Leo Castelli



Immortalized above by Warhol, the collector, gallery owner and art dealer Leo Castelli was for forty years one of the key figures in the art of his time and the most important promoter of American art. MyStudiolo retraces the rise of this flamboyant man in:

6 key dates 4 artworks 3 anecdotes 1 quote

1907 Born Leo Krausz in a Jewish family in Trieste, with a Hungarian bank manager father and a Tuscan mother, Leo Castelli joined an insurance company in Bucharest to please his father. He married there Ileana Sonnabend - daughter of a wealthy businessman - who introduced him to the world of Parisian art in 1935.

1939 Associated with René Drouin, he opened a gallery located on Place Vendôme. Inspired by the Gradiva gallery created by André Breton and Marcel Duchamp, their first exhibition combines antique furniture and paintings by his surrealist friends such as Max Ernst. An article in the very chic Harper's Bazaar magazine gives the event an unexpected dimension.

1951 Arrived ten years earlier in the USA to flee the war, Leo accumulates the experiences in his activities of enlightened amateur. Curator of the very successful "9th Street Show" exhibition bringing together 60 young American artists including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, it is a true "who's who" of the abstract expressionist movement. Alfred Barr, founder and director of MoMA, consecrates him as "talent discoverer".

1957 At the age of fifty, Leo opened his own space in a floor of his Manhattan house in which he staged a confrontation between European art and American art. His eponymous gallery had a great success and launched Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. He operates and orchestrates the succession of American artistic movements: abstract expressionism, pop art, minimalism and conceptual art.

1964 He won a major triumph at the Venice Biennale when his artist Robert Rauschenberg became the first American to win the Grand Prix. This success astounded the art world and contributed profoundly to the establishment of the hegemony of American art which has thus freed itself from any inferiority complex compared to Europe.

1971 He installed his gallery at 420 West Broadway in the Soho district, far from being the upscale district of today. This transfer, followed by the opening of other galleries, marks the height of the Castelli reign. It has a program, a global network thanks to its "friends galleries" and a historical culture without equal among its American competitors. Far from retiring, Leo Castelli died in full glory at the age of 92.

Robert Rauschenberg, Buffalo II, 1964

Dan Flavin, Untitled (For Leo Castelli) 3, 1989 Jasper Johns, Three Flags, 1958 Roy Lichtenstein, Girl in mirror, 1963


  • Leo Castelli had a real passion and empathy for his arists. He was the first to set up a system of regular allowances that he paid to his artists, whether their works were sold or not, so that they had complete freedom of creation.

  • He was also an excellent speaker. Willem de Kooning joked that he could sell anything like beer cans. Jasper Johns took the challenge seriously by making a sculpture. Of course, Castelli managed to sell them.

  • Castelli obtained his American citizenship by working for the Bureau of Strategic Services (the precursor of the CIA) during the Second World War thanks to his polyglot talents: "you must have a good eye but also a good ear" he said.

« There was opportunity all over the world. »

Leo Castelli

Discover Leo Castelli and his circle, a book by Anne Cohen-Solal

© 2020 par MyStudiolo

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