I hear. These Scarpittas are really very contrived and not very good at all. It's a show that I can do without, with much pleasure. Yes, there was a series here that he called some emperor.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, that's right. Yes, yes.
LEO CASTELLI: Commodus or something like that. They were not really very good. They were very sort of Europeanized and precious. I sort of held off with Twombly, because I knew that he would mend because of his personality and all that. One could sort of trust him.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Is that a big factor when you decide about someone?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, I do not consider it enough. I should really base my choices.... Even if something seems quite good and interesting, I should base it on personality. That's the only guarantee that you have really, the personality of the artist. You have that in a man like Ceret. You have it in a man like Nauman. You have it in a man like Peter Young. Sonia I don't know well, but he seems to be personable. You have it, of course, to a supreme degree in Johns, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist, Andy Warhol, and Bontecou. There are certain weaknesses that you detect in people like.... Well, sometimes the weaknesses are real weaknesses of character, but in many cases they are just weaknesses of mind. I mean there's not enough....
PAUL CUMMINGS: Not enough scope.
LEO CASTELLI: There's not enough scope in the person's thoughts and feeling. So, that would be an important factor in the choice that one should always consider. I should not pick a guy whom you feel does not understand the complexities and subtleties of the artist's involvement with his period. So really, one should be very careful about that. As one should be careful about it when you form relationships with people in your gallery. I would say one who works for you should be judged on the basis of whether there is that relationship between you and them and not just that he or she happens to look as if he or she were efficient. Then, of course, one makes errors there as you make errors when you pick girls or girl friends. You may be attracted by certain superficial characteristics and then be immensely disappoint because you have not properly considered more important factors.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How long did.... I've forgotten your first secretary's name again.
LEO CASTELLI: My first secretary was Ilsa Goetz. The second one....
PAUL CUMMINGS: How did she come to work for you?
LEO CASTELLI: Who? Ilsa?
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, she had been working. She had been around in the art world, and I knew her socially, and I was opening this gallery. She was without a job at the time. She was practiced, and it was very simple to, well, to take the one that was handy, that I knew and who had a certain experience and was capable of setting up a mailing list and could handle all kinds of practical things that I had absolutely no idea about. That was Ilsa.
Then I had Connie Tremble, who came to me through the New York Times. She advertised herself as a girl Friday, and she really was.
PAUL CUMMINGS: She was here for a long time.
LEO CASTELLI: She was here for a long time, and she was very good. I was heartbroken when she left because her husband got a job in Washington. The next one was Nina (then) Sutherland, who was also very, very good. She got married and left, and again I was heartbroken. Then Kay came to me because she was around. She had been Henry's secretary. She was very good, but I had some personality problems with her. We really didn't have much contact on a human level as I had had with the other three, especially with the two, Connie and Nina, whom I still see. She's just a marvelous, sunny child. She still is the same.
PAUL CUMMINGS: She's marvelous.
LEO CASTELLI: Connie was really a faithful and devoted kind of person. Nina is extremely intelligent. At that time, she would say never, never leave that gallery; I want to take over later on. But then, of course, Charlie came along and she did leave. Then with Kay, who was very efficient and very good and with whom I had a very good relationship, there was always that sort of rather lack of comprehension of each other's moods that we had, and we didn't function too well together. Now, of course, we love each other much more than we did when we had those personality problems here in the gallery. Now there is Barbara here with whom I really have the kind of relationship that I like. She functions very, very well and understands my problems without my even telling her.
PAUL CUMMINGS: When did Ivan come to work for you? He's been here for a long time.
LEO CASTELLI: Ivan came quite early. He came, I think, late in 1959 or early 1960. He's been here ten years. He had been with Martha Jackson. Actually, it was Ileana at that time who felt that we should have somebody (she was more practical-minded than I was) that was very experienced and was a good salesman. I seemed to be a very poor one. She didn't want to be.... She was even less involved in that part of the operation. So we got Ivan. I really don't want to talk about Ivan now.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, that's a whole story in itself.
LEO CASTELLI: It's a whole story, which is a terribly interesting one; and I would like to talk about it at great length. It's been a very curious and terribly interesting relationship that we've had, very good really.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Was Ileana involved in the day-to-day activity of the gallery in the first year?
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, yes, she was around. The gallery hadn't been around very long.... She didn't stay very long, because she left me and the gallery--first me and then the gallery, too, in early 1960. She got into some kind of depression at that time. Well, we hadn't been really getting along very well for years on a personal basis, although we always had been friends really. But as far as man-woman relationship is concerned, it didn't work at all. But she was in the gallery and very concerned with that. She'd been sort of very helpful all along in our difficulties. We really went through some difficult years right after the war up to the moment when I set up the gallery. She had been very patient with me, as I had been pretty bad in many respects. Then probably she got into some depression owing to physical conditions and so on. And she just left. Well, I had all kinds of problems that were intolerable, but she really didn't mind that so much. I would say after all that we had just a friendly relationship, but still it's a little bit much. It's difficult.
PAUL CUMMINGS: It makes things very complicated sometimes.
LEO CASTELLI: So, really she had to leave and she did. Then there was some acrimony for a couple of years. Of course, we had so many common friends. She was, still is, a great friend of Bob's (especially Bob's) and Jasper's and Roy's. We had all these friendships in common that we had developed right from the beginning. So, that made things rather difficult. It was sort of like a tug-of-war of who was remaining friends with whom.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes. It gives the friends problems, too.
LEO CASTELLI: Yes. You have that always in situations like that. We got it ironed out after a while and we are now, as you know, really very good friends and we cooperate on all kinds of ventures. She's done an absolutely incredible job in Europe. People really didn't realize what her accomplishments were there and, of course, I'm glad that I could help her do that. Well, you see what took over then instead of our little personal animosities was the job that had to be done and that sort of healed our relationship more than anything else because she started doing things that were important and I realized the importance and then it became a common cause and a common concern. Once the history of those years is really written objectively.... We'll talk more about it, because it's something that has not been talked about enough.
So I think that we'll stop here.
[END OF TAPE 2 SIDE 2]
PAUL CUMMINGS: I just want to put the date, which is October 1, Part 2, Reel 1.
LEO CASTELLI: We're only now in what year?
PAUL CUMMINGS: 1961, '62 with Lichtenstein.
LEO CASTELLI: Let's get Lichtenstein.
PAUL CUMMINGS: You did talk about Warhol and why he went to, I think, Stable?
LEO CASTELLI: Yeah.
PAUL CUMMINGS: But nothing about Lichtenstein.
LEO CASTELLI: When?
PAUL CUMMINGS: '61.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, Lichtenstein was actually in '62. Lichtenstein's first show then was from February 10 to March 3 in 1962.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, when did you first see him?
LEO CASTELLI: When did I first see Lichtenstein? That's interesting because it was on the occasion of the Rauschenberg or just a little before the Rauschenberg show of November 7 to December 5, and that explains why it was so memorable. We made that show with no beginning and no end. It would start as a group show in which there was a Rauschenberg and then little by little then we'd see if that corresponds. I don't see how we did it frankly, because I see that there was not such atmosphere for October 17 to November 4. And Rauschenberg actually was on November 7. Let me see now what Rauschenberg showed it was actually and if that corresponds to my, to the memory that I have of it. Oh, it was September 14 and, anyway, that method occurred then within the Rauschenberg show, actually. It did not last its regular time, but in it was a quality that he would start with a group in which a Rauschenberg would be included and then little by little we would take out paintings of the other people. There was Lichtenstein and I don't remember who else. We would replace them with Rauschenbergs in a week or so. Just day by day we would take them out. Then, say, by the end of the week, it would be a full Rauschenberg show. Then, after two weeks or so, we would start taking the Rauschenbergs out and replace them with other paintings and lead into the next show, which then was another group show again, yes. So actually, we started with a Rauschenberg show as a group show for a very brief time, very brief indeed; and then we led into another group show. That was the idea. I can't remember now exactly how it was carried out except for one thing--that I put a Lichtenstein in the first group. It was the first Lichtenstein that became publicly visible. It's the Girl With The Ball, which is now at the Modern about which there is a tale, too, an interesting one. The girl is Devilla Johnson, and this is a painting that I love very much. It was the first Lichtenstein painting that.... It was in a group of paintings that Lichtenstein brought along, and that must have been somewhere in the fall of 1961. I liked it very much, and it sort of almost is the painting that decided me to take on Lichtenstein. There were others--some that I didn't like at all, others that I liked--but none that I liked as much as the Girl With The Ball. So, the Girl With The Ball was in that famous group show leading into Rauschenberg. It was the first that I put on the wall after having those paintings around for perhaps a month or two at the most. Rauschenberg saw it and he said, "What is that?" He was really sort of shocked by it. It was shocking at that time, believe it or not. It still shocks some people today, very rare. And John Gruen, for some strange reason.... I don't understand his violent revulsion at the Lichtenstein show. Did you read his article in New York magazine? It's very, very strange. He's a friend I don't understand why he wrote this nasty and bitter article for a little show.
Sometimes I would ask one of the other interesting and important artists in the gallery what he thought about an artist before they were shown, but generally speaking I did not--at least not in the early days. I would just make my choices and then see what happened. Of course, I wanted Jasper's and Bob's reactions very, very much. If they didn't like something that I picked, of course, that would be something that I would not be very happy about. Sometimes whatever I picked and they didn't like it might become very good, and they would sort of change their minds. But even in the case of Lichtenstein, Bob was shocked. He couldn't say anything about it. He just said it's a very odd picture and say I'm really surprised. Then he came back. This was a show that concerned him, and he was coming almost every day to see what we were doing and then set up his own show for a few days. And he said, "Well, I found out I really do like it very much. I think it is very good. It is very interesting." That was Rauschenberg. Johns, on the other hand, indicated that (without saying much) that he really didn't like it at all--not even as it was in the case of Barr with some hesitation. I felt that he would have to think it over; and then, Paul, for a long while he was very negative about Lichtenstein. I think he was negative about this first show really. Then I had a group show of -76- drawings--Lichtenstein drawings and Johns drawings. Of course, he was involved in that show. He looked at that Lichtenstein show and he said, "Well, I'd like to have one of these." And that's after several months. He then declared that he liked Lichtenstein.
PAUL CUMMINGS: This was?
LEO CASTELLI: That was Jasper.
PAUL CUMMINGS: That was Jasper, right.
LEO CASTELLI: Bob sort of, after a few days, found Lichtenstein good, too.
PAUL CUMMINGS: How did you find Lichtenstein? Who brought him there?
LEO CASTELLI: Lichtenstein, just pure and simply, came to the gallery with a bundle of paintings.
PAUL CUMMINGS: That's fantastic.
LEO CASTELLI: And nobody had seen him before. Ivan, who was usually scouting around before I do, goes to studios often, hadn't seen his work.
PAUL CUMMINGS: He was teaching in New Jersey.
LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, teaching in New Jersey and there he was. So both Ivan and I thought it was very interesting, everybody for his own reasons. I mean, each one, of course, has his own reason: Ivan because, generally speaking, he was interested in things that were campy and that thing really was pretty campy; and I because I understood the dada element in it. We were very keen on that kind of thing after Jasper's flags and targets and so on. The fact is we all agree that the great liberating influence for them was Jasper--that then they felt given the green light to do something that they had sort of thought about but they thought was impossible for a gallery to present to the public. Well, Roy had been discussing the public and these things with Rutgers people there where he was teaching; and they probably had said that, from the shows that they had seen of Jasper's (the first show especially), that we would probably be the only gallery where he had the chance to be accepted. So he came to us with paintings. Both Ivan and I looked at them, and it was a very exciting thing.
I liked the Girl With The Ball especially. Others were quite interesting. Some I found not good, and then I wondered why they were not good. Discussed it later on. No, not later on. Pretty soon, actually, there was a question of.... Or rather rapidly, I decided to take him on, take a chance on him on the basis of two or three things that I thought were very good. Then I started discussing him and became aware of why certain paintings didn't seem good to me at all (that is of this group) and went and discovered that one of the main elements of success was the blowup. There was, for instance, a very crude black and white bathroom with toilet bowl and basin and bath tub which was life size, large but just life size about or even a little smaller. So this was what gave me the cue that blowup was an important element.
Also subject matter, of course. That I understood much later. The Girl With The Ball had that special sex appeal. Only it's sort of primary infantile, adolescent sex appeal [that] his comic strip characters have, and that was there for the first time to a very large degree. Even very sophisticated collectors nowadays recently are willing to go to extreme lengths to get a good Lichtenstein girl, and it is because there is this attraction to the comic strip girl. It is a sex symbol I would say, absolutely. So there was that element that we didn't really even confess to ourselves that there was that in it--the girls. But anyway, to come back to Lichtenstein's show, I think that it was rapidly decided that he should be a member of the gallery. Then he had that show of his in....
PAUL CUMMINGS: '62.
LEO CASTELLI: February 10 to March 3, '62. So, you know, we first saw him in the fall of '61, and in '62 he had his first show.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right. Very quickly.
LEO CASTELLI: That first show included some quite interesting pieces which are in the present Guggenheim show. Some are missing because they were not available. Some of these are missing because they are the very early period, which Diane Waldman decided not to put into the show. Some people complained about that--that they should have been included. But then the show, that was supposed to be not small but not an immense show, was becoming bigger and bigger and bigger and creeping up if he had put two or three more things....
PAUL CUMMINGS: It'd be the whole museum.
LEO CASTELLI: It'd be the whole museum, which sort of had to be a concession. So the concession was that they took the museum's pictures, and so Diane sacrificed the very early comic strips.
PAUL CUMMINGS: There was the story you were going to tell about the Girl With The Ball.
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, yes. There was a story about that. I was very happy about that and decided that was one of those that I would keep for myself as being sort of the one that really started my love affair with Roy. Then one day Philip Johnson came along and he said, "I saw the Girl With The Ball on one occasion or another and I'd like to have it." So I said, "Philip, that is the one that I had decided to keep for myself." So he said, "Come on. I want it very badly, too. And you know that, after all, you do a useful job in my office; so come on, just sell it to me." So, I said, "Well, must I give it to you?" He said, "Yes, you must, absolutely." So I said, "Well, all right, Philip." He said, "Of course, I want to give you any price you ask for it since you are sacrificing that painting you want so much." So a painting like that at the time would have been something like $400. So I said sort of jokingly, "All right, I'll double the price. It's $400; it'll be $800 instead." So he said, "Fine. You're joking but I'm serious. You'll get $800 for it." So he got it, and this is one of the paintings that he has given to the Museum of Modern Art. So that was the Girl With The Ball.
When he had his first show, a little episode that is a visit that I got from a French museum man, Jean Leymarie, who is now the director of the new, I think, the Modern. I don't know exactly what this is called. Anyway, he's an appointee of Malraux and he replaces a man who was rather conservative. He wrote a book on Giacometti among other things. Anyway, at this time, he was a director of this museum and he had shown actually quite early--maybe in the late '40s already--Pollock and some of the American painters in his museum.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, really?
LEO CASTELLI: Yeah. I haven't seen him now for many years but, at that time, he (that was in '62) he had been at Sao Paulo Biennale. He had been perhaps one of the jurors or whatever you call those, and he was passing through New York on his way back to France from there. He came and told me that he had been stopped in Peru as I did on the same occasion when I was in Sao Paulo. He looked at Lichtenstein's show and was terribly impressed right away, you know, with great ease and said that it reminded him very much of the frank, open brutality of the regime. He fell in good right away. Somebody who liked Lichtenstein very much right from the beginning was Marcel Duchamp, too. He used to come at times, too. He'd stroll down and come to the gallery. He liked him very much, as he did Rauschenberg and Johns. He like Lichtenstein although he never really got to know him. Somebody who admired Lichtenstein more than anybody else of their generation, I think, was Dali. He wrote an article about him--very funny one in Art News about two or three years ago.
PAUL CUMMINGS: That's the "Hey Me" thing.
LEO CASTELLI: Did you see it?
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes.
LEO CASTELLI: Anyway, it's very important. You can find it easily. I was mentioning it as a curiosity.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I wonder if we could get on to some of the other people, unless there are specific things that happened about that first exhibition or people who were, you know, shocked and made great discoveries.
LEO CASTELLI: You mean again about Lichtenstein. Well, looking at these installation shots, I remember that somebody who was always in the foreground with buying things was Richard Brown Baker, who bought one of those paintings. Another one who liked it very much and bought this painting here, but then he sold it subsequently, was the famous Panza from Milan.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, he has an enormous collection of American paintings, does he not?
LEO CASTELLI: He's a very odd collector in the sense that he started working up the collection of Italian and French artists, for instance, well, all kind of Italians to begin with; and none of them really turned out to be great artists or art for all time. Then he got interested in French painting, and then he had.... What's the name of the Spanish painter Martha Jackson sold him?
PAUL CUMMINGS: Tapies.
LEO CASTELLI: Tapies, yes. ...and then he had.... He bought.... He got interested in a painter; then he bought massively. For instance, he had great numbers of Fortiers--middle '50s or late `50s. He had all these Fortiers and all these Tapies. Then he got interested in Klein and Rothko. He also got interested in de Kooning, but there weren't many around. He was not interested in buying one painting ever. He was interested in buying many. So, if there was one de Kooning around, that didn't, wouldn't.... It would interest him for an artist, but he would not actually be interested as a collector.
PAUL CUMMINGS: If there were ten, then he'd be excited.
LEO CASTELLI: If he could get ten, then he would get excited. So, since there were plenty of Kleins and plenty of Rothkos available around the time when he bought them (it must have been in the '50s), he really bought Klein and Rothko massively. I went to see his place. It's near Milan, Bareze on the lake, really very beautiful, an old 17th century palace right in the middle of the park. It reminds you of "Last Year at Mariennbad." There I went to see him in maybe the early '60s, and he had all those Rothkos and those Kleins. There was a Rothko living room. I mean, there is this castle with fantastic antique furniture in every room, a really very big affair. You go up a solemn, very imposing staircase with all the ancestral portraits, and then there are all these immense numbers of rooms and corridors and such. Anyway, there was a room, living room, full of Rothkos, just Rothkos, and the dining room just Kleins. Really quite amazing. Eighteen major Kleins and as many Rothkos. So then his next love was Rauschenberg, and he bought massively in the early '60s. He had at least 12-15 Rauschenbergs, very early ones. He's got some masterpieces.
PAUL CUMMINGS: That's interesting. I wonder how those things would look in a European setting like that.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, he was absolutely unique. I mean, there was nothing else like that. He bought massively out of this show. In fact, he didn't buy them out of the show; he saw them in the studio. It was my show of 1960, '61. This one here. It was the famous show I was talking about. The one that developed out of group into a real show. It was the one of '61. Then he actually bought them in the studio, so he must have come before that show, the early fall of '61. Then he bought quite a few at that show. Before that, he had bought earlier ones and very good ones like the untitled with the big photograph of the man in the white tennis suit and so on. So this was Rauschenberg he was involved with. Then he got involved after that with Lichtenstein, and he bought quite a few of those. Then, as far as I'm concerned at least, maybe he bought Oldenburg, too, for all I know; but I don't think so though. Then he bought.... Who was next? Morris. He got very involved. He got huge pieces--those fiberglass pieces of Morris.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, really? Does he sell things when his interests change or does he just accumulate?
LEO CASTELLI: No. When he gets less interested in somebody or other, he starts eliminating the pieces that interest him less. He doesn't start selling everything. He sold a few Rauschenbergs, not many. Oh, he got very interested in Rosenquist also--Warhol, no, never--but Rosenquist, Lichtenstein. I don't know about Oldenburg; I don't think so. So Lichtenstein, Rosenquist and I know that he sold a few Lichtensteins here and there and Rosenquists, too. Then Bob Morris, very interested; but not Johns for some reason. He just looks at the magazines, all the magazines in the world; and then he gets an idea of what's what. Then he writes me or writes to Paris.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Today is the fifth of December, part two from this reel. You just finished talking about the Lichtenstein show at the Guggenheim.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, in fact, when I last talked to you, the Guggenheim show was not on at all. It was just a project.
PAUL CUMMINGS: It was going.
LEO CASTELLI: It was going to be, and it occurred, and I think.... You saw it?
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yeah.
LEO CASTELLI: It was a splendid show, really, quite remarkable show, which had obviously some shortcomings. But even the best show must have some paintings that we could not get, that would have made it more perfect. There were some inclusions that were not as good as they could have been had we been able to get certain pieces that we couldn't get. But the installation, chronological installation, from top to bottom was particularly instructive. I think people could see the reasons of development of his art from the early times to the present. So I think that that time we were talking about the project, looking forward to it. It's now been. We found out that it was really a very successful project.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, what kind of reaction did you get personally from people?
LEO CASTELLI: About the show? People liked it very, very much indeed. The reaction was very good. It so happened that there was an Oldenburg show that followed it by a week. It came a week later. So there was this comparison between the two giants of pop art. Of course, there are Oldenburg followers and Lichtenstein followers; but even the Oldenburg followers would sort of express the feeling that perhaps the Lichtenstein show was the one that was better installed. It was more clearly articulated than the Oldenburg one. Now, as you know, the critical (whatever that means) reception on the part of the New York Times was more favorable to Oldenburg. Although Canaday sort of saluted Lichtenstein in a way, rather a nice way, by saying that perhaps if Lichtenstein had never come about that would not have been a great loss to art history; but he recognized his merit, that he was a real magician actually in what he was doing. But he seemed to be more convinced about the merits of Oldenburg's art.
PAUL CUMMINGS: What kind of reaction do you get from the collectors after a big exhibition like that and the reviews have been public?
LEO CASTELLI: Well, the reviews of the New York Times really are not terribly important. Nobody attaches great importance to what Canaday or what Hilton Kramer has to say about an artist that's controversial. They really sort of assume that either Canaday or Hilton Kramer will be against it, and that won't be disturbing. However, if either Canaday or Hilton Kramer turn around and have something kind to say about one or another of the artists, then I would say that's the kiss of death--or else they will be impressed by the fact that finally they have come around to....
PAUL CUMMINGS: So, really, the critics can't win no matter what they do.
LEO CASTELLI: No. Critics like Canaday and Hilton Kramer can't win. Of course, we have fortunately other writers in the magazines--in Artform, in Art News, in Arts, in all the other magazines, in Art in America--who are taken more seriously really, who are more with it and with their times. Harold Rosenberg, who is after all an old Trotskyite social minded art critic, comes around slowly and his opinion has really some value; whereas, I would say Canaday has none frankly. Kramer may have because, after all, he has a certain background, a certain standing. But I would say that Canaday's opinion is really absolutely irrelevant.
PAUL CUMMINGS: It's interesting that the newspaper critics, although they have enormous readership, have so little impact.
LEO CASTELLI: It is really quite amazing that the New York Times, which is such an important paper--oh, it's one of the great papers that we have in the world--should have such an indifferent art section; although they have occasionally some article on some artist that they turn over to one of the others. Then good articles are written in the New York Times. Grace Glueck obviously is not a critic, but she is at least well balanced in her art gossip. She pays attention to everybody, to everything. So, she's good. She's somebody that is considered desirable on a paper like the New York Times. I would say that if, apart from Canaday and Kramer, there was another permanent critic there who would represent the opposite point of view, that would be very desirable. I don't know why they don't do it, why they don't have some younger and more forward looking critic there on their staff. I think that, well, Canaday is Canaday; and he's capricious and arbitrary and frank; and that's all you can say about him. Then Kramer would be the serious, ponderous art critic, more involved with the art of the past. Then you should have a younger, more forward looking man there.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Let's go back to how the various artists joined the gallery. I think we've talked about some of them.
LEO CASTELLI: Oh, right. We will finish them.
PAUL CUMMINGS: The last few, in the '61-'62 season, you showed Moskowitz.
LEO CASTELLI: Yeah. Moskowitz was a discovery of Ivan Karp's. He seemed to be very promising. He, at that time, did those window shades. Well, he probably got the idea from Jasper Johns, who had done one single window shade in black. He probably got it there. Everybody got ideas from Jasper Johns at that time. We were very impressed; but then there were some abstract, more sloppy abstract expressionist attitudes in Moskowitz. And he got stuck with that window shade and really didn't do anything except that for quite a while. Then he got into all kinds of personal, psychological troubles and dropped out. That is all I can say of Moskowitz. He got married to one of Tworkov's daughters, as you know.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, I didn't know that.
LEO CASTELLI: He was a very good designer. He got a job as a designer. I see him occasionally, and he seems to be quite happy and well adjusted. He told me recently that he had started painting again and, if one day I cared to, he would like to show me what he was doing. To which I said, "Of course, yes, with pleasure." Okay, that much for Moskowitz.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right. How about Chamberlain, who came in '62-'63.
LEO CASTELLI: Well, Chamberlain we all knew, had known for a while. He had appeared already. Didn't he appear at the Hansa before Martha Jackson? Maybe. Anyway, we knew him from Martha Jackson. He was there when Ivan was there at Martha Jackson. So Ivan, when he came here, almost I could say brought him over from Martha Jackson to this gallery. He has been functioning in his discontinued and hectic way ever since--doing some great work and then going through long periods of not doing anything. He still is somebody to reckon with, I think. He's done recently, I think, a great series of galvanized iron structures in the same vein as he did the ones with automobiles and auto wreckings. Of course, they're not perhaps intact but they're very, very good. Then before that, he had done those foam rubber sculptures, which were really very, very good. At that time, people were more squeamish about the durability of materials. Had he produced them now, they would have been an immense success. At that time, people just were very hesitant and very doubtful about getting things that they think or feared would disintegrate very rapidly. They turned out very well. Some people wouldn't mind so much any more whether it would endure or disintegrate, because one has gotten used to works of art as just traces in the snow in winter.
Oral history interview with Leo Castelli, 1997 May 22, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission.