NEW YORK, NY.- Leo Castelli reigned for decades as America’s most influential art dealer. Now Annie Cohen-Solal, author of the hugely acclaimed Sartre: A Life (“an intimate portrait of the man that possesses all the detail and resonance of fiction”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times), recounts his incalculably influential and astonishing life in Leo and His Circle. Leo Castelli (born Leo Krauss; September 4, 1907 – August 21, 1999) was an American art dealer. He was best known to the public as an art dealer whose gallery showcased cutting edge Contemporary art for five decades.Castelli showed Surrealism , Abstract Expressionism , Neo-Dada , Pop Art , Op Art , Color field painting , Hard-edge painting , Lyrical Abstraction , Minimal Art , Conceptual Art , and Neo-expressionism , among other movements.
He was born at Trieste, of Italian and Austro-Hungarian Jewish origin. Castelli's first American curatorial effort was the famous Ninth Street Show of 1951, a seminal event of Abstract Expressionism. In 1957, he opened the Leo Castelli Gallery in a townhouse on E. 77th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues in New York City. Initially the gallery showcased European Surrealism, Wassily Kandinsky, and other European artists.
After emigrating to New York in 1941, Castelli would not open a gallery for sixteen years, when he had reached the age of fifty. But as the first to exhibit the then-unknown Jasper Johns, Castelli emerged as a tastemaker overnight and fast came to champion a virtual Who’s Who of twentieth-century masters: Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Warhol, and Twombly, to name a few.
The secret of Leo’s success? Personal devotion to the artists, his “heroes”: by putting young talents on stipend and seeking placement in the ideal collection rather than with the top bidder, he transformed the way business was done, multiplying the capital, both cultural and financial, of those he represented. His enterprise, which by 1980 had expanded to an impressive network of satellite galleries in Europe and three locations in New York, thus became the unrivaled commercial institution in American art, producing a generation of acolytes, among them Mary Boone, Jeffrey Deitch, Larry Gagosian, and Tony Shafrazi.
Leo and His Circle brilliantly narrates the course of one man’s power and influence. But Castelli had another secret, too: his life as an Italian Jew. Annie Cohen-Solal traces a family whose fortunes rose and fell for centuries before the Castellis fled European fascism. Never hidden but also never discussed, this experience would form the core of a guarded but magnetic character possessed of unfailing old-world charm and a refusal to look backward—traits that ensured Castelli’s visionary precedence in every major new movement from Pop to Conceptual and by which he fostered the worldwide enthusiasm for American contemporary art that is his greatest legacy.
Drawing on her friendship with the subject, as well as an uncanny knack for archival excavation, Annie Cohen-Solal gives us in full the elegant, shrewd, irresistible, and enigmatic figure at the very center of postwar American art, bringing an utterly new understanding of its evolution.
Castelli's second wife, Antoinette Castelli, opened Castelli Graphics, an art gallery devoted to the prints and photographs of Castelli Gallery and other artists. The couple also had a son together, Jean-Christophe Castelli. In 1995 Leo Castelli married the Italian art historian Barbara Bertozzi Castelli.
In October 2007 Castelli's heirs announced the donation of the gallery's archives from 1957 through 1999 to the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art. The Leo Castelli Gallery continues to operate at 18 East 77th Street in New York under the direction of his last wife showing many of the same artists from the gallery's past.