Leo and Friends
Regular readers probably know that I'm very big on biographies. There's just something about reading the details of a person's life that really interests me. However, I seem to be having trouble reading these days. I stay on the computer much too late, and by the time I hit my bed, where I do most of my reading, I'm a goner. For the past two or three months I've been trying to get through a biography of Leo Castelli, gallerist and artist star maker.
|Castelli by Andy Warhol|
It's not all my fault that I've been falling asleep. The first part of the book goes on way too long about Leo's grandparents, parents, the political and social milieu of Trieste, where Leo was born, and, in fact, the larger persecution of Jews by the Nazis and the whole world situation prior to and during World War II.
Certainly a reader likes to have the scene set before the entrance of the person being bio-ed, but a good editor might have put most of this section in the rear of the book as an addendum so that those who wished to know more about Leo's forebears would have it available to them. Anyway, I dealt with it over many nights when I drifted off with the book on my chest (or sometimes landing on the floor or my face - a good reason for only reading paperbacks although this is a hardbound). I refused to give up and finally got to the good parts.
Leo didn't open his gallery until he was 50 (or in his fifties, I can't quite remember), but anyway, it was later in life. Somehow he had inserted himself into the New York art life prior to that, hanging around the Cedar Tavern and even becoming one of the founding members of The Club with all the Ab-Exer boys. I'm not going to get into all the details now because I'm not finished with the book and pressed for time, but perhaps everyone has heard the story of how Leo "discovered" Jasper Johns through Robert Rauschenberg. This story has to be every artist's dream of instant success: Leo seeing a Johns painting (Green Target) in a show, noticing and remembering Johns' name and a couple of weeks later happening to hear his name again while visiting Rauschenberg's studio. Leo gave Johns a solo show nearly instantly, invited Alfred Barr of MoMA to see the show, Barr instantly bought four paintings for the museum and Johns was off. Meanwhile, Rauschenberg was left int he lurch to be rescued by Leo's then wife, Ileana Sonnabend, who soon opened her own very successful gallery.
|Ileana in later years|
It was all so dramatic and arty and unlike the situation today where artists plug along in obscurity for a lifetime, lost amongst the vast hordes of other artists plugging along.
I guess I didn't end on a very cheery note, but, hey, I'm one of the reality-based people.