Oral history interview with Leo Castelli, 1997 May 22

Castelli, Leo , b. 1907 d. 1999
Dealer, Gallery owner
Active in New York, N.Y.

Size: Sound recording: 2 sound cassettes (ca. 3 hr.)
Transcript: 44 p.

Collection Summary: An interview of Leo Castelli conducted 1997 May 22, by Andrew Decker, for the Archives of American Art.

This interview took place at Castelli's home in N.Y. and covers the most recent years of the dealer's work.

Biographical/Historical Note: Leo Castelli (1907-1999) was an art dealer from New York, N.Y.

This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics, and administrators.

Funding for the digital preservation of this interview was provided by a grant from the Save America's Treasures Program of the National Park Service.

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Interview Transcript

This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Leo Castelli, 1997 May 22, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Interview with Leo Castelli
Conducted by Andrew Decker
At the dealer's home in New York
May 22 & September 2, 1997

Preface

The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Leo Castelli, joined by his daughter, Nina Sundell, on May 22 & September 2, 1997. The interview took place in New York, and was conducted by Andrew Decker for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Interview

Tape 1, Side A (45-minute tape sides)


[Tape 1, Side A.]

ANDREW DECKER: So, today's date is May 22, 1997. I am Andrew Decker and I am in the gallery of Leo Castelli, who has graciously agreed to be interviewed for the Archives of American Art. Some years ago you provided a great deal of information to the Archives about your work in the fifties and sixties, and I'm hoping to talk to you also about the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

ANDREW DECKER: The last interviews ended with your great interest in minimal art -

LEO CASTELLI: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

ANDREW DECKER: And conceptual art, which you continued with for a number of years.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

ANDREW DECKER: Were there developments in that area that you found enjoyable or surprising?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, things went on and, well, you will have to ask more specific questions for me to tell you of my experience since those days.

ANDREW DECKER: Yes, well for instance, with Dan Flavin and Donald Judd.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah. Well, yes, they are, yes, conceptual artists par excellence. Both no longer with us. Now Judd was sort of a difficult man. It was not easy to get along with him, but a very important artist in that particular field, and so I put up with some of his ways of doing, and I'm happy that I was able to show his work in New York and elsewhere. So that was good. Flavin, on the other hand, was also a difficult character, but more amiable and with a great sense of humor, which Judd didn't have. And I enjoyed showing them.

ANDREW DECKER: With artists like Carl Andre-

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, Carl Andre was part of that group, and he was, perhaps, the ringleader in a sense. Everybody deferred to him. And I didn't show him. I think he was with Paula Cooper.

ANDREW DECKER: Did you have a wish to show him?

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, yes, I like his work very much. But, well, anyway, he was with another gallery so - perhaps I did show him in some group situation. I don't remember now, but I certainly did show some of his work on one occasion or the other.

ANDREW DECKER: So with the 1960s, you had very appealing artists like -

LEO CASTELLI: Very-

ANDREW DECKER: Appealing artists, artists whose paintings were simply beautiful to look at, and there was a great deal of excitement around people like Andy Warhol, for instance.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, Andy Warhol certainly was an exciting artist to have. Unfortunately, he died very young so I didn't have the occasion of showing him as often as I should have liked to show him, but - well, there was Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, all these artists whom I have shown through the years on various occasions.

ANDREW DECKER: But was there the same sense of excitement around the work of Flavin and Judd as there was around Warhol?

LEO CASTELLI: No, the group of aficionados around them was much more restricted. Warhol, as you probably know, was a very special phenomenon and seemed for one reason or another-one doesn't quite understand why-appealed to a great number of people. He was sort of unique in that way.

ANDREW DECKER: Were there many collectors who were very seriously interested in the work of Judd and Flavin?

LEO CASTELLI: No, actually, there weren't many collectors interested in their work. Their audience was more limited. Not to be compared with the audience that Andy Warhol had. Well, Andy Warhol-as I said before-was a special person, and so the way people reacted to him was quite special.

ANDREW DECKER: I know that Count Panza was one of the people who was so interested in Flavin.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, he was very interested in Flavin, and in Judd, and conceptual artists. He was not interested, for instance, in Andy Warhol. Or Lichtenstein, for that matter. So he was a great collector of conceptual art rather than those other things that I showed.

ANDREW DECKER: He developed, I think, an enormous collection.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, it's absolutely sensational. He was there right at the beginning and understood the importance of the artists, not later on when everybody was after them and then they became expensive. He got them when they didn't cost very much, so he put together an incredible collection of American artists-especially American artists, because there were many Italian or French or artists of other countries that he was interested in.

ANDREW DECKER: And did he continue to collect even as the artists became more accepted?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, obviously he couldn't go on collecting the way he did in the beginning because these artists became much too expensive for him to buy, so his collecting activity-or this activity of collecting [those] artists that he did buy in the beginning diminished very much, but he is still very interested and buys lots of younger artists who aren't highly priced. Sometimes his choices are good, sometimes they're not. But, anyway, he's still very, very involved but can afford only to buy younger artists who haven't reached the prices of the ones that he collected in the early days.

ANDREW DECKER: I see that in various exhibitions in the early seventies, you had, obviously, Lichtenstein and Warhol and Rauschenberg and Johns-and also Bruce Nauman.

LEO CASTELLI: Bruce Nauman is among the younger people. He's not so young any more, but he is, perhaps, as far as I can judge, the best artist of the younger generation-the generation succeeding Warhol and Johns and Rauschenberg.

ANDREW DECKER: Was he friendly with those artists?

LEO CASTELLI: They liked him, yes. They didn't know him very well. He appeared much later. But they all liked him; they all thought very highly of him.

ANDREW DECKER: Because I was wondering whether there was really any connection between Jasper Johns and the work of Bruce Nauman.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, as you know, the work of Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg was very influential, and all the younger generation certainly looked to these earlier masters, and were influenced by them. That's quite obvious. But then the better ones like Nauman, obviously then got started flying their own wings after a while.

ANDREW DECKER: One of the things that Jasper Johns did in the seventies was the cross-hatching.

LEO CASTELLI: The what?

ANDREW DECKER: They call it in the Museum of Modern Art the cross-hatching, in the flagstone motifs. If I may try to find it in your catalog - well, this is not a great picture [Untitled, 1972].

LEO CASTELLI: That was an important picture, yes. Let me see. I had this at [4077].

ANDREW DECKER: That was something fairly new for him, where he had these kind of -

LEO CASTELLI: Well, people are used to his flags and targets and things. When he sort of adopted other images and painted other paintings, they were sort of disappointed that he didn't go on painting flags.

ANDREW DECKER: Was it difficult to find people who accepted the work with the flagstone imagery, for instance?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, you know, people get used rapidly to changes in an artist's work, so I didn't have too much trouble with people buying him and continuing their interest in him. But, of course, they would have wished him to go on painting flags and targets forever.

ANDREW DECKER: As he developed, were there different collectors and different museums who became interested in his work?

LEO CASTELLI: I would say, naturally, new collectors, perhaps new museums, added to their earlier ones but, all in all, I think the interest in Johns was general. Museums all over the country, collectors all over the country, and also abroad, are very interested in his work and sometimes were a bit disappointed that he didn't go on painting flags [laughs], but I think that he continued to be considered as one of the most important artists of his time.

ANDREW DECKER: I remember that people like Robert and Ethel [Scull] and the Tremaines [Burton and Nancy]-I think early on-were great fans of his.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, they were. They actually dropped out for various reasons before Johns started changing too much, so they didn't get a chance of getting disappointed in what he was doing. [Laughter.]

ANDREW DECKER: When did other collectors become more interested? People like the Newhouses [S. I., Jr., and Victoria], for instance?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, you know, the Newhouses had been always watching what was going on, and they got interested in Johns and kept their interest in him through the years. But Newhouse-who, by the way, I just saw today at the restaurant where I had lunch-is not very active these days-as active as he used to be.

ANDREW DECKER: And people like Peter Brandt, I think, were also-

LEO CASTELLI: Peter Brandt was interested, yes, but he was one of the more unreliable, I should say, type of collector, not one who seriously concentrated on a few artists and went on buying them. But he's been a great help, too.

ANDREW DECKER: Who were some of the people who were Johns's strongest supporters?

LEO CASTELLI: Hmm?

ANDREW DECKER: Who are some of the people who followed Jasper Johns and his work in the seventies?

LEO CASTELLI: I would say all of the initial collectors followed him. I can't say that anybody of the early collectors dropped out. Maybe they were no longer able to afford to buy the paintings because they got to be too expensive. It's a tragedy that we have in art. If it becomes very successful, it gets also to be very expensive and the original collectors cannot afford to go on buying him. So we have to find new collectors.

ANDREW DECKER: How was business in the seventies? I know that in the 1980s that there were many people who had made a lot of money who-

LEO CASTELLI: If people ask me this question, I have always trouble answering it, because, as far as I'm concerned, I didn't notice great differences through the years. Things went well or not so well, but I can't say that I noticed that suddenly nothing happened anymore. People went on buying the good artists even in sort of periods when the activity was much diminished.

ANDREW DECKER: And when you had somebody like Jasper Johns where else were you showing him?

LEO CASTELLI: Would I show him?

ANDREW DECKER: Yes.

LEO CASTELLI: There were many, many galleries all over America and elsewhere who wanted to show his work, so there was no problem finding venues, as they call them, for him. Actually, I could never satisfy the demand-which, in the case of Johns, you know, since he painted relatively little, that was quite a problem.

ANDREW DECKER: I would think so. Because, as you say, there are many places that would love to see his work.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

ANDREW DECKER: So how did you decide-

LEO CASTELLI: Well, you know, one does one's best, and, if you cannot satisfy everybody, people, generally speaking, do understand what the situation is. They're all professionals. But, anyway, in one way or another, you can always do something for everybody, although sometimes it's pretty difficult.

ANDREW DECKER: Robert Rauschenberg, I guess, fell in love with the idea of traveling the world.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, yes. He had this show-how did he call it now?

ANDREW DECKER: Wasn't it the "Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange?"

LEO CASTELLI: That's right. He did put together a show that then traveled all over the world. But I was not in charge of it. That's something that he did on his own.

ANDREW DECKER: My recollection is that he took his paintings around the world and would leave something off in each country but put something different in.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, he did. It was a very complex enterprise, and he found all kinds of solutions to problems of paintings that he couldn't get any more. He just got them from other sources and so on, but he did a very good job.

ANDREW DECKER: Now he was doing fairly complicated work all along-

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

ANDREW DECKER: In terms of layers and imagery. And were there works of his that you wanted to keep but were unable to?

LEO CASTELLI: That I wanted to keep?

ANDREW DECKER: Yes.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, there are lots of things that I would like to keep if I could afford it, but it is not possible for somebody in my position to be selfish. I have to let things go, let them travel the world.

ANDREW DECKER: I remember you had kept his painting, Bed, I think [1955]. Or Mattress.

LEO CASTELLI: I kept the Bed, yes, for a long, long time, till finally even the Bed went by board, yes. [Laughs.] The Museum of Modern Art wanted it very badly, as one of the most important examples of the time, so I gave it to them. The Bed was a gift from me to the Modern.

ANDREW DECKER: I hope that you've kept something for yourself though, as well.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, there is always current things that I have at home. Sometimes I keep them longer; sometimes they go rapidly. But I keep things for myself, too, yes. Especially drawings. Smaller things, not really too important paintings. Those have to go into the world.

ANDREW DECKER: Getting back for a second to the ROCI show-

LEO CASTELLI: Who?

ANDREW DECKER: The Rauschenberg overseas thing.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

ANDREW DECKER: I may not be remembering this correctly, but my understanding was that he needed to do this big traveling show.

LEO CASTELLI: He needed to do it?

ANDREW DECKER: Well, for personal reasons.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, every artist wants as much exposure as possible, and perhaps Rauschenberg felt that urge more than other artists. But every artist wants that.

ANDREW DECKER: Yeah. But he had some help getting into Russia, I think, from Armand Hammer.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, Armand Hammer was helpful, I remember. Lots of people were helpful. He seemed, was, well, the way he acted was sort of a little bit like his paintings-very expansive, yes.

ANDREW DECKER: Well, was it unpleasant or uncomfortable to see him go off and do these other things?

LEO CASTELLI: Was it comfortable? In what sense?

ANDREW DECKER: Well, was it uncomfortable to see someone you had been so close with-

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, well, no, not at all. I'm not at all jealous of the artists. If they have a chance to travel to be seen by more people, I feel very happy about that. I'm not somebody who would sort of feel neglected.

ANDREW DECKER: On Roy Lichtenstein-

LEO CASTELLI: Hmm?

ANDREW DECKER: Roy Lichtenstein, I believe, set himself the ambitious goal of deliberately changing his works every couple of years.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, I don't know whether it's deliberate. Of course, like many other artists he likes to change, to add new ideas, and perhaps he does more so than some others, but every artist doesn't want to stick to some kind of a way.

ANDREW DECKER: But I remember the works that refer to other artists. Then there were works, I think, in his studio. And certainly some interiors.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

ANDREW DECKER: And more recently the Japanese influenced paintings-

LEO CASTELLI: Very nice, yes.

ANDREW DECKER: Which seemed incredibly successful. I mean, just beautiful.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, people often were surprised and disappointed when he changed his images, but then, generally speaking, they got rapidly used to the new imagery and did understand that the artist cannot go on painting the same painting all his life. But that's a general phenomenon.

ANDREW DECKER: Were you ever surprised to go to his studio and see new images?

LEO CASTELLI: Was I surprised?

ANDREW DECKER: Yes.

LEO CASTELLI: To go where?

ANDREW DECKER: To Mr. Lichtenstein's studio.

LEO CASTELLI: To the studio, you mean?

ANDREW DECKER: Yes.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, sometimes I was, when something new came up that I hadn't seen because I hadn't been to the studio for a while. Yes, he is probably the artist that surprised me most with new inventions and new images.

ANDREW DECKER: Did you discuss the new inventions with him?

LEO CASTELLI: No, I never discussed really the contents of the paintings. I take it for granted that artists will change, and sometimes I may be disappointed or I may not understand what they're doing, and probably they'll understand that I'm a little bit out of focus there, but that's as it should be. They can't-as we said before-go on painting the same painting all their life.

ANDREW DECKER: Well, did Lichtenstein ever notice that you were surprised by something and offer to talk about what he was doing?

LEO CASTELLI: It certainly happened. And he certainly expected me to be surprised, perhaps disappointed, but then it's not for me to suggest to him what to do.

ANDREW DECKER: Oh, no, I don't mean to even imply that you would suggest what to do.

LEO CASTELLI: No, but sometimes, obviously, it so happens that they do something new that I don't like to understand right away because it's a big change from what they were doing. And they may notice-although I try not to show it-they may notice that I'm a bit surprised and perhaps disappointed. But, no, I got used to the fact that artists do have to change and so I expect it.

ANDREW DECKER: Were there any particular artists who enjoyed talking about their paintings with you?

LEO CASTELLI: I don't think that any artists like to talk about their paintings in - no, nobody. No, they don't do that. There is not really very much to say. There's a lot to feel about a painting-when you see them for the first time, especially-but your comments on those occasions are necessarily general. Well, generally speaking, if what they do is interesting and new. They have to feel that I like it. I can always say something, but probably if I don't like what they're doing so much, they will understand that I don't. It's like that.

ANDREW DECKER: Yes. I've always disliked talking with artists about their art because it is-

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, generally speaking, I don't think that - one doesn't do it.

ANDREW DECKER: Yes.

LEO CASTELLI: You have feelings about it, and you convey those feelings, but not in so many words.

ANDREW DECKER: So in the eighties with the Expressionist painting-or Neo-Expressionism-what was your first reaction to that?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, I'm really not much in favor of the wild expressionist painting. I do favor restraint and a classical kind of approach to painting. So I may have been disappointed at what some of the artists are doing. But then also something that seems very expressionist to begin with, or disheveled, then after a while one comes to Pop Art like Rauschenberg. You get used to it, and you see the result, and there is order in their madness.

ANDREW DECKER: Because I know that you came to be a great fan - that you came to very much enjoy the work of Julian Schnabel.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, I think he was very, very good at one time. I haven't followed what he's been doing recently so much. But in the beginning I liked what he was doing very much.

ANDREW DECKER: And also David Salle, I believe.

LEO CASTELLI: David Salle, that group of artists. As a matter of fact, of the two I did like David better than Julian because there was greater restraint there.

ANDREW DECKER: In showing those artists, you were working with Mary Boone, I believe.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, mm-hmm.

ANDREW DECKER: And throughout your life you have worked with a number of dealers.

LEO CASTELLI: Oh yes, one always does work with other galleries. One can't live in an isolated world where you jealously defend your artists from inroads coming from other galleries. So I've been always happy to work with other galleries.

ANDREW DECKER: Did you ever work with Pace [Pace Gallery, New York, NY]?

LEO CASTELLI: Not much, but if the occasion arose I certainly did, too, yes.

ANDREW DECKER: I thought of them because they tend to be very protective of their artists.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes. But then when it came for them to show-one conflict or another-one of my artists, I was always more than ready to assist them.

ANDREW DECKER: And, of course, you worked also with Larry Gagosian for some time.

LEO CASTELLI: Larry Gagosian, yes I certainly did lots of things with him.

ANDREW DECKER: I was thinking that there could not be two people who are more different in some ways and more similar in others than Mary Boone and Larry Gagosian.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, you're probably right in saying that. [Laughs.] They're both very intense about what they're doing.

ANDREW DECKER: Yes.

LEO CASTELLI: And they have very personal feelings about the artists that they handle, that they're showing. It's not just merchandise. [Laughs.]

ANDREW DECKER: One of the things that has struck me about them-and they are part of the younger generation-is that they are both known for being aggressive, but, at the same time, they both have very, very strong feelings about the art that they show.

LEO CASTELLI: Aggressive? They are sort of naturally - very convinced about what they're doing, and therefore it may seem aggressive but it's just conviction. Well, they're doing-both of them-a very good job.

ANDREW DECKER: Yes. I noticed that maybe seven, six years ago-I'm not sure of the date-but you sent an exhibition of works by Roy Lichtenstein to Austria to the Galerie Ulysses. I think they were works on paper.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

ANDREW DECKER: And I learned at the time that that was the first gallery exhibition of Mr. Lichtenstein's works in Vienna.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes. I remember that, yes.

ANDREW DECKER: It was remarkable to me that no one in Vienna had come to you before and said -

LEO CASTELLI: Well, you know, those countries are sometimes quite active and sometimes they're not. For instance, France sometimes isn't active at all-Paris and-on the other hand, then, Vienna or some galleries in Germany, like Cologne, are active. So it depends very much on who's in charge there. But, generally speaking, Germany has been active in a good way through the years, yes.

ANDREW DECKER: Why is that, do you think? That Germany has been so active, so consistently?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, you know, the Germans are very thorough people. They explore things. They don't do things casually, perhaps, as the French do. So they take what they're doing-art-I mean contemporary art-very seriously. But you can see the results.

ANDREW DECKER: I think along with America, they have the best group of collectors who are very serious about-

LEO CASTELLI: Yes. Happily, they've been very good, yes.

ANDREW DECKER: I understand that you have known Peter Ludwig-

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, yes, Peter Ludwig, who I wanted to mention, who was a great collector. Actually, German collecting was Peter Ludwig. [Laughs.] Yes, it's a pity that he died so young and stupidly. What they decided is nobody should die of [inaudible] these days. But he was a very good collector, a very good one. Put together a great group of paintings for Germany.

ANDREW DECKER: Were there other collectors in Germany who have come along well and developed seriously?

LEO CASTELLI: After Ludwig there hasn't been anybody of that caliber. There are several collectors-museums and so on-but it's not the same thing. Ludwig was a fantastic operation. It's a shame that he died so young.

ANDREW DECKER: And there has been that recent thing in England, where it seems that there are some collectors, and the biggest among them is Charles Saatchi.

LEO CASTELLI: Saatchi, yes.

ANDREW DECKER: Who has been around for some years.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes. But Saatchi is sort of irregular. Sometimes he's caught by great enthusiasm, and then the next thing is he's senseless. He-poof-and changes his interest. So he's not very reliable.

ANDREW DECKER: Have you been following the work of people like Damien Hirst?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, I've been following it, of course, yes. Not going specially to England to see what he is doing, but whatever appeared here, of course, was interesting.

ANDREW DECKER: Did you have strong feelings about the work?

LEO CASTELLI: Of Damien's?

ANDREW DECKER: Yes.

LEO CASTELLI: I thought he was sort of overdoing it a little bit, but then, you know, you expect that from a young artist. I think that it's a good thing.

ANDREW DECKER: And you've been showing, yourself, James Rosenquist for a while.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, for quite a while. Since the beginning of time, yes. [Laughs.] And he's never disappointed me. He's been always inventive and he's always doing good new things.

ANDREW DECKER: Why is it that he has never been quite as widely admired as some of the other Pop artists? Do you have any idea why?

LEO CASTELLI: It's sort of a mysterious kind of thing. There must be something inherently not there that makes an artist less interesting to the general public than another. Difficult to say.

ANDREW DECKER: Yes, because his work seems very serious.

LEO CASTELLI: Oh yes, it's very good, very inventive. And the fact that he hasn't been as successful as some other artists of his generation is difficult to explain.

ANDREW DECKER: And understand.

LEO CASTELLI: And understand.

ANDREW DECKER: If I may, for one second-

LEO CASTELLI: What does the machine say?

[Audio break.]

ANDREW DECKER: I noticed that last fall-I think-the Museum of Modern Art acquired the painting F-111 [James Rosenquist, 1965].

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, that was a great event. It's something that once one has bought it and shown it, you don't really know what to do with it because it's so big.

ANDREW DECKER: Well, the Museum of Modern Art will solve that problem by building a new building.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, I don't think that even the Museum of Modern Art can do a thing like that. It's something that, obviously, is difficult to handle.

ANDREW DECKER: Now my understanding is that that was painted to go inside your gallery on 77th Street.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, it was just a - if you went all around the room, the front room was exactly 84 feet long, so that painting is 84 feet, and you could show it. In my case it was shown on four sides, but it could be shown stretched out completely, and it was shown that way at the Metropolitan. But I didn't like it. I think it was conceived for that room, for the room of the gallery, and stretched out it didn't have the same kind of strength. That was my impression.

ANDREW DECKER: Yes, it's an overwhelming piece, almost-

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

ANDREW DECKER: When you're in the middle of it.

LEO CASTELLI: But I still think that - yeah, I think of this event as a great event, showing that 84-foot painting.

ANDREW DECKER: What was the response at the time?

LEO CASTELLI: My response?

ANDREW DECKER: The response of other people at the time?

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, well, you know, there was a group of people who followed the career of this artist, and they were quite enthusiastic about a feat like that one. And other people, of course, didn't quite get it or felt that it was not practical to do an 84-foot painting. But then the idea that what artists are doing should be practical is just a wrong idea. They should do whatever they feel like doing.

ANDREW DECKER: So what work in the past ten years or so has been interesting to you-along with that of David Salle? Has there been-

LEO CASTELLI: Well, all the artists that I have shown-

ANDREW DECKER: Well, yeah.

LEO CASTELLI: I suppose, and perhaps a few others that I did not show, but perhaps Mary Boone showed or Pace or some other gallery-and Larry Gagosian. But, all in all, these galleries that I've mentioned, and myself, have been pursuing the same kind of thing, the same kind of approach.

ANDREW DECKER: When you had your space on Green Street, it was big enough to handle-

LEO CASTELLI: Anything, practically.

ANDREW DECKER: Yes. [Laughs.] Do you miss having that kind of space? You had some wonderful things by Richard Serra.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes. That was a wonderful space to have but, of course, I couldn't afford to keep it. Because it then, of course, demanded always big shows and those are usually quite expensive.

ANDREW DECKER: Are there sculptors that you would like to be showing now?

LEO CASTELLI: Sculptors?

ANDREW DECKER: Yeah.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, who is there?

ANDREW DECKER: Well, Serra.

LEO CASTELLI: You have a list there?

ANDREW DECKER: Not in front me. But if it's okay I could come back with a list; if you were willing to speak again in a week or two.

LEO CASTELLI: Hmm?

ANDREW DECKER: If you're willing to speak again in a week or two, I can bring some more information.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, I'll be more than happy to speak again, sure.

ANDREW DECKER: Would that be okay?

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, absolutely.

ANDREW DECKER: That would be a great pleasure for me.

LEO CASTELLI: It would be a pleasure.

[Tape 1, Side B.]

[Mr. Castelli and Andrew Decker are joined by Nina Sundell, Mr. Castelli's daughter.]

ANDREW DECKER: [In progress.] 1997, Andrew Decker with Nina Sundell and Leo Castelli, in an interview for the Archives of American Art. When I spoke to you, Mr. Castelli, before we talked a little bit about the sixties and a little bit about the 1970s and [maybe] changes in the artists - or the additions of new artists that Mr. Castelli was working with. And I'm not quite sure why we started there, but we did.

NINA SUNDELL: Well, perhaps that's the most interesting place to begin, but it isn't the beginning.

ANDREW DECKER: No. The earlier interview was transcribed. It's about a hundred and thirty pages long, which inadequately covers Mr. Castelli's life from birth until 1970. There were some things that were talked about-you know, your participation, I think, in the group.

LEO CASTELLI: What?

ANDREW DECKER: Your participation with a group of artists and other people. As well as early exhibitions of Roy Lichtenstein-the late Roy Lichtenstein-Jasper Johns-

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, you mean the first show that I had?

ANDREW DECKER: Yeah.

LEO CASTELLI: It was the Ninth Street Show, as we called it because it took place in a space on Ninth Street, and-well, maybe you remember better who was included in it.

NINA SUNDELL: Well, Bob was included. Bob Rauschenberg-

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, Rauschenberg was included.

NINA SUNDELL: [Inaudible] was included in it with the Black Painting-

LEO CASTELLI: Wasn't Jasper included?

NINA SUNDELL: I don't think that you had met Jasper at that time.

LEO CASTELLI: I don't think so, no.

NINA SUNDELL: And a lot of Abstract Expressionists-junior-and I don't really-I mostly remember that Bob's painting was so strange that it dominated the exhibition. [Laughs.]

LEO CASTELLI: Well-

NINA SUNDELL: Did you talk about - this wasn't your first experience with doing things with art. Apart from the gallery in Paris, I felt that your interest in contemporary art just increased continuously from soon after we arrived here. I remember-

LEO CASTELLI: From when?

NINA SUNDELL: From soon after we arrived. I remember in 1215 Fifth Avenue-

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah.

NINA SUNDELL: So that must have been quite early on that you-

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah. We had an apartment there on 1215 Fifth Avenue.

NINA SUNDELL: Brought a Kandinsky-a beautiful Kandinsky-

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

NINA SUNDELL: Back from Europe with a sort of a wonderful Prussian blue in it shaped like a cherry pie, that was very splendid and quite different from all the Victorian furniture and Piranesi prints that were in that apartment. [Laughs.]

LEO CASTELLI: Yes. Well, the furniture was Victorian. [Laughs.] At least it had some character.

NINA SUNDELL: Oh, it was very nice.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah.

NINA SUNDELL: I never really understood how you started bringing those paintings back. I know that you were representing Nina Kandinsky at some time?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, Nina Kandinsky-whom I knew from Paris-well, had some confidence in me and asked me to, well, to take care of Kandinsky's work-which I certainly was not in a position to do. I didn't have a gallery at the time, and, let's say, the only contribution that I could make was the fact that I was involved with contemporary art and therefore could be of some help to her to introduce Kandinsky to, well, to the circles of contemporary art instead of relegating him somewhere as a classic that nobody looked at anymore.

NINA SUNDELL: I know that, especially after we moved to 77th Street, there were a lot of European artists coming to visit us, as well as the appearance of many European paintings on the wall.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes. Whom do you remember then?

NINA SUNDELL: I especially remember the Dubuffets.

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, yes, Dubuffet was an artist I was very involved with, first of all because he really was perhaps the most original and important artist in France at that time, and he was handled by the gallery that I was associated with, René Drouin Gallery. So I had a real interest, also-a real stake in his work. So that's certainly one of the artists that I had around, and who was on my walls.

NINA SUNDELL: And I remember that Hans [Jean] Arp came. I don't think you had anything of his, but I remember that he visited.

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, I must have had something or other. I remember I had-

NINA SUNDELL: Maybe. A blue thing with a kind of a [watch, rock] shape-

LEO CASTELLI: Arp, yes, was one of the artists that I was interested in. And that reminds me of a friend of those times, Frederick Kiesler, who was an architect and painter, a man of all trades, and who said this word about Arp: "This is Arp, not art." [Laughs.] He always had sort of witty comments of that type, Kiesler. He was very small, very lively, and wanted to be involved in everything that was going on at the time; also with the younger generation. He liked what Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were doing very much, so he wanted always to be young and present. So that was Kiesler.

ANDREW DECKER: When Arp and Dubuffet came over here, did you introduce them to other artists who were American?

LEO CASTELLI: I had a - yes, let me see. I had some kind of party, but I can't think exactly where, and I introduced him to various artists. Notably, I remember Rauschenberg who was very interested in what Dubuffet was doing. So I can't remember exactly. Perhaps there was no party. Perhaps he just met all these people at the gallery.

NINA SUNDELL: You were very friendly with Matta, I remember.

LEO CASTELLI: At that time-

NINA SUNDELL: At that time, before gallery.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, at that time I was very friendly with Matta, and he was very active, very busy, and always wanted to run the show. [Laughs.]

NINA SUNDELL: I remember that you and my mother usually had rather sharp things to say about the Surrealists, but many of them were around, and I remember meeting Max Ernst and [inaudible].

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, Max Ernst was around at that time and we were friends. At least, I saw him pretty often. I had also known him in Paris, and I don't know whether I had shown him in the gallery in Paris, which was of a very short duration, but he was part of my group. And I certainly did see him and [you would] see him when he was in New York. And who else was around? [Roberto] Matta, Max Ernst-

NINA SUNDELL: Bob Motherwell at that time, [inaudible].

LEO CASTELLI: Bob Motherwell was pretty much involved in it.

NINA SUNDELL: [Richard] Huelsenbeck, the Dada?

LEO CASTELLI: What?

NINA SUNDELL: Huelsenbeck-

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, yes.

NINA SUNDELL: The German Dada artist, who wasn't very clever.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, well, he was sort of a bit of a pedantic kind of guy. [Laughs.] Huelsenbeck, yes.

NINA SUNDELL: What I was wondering was, when you started selling things and becoming interested in American galleries, how did that begin?

LEO CASTELLI: How?

NINA SUNDELL: Well, I know that you were doing business with Sidney Janis, I think, before the [inaudible] show, and-

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, I was quite involved with Sidney Janis, who actually was not handling the younger generation of painters and was very interested in my involvement with them, so I had lunch with him almost every day and kept him abreast of what was going on among the younger painters, and tried to convince him also, and sometimes succeeded, to show some of them like-I can't remember-Matta-no-

NINA SUNDELL: I remember there was a group show of American artists and European artists-

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, there was a [inaudible] Paris-

NINA SUNDELL: Sort of teamed up, which-

LEO CASTELLI: A show that I invented.

NINA SUNDELL: It was mostly Abstract Expressionists-Americans, I think.

LEO CASTELLI: No.

NINA SUNDELL: No?

LEO CASTELLI: I don't think so. Not specifically. There may have been some Abstract Expressionists included. I remember [inaudible].

NINA SUNDELL: No, I don't-

LEO CASTELLI: But Giorgio Cavallon-

NINA SUNDELL: Yes, abstract and not very expressive.

LEO CASTELLI: Not very expressive. But, anyway, I did sort of do quite a number of things with Sidney Janis, who trusted my judgment as far as the younger generation was concerned. He was, naturally, very experienced with the older people. So I did see him, I remember, very often-practically every day to discuss events and developments that were going on at that time.

ANDREW DECKER: Were there particular artists that he personally-

LEO CASTELLI: What?

ANDREW DECKER: Were there some particular artists that he was fond of himself?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, he had those old classics like - Picasso was already a bit too far away but also difficult to handle, but he had Arp, I remember. And who else did he have?

NINA SUNDELL: I was not very old at the time. I know he had [Andre] Masson.

LEO CASTELLI: But, anyway, quite a number of the younger generation-after Picasso.

ANDREW DECKER: Among the artists who you were interested in, were there artists that he thought especially interesting?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, whatever I was interested in he sort of followed my advice and we shared our taste. So we did - although it's nothing very specific that I can say about it, I think the fact that we saw each other so very often, and discussed the situation practically every day, was very important at that time for the development of interest in the younger generation of artists.

NINA SUNDELL: Did you meet the museum people early on? Alfred Barr and Dorothy Miller and those people?

LEO CASTELLI: I did know the museum people quite well. Alfred Barr was sort of a bit unapproachable, but in spite of that I did see him. And, well, Dorothy Miller, his chief assistant, was very approachable, and I did see her very often. We discussed events and developments of the time. So it was a - well, it's now forgotten, and perhaps there were no tangible results, but there was a current there, and perhaps the results did come a little later.

ANDREW DECKER: How many people were interested in art? I mean, if you had-

LEO CASTELLI: A very limited number in contemporary. There were lots of people interested in art at that time, but the museum-Alfred Barr, especially-did a very good job of awakening interest in also the real contemporaries, so I think that Alfred did a very good job there. He was a great authority, and whatever he said was the gospel. [Laughs.]

NINA SUNDELL: There were very few galleries.

LEO CASTELLI: There were few galleries at the time, yes. There was - galleries that I can remember at that time: Betty Parsons, who showed some of the younger generation, especially Pollock. And there was - Betty Parsons. Who else? Julien Levy.

NINA SUNDELL: Julien Levy, Charlie Egan.

LEO CASTELLI: Who?

NINA SUNDELL: Egan.

LEO CASTELLI: Charlie Egan was there. He was around-

NINA SUNDELL: He was quite a character

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, he was quite a character.

NINA SUNDELL: Did Johnny Meyers have a gallery then?

LEO CASTELLI: Johnny Meyers had a gallery, too. Johnny Meyers. Didn't he work with Egan?

NINA SUNDELL: No, I don't think so. I mean, maybe he did. I was not aware of it.

LEO CASTELLI: But I was fairly certain he did.

NINA SUNDELL: Well, I was aware of him as a separate gallery. LEO CASTELLI: Yeah.

NINA SUNDELL: You know, I was not really a precocious kid, so I didn't know everything. [Laughs.]

LEO CASTELLI: These were three or four galleries and some individuals like myself, museum directors, who were very active, and whatever was happening at that time was not generally accepted. We had an uphill fight to get those people recognized.

ANDREW DECKER: When you opened your gallery, how many people would come in during a day?

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, not many. [Laughs.] First of all, the location was not very good. It was not in the center of things, which was 57th Street. It was up on 77th Street. Also, difficult to access because it was on the fourth floor of a building, and a very small elevator took the visitors to the fourth floor where the gallery was. But, you know, the enthusiasts-and there were quite a number of them-did come and I think that you may remember, too, that it was very lively around there.

NINA SUNDELL: I thought that rather a lot of people came. I mean, I think probably it was no more people than come here in the middle of the week in the middle of an exhibition. But the place was so much smaller that it felt very animated, and everybody had friends who would come and hang out a lot. I remember that Ilsa [Goetz]-

LEO CASTELLI: Ilsa Goetz, yes. She was my-

NINA SUNDELL: Who was your first-

LEO CASTELLI: My assistant, my secretary.

NINA SUNDELL: And she had lots of friends.

LEO CASTELLI: She had, I don't know, worked with somebody-some gallery-and so she knew her way around, and she brought in quite a number of people that otherwise wouldn't have come. But very soon, in spite of, let's say, logistical difficulties, there was a great activity going on there.

NINA SUNDELL: I don't remember the first shows, before Johns. I remember the very first show, which had [inaudible].

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, there were some older artists that disappeared. [Laughs.]

NINA SUNDELL: Cavallon. It wasn't really very indicative that it was going to be a particularly interesting gallery.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, no-

NINA SUNDELL: I mean, it seemed as though it would be nice and good but not revolutionary.

LEO CASTELLI: No, I think there was already sort of some idea that I would try to and succeed in trying to find good new artists. I think that the gallery right from the beginning acquired that reputation. And so in spite of, as I said, the logistical difficulties people would come to see the shows.

NINA SUNDELL: Was Eleanor Ward up on 74th by then? The Stable [The Stable Gallery]?

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, she was. Shortly thereafter, yes. Eleanor Ward was one of the real interesting dealers of that time, had a gallery, I don't know, around 59th Street-

NINA SUNDELL: No, I think it was further up. Well, that's easy to find out.

LEO CASTELLI: I don't know. Anyway, it was called The Stable because it was in an ancient stable. If you went in there, there was still the smell of horses. And then she moved out to another location. And she, you must remember, was very, very active-one of the real pioneers, superior.

ANDREW DECKER: Who did she exhibit?

NINA SUNDELL: Well, she had a sort of infamous Rauschenberg show. I mean, infamous because she didn't treat him well. She had a show of the White paintings.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

NINA SUNDELL: Yes.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, she tried to show all the younger upstarts, yes. She felt that that was her mission. Sometimes her choices were not perfect but, anyway, she was the one who did it. Nobody else.

ANDREW DECKER: And that was after you had opened the gallery? Or before?

LEO CASTELLI: After what?

ANDREW DECKER: That you had opened your gallery?

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah. Well, before I opened my gallery she was, I think, the only one who really-

NINA SUNDELL: I think she was the only one who was doing really crazy things.

LEO CASTELLI: Who was interested-yes. And then I opened the gallery. My gallery, again, was logistically sort of difficult access but still known to a small group of people who faithfully attended my openings and came frequently to talk to me about things, about developments. Yes, those were really heroic times. One can't even quite imagine how little that's now normal went on at the time.

ANDREW DECKER: Did artists like de Kooning-

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

ANDREW DECKER: Or [Barnett] Newman come to your exhibitions?

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, yes. We were very good friends, and they showed in different galleries because they started out before I opened my gallery. Actually, I did advise them-since I didn't have a gallery-to choose this or that gallery that seemed to me the best for them. Like, for instance, de Kooning was at a gallery that he didn't particularly care for, so I recommended him to Janis [Sidney Janis Gallery]. At that time Janis said, "Well, yes, I do appreciate his work. It's indeed very good, but then I'm quite sure I'd have difficulties with the man." So I said, "Well, perhaps those difficulties were worth the while submitting to, because he was about the most important artist around." So he did take him on and then it turned out that he was not difficult at all and everything went very well.

ANDREW DECKER: How did you come to know de Kooning? Just from-

LEO CASTELLI: Well, Nina will perhaps be able to tell you better how-

NINA SUNDELL: I think we were friendly with Motherwell first.

LEO CASTELLI: [Inaudible] I think that the important thing there was the fact that we had that house in East Hampton.

NINA SUNDELL: Well, you must have been friendly with him beforehand, because I don't think my mother would have invited someone that you didn't know at all to come spend the summer.

LEO CASTELLI: I was very interested in what was going on and, of course, went to see these various artists like de Kooning in their studios. Then we became friends and they-for instance, de Kooning did spend something like two summers at the house that I had with Ileana Sonnabend in East Hampton. So we got to know him really well, not only as an artist but as a human being, which is a very-and you got to know him very well.

NINA SUNDELL: The way I remember the East Hampton connection was that you were very friendly with Pierre Charon, the French architect-

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, and he-

NINA SUNDELL: And Pierre Charon was very friendly with Motherwell-

LEO CASTELLI: With Motherwell, yes.

NINA SUNDELL: And he was the architect of Motherwell's house in East Hampton.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah.

NINA SUNDELL: And he had a little house that he made for himself.

LEO CASTELLI: Just across the street from ours.

NINA SUNDELL: Well, I thought we got the house in East Hampton because we already knew those people who were in East Hampton. You know, I think it was because you enjoyed being with Charon and Motherwell, and other people-Pollock-was there--

LEO CASTELLI: Charon, by the way, perhaps you don't know who he was. He was a French architect, wasn't he?

NINA SUNDELL: He was an architect. There was a pretty good article in The New Yorker about him a couple of years ago.

LEO CASTELLI: Quite wonderful.

NINA SUNDELL: He was a wonderful character.

LEO CASTELLI: Apart from the fact that he was a pioneer in contemporary architecture, he was a wonderful man and a very good friend of ours and he spent, well, months with us in East Hampton, especially. So we got to know him very well. So that was a little center where people of all kinds did meet.

NINA SUNDELL: And you were going to the Club, of course, which must have started before East Hampton.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah. Apart from East Hampton, there was the thing that we called The Club-the 9th Street Club-a space that I rented for, I don't know, a very small sum, on the fourth floor or fifth floor of the building.

NINA SUNDELL: Did you actually have the lease for that?

LEO CASTELLI: What?

NINA SUNDELL: Was it you who rented that space?

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

NINA SUNDELL: Over the Cedar Bar? I never knew that.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

NINA SUNDELL: I knew you were involved but I didn't realize that you were-

LEO CASTELLI: That was basically-it cost something like-which was a considerable sum, some two hundred dollars a month. And there I, well, I had shows of these young new artists, and people did gather to discuss the trends of the moment.

NINA SUNDELL: They had these very wild round-table discussions where everybody would get very passionate.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, it was a-yeah, I had almost forgotten it. It was a wonderful time. Now everything seems so sedate by comparison.

NINA SUNDELL: Oh, I think it is.

LEO CASTELLI: You think it is?

NINA SUNDELL: Sedate by comparison. Or at least what's not sedate is much less upfront than it used to be. They were very expressive. They were Expressionist.

LEO CASTELLI: Tell him about those early heroic days. What comes to mind?

NINA SUNDELL: Anything else come to mind? You see, there are so many things that I don't know, like I didn't know that you rented The Club.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, I paid for it.

NINA SUNDELL: Yes, well, you paid for it.

LEO CASTELLI: You know, I don't know what was done practically, but I had to pay for it because nobody had a dollar. Remember that ten dollars for de Kooning was a big sum of money at that time.

ANDREW DECKER: Were there other artists working who were not involved in The Club in New York?

LEO CASTELLI: Other artists? Well, there was a whole group of artists around de Kooning. De Kooning was a sort of a leader then. Wasn't he? Yes.

NINA SUNDELL: Yes.

LEO CASTELLI: Definitely. But then the intellectual leader, really, was Barney Newman.

NINA SUNDELL: And Ad Reinhardt, too.

LEO CASTELLI: Who?

NINA SUNDELL: Ad Reinhardt, wasn't he?

LEO CASTELLI: Who?

NINA SUNDELL: Reinhardt. The Black Paintings. Ad Reinhardt?

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, Ad Reinhardt, yes. But he was a bit too rigid, so the real leaders were de Kooning, and in spite of the fact that Barney Newman was very precise he was somebody that had some-great deal of [inaudible], and so everybody followed him, listened to his advice. Who else was there?

NINA SUNDELL: Hal Rosenberg was there a lot?

LEO CASTELLI: Harold Rosenberg was a great influence. Harold Rosenberg, the critic who wrote for ArtNews at the time and-what else did he do?

NINA SUNDELL: I don't really remember.

LEO CASTELLI: He didn't do much writing, but he was around and a great influence. He talked a great deal, and his ideas were all very fresh, and he put things into perspective, things that were a little bit sort of vague. He understood what they were about, how one thing connected with the next. He was a real influence, Harold Rosenberg.

NINA SUNDELL: And [Nicolas] Calas, wasn't he-

LEO CASTELLI: Niko Calas was an influence, too, but Niko didn't understand American artists as well as Harold Rosenberg did. He was more, you know, European-oriented.

ANDREW DECKER: So aside from those people were there other artists who were significant or considered-like I can't imagine that Thomas Hart Benton ever came to The Club.

LEO CASTELLI: Who?

ANDREW DECKER: Thomas Hart Benton.

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, no, no, no. That's a different kind of world. They were not part of the world that we lived in. But there was some-

NINA SUNDELL: Well, that was-

LEO CASTELLI: Some connection with some other spheres, but I don't remember who they would be.

NINA SUNDELL: I don't remember. I think you had absolutely no use for any of the Socialist Realism [Social Realism] in there.

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, Nick had a thing, of course-

NINA SUNDELL: I think he really hated it.

LEO CASTELLI: That kind of thing was sort of sinister.

NINA SUNDELL: So it was almost as if it just didn't exist or it was by wallpaper designers or some other thing completely. Magazine illustrators. Of course, that's quite unfair, and I think they had a fairly lively art life of their own, but we were not-

LEO CASTELLI: Who can you think of that group?

NINA SUNDELL: Well, I particularly think that you hated Ben Shahn.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, I'm reasonable. [Laughs.]

NINA SUNDELL: He was a part of-he had a sort of a center of his own admirers and people who tried to paint like him, most of whom, of course, I don't remember because I didn't think they were particularly interesting either. But there was somebody who was a crossover person and that was Philip Guston-

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

NINA SUNDELL: Who had been a sort of a-

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, he was a-

NINA SUNDELL: A WPA [Works Progress Administration] realist. Not really a realist but representational abstract painter.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, he was very much part of the de Kooning group, but perhaps with a foot in the other camp.

NINA SUNDELL: If we had been interested in the other camp, he could have told us more about it. We could have found out from Philip if we had any interest in finding out anything about those who were not part of The Club. And there was-I'm sorry, I will take a pause while I remember what I was going to say, because there were other people who were part of The Club that we haven't mentioned but who seemed to be-

LEO CASTELLI: Well, who would they be? We mentioned [Cavallon], who was not a very important painter but influential otherwise-

NINA SUNDELL: He was a good painter.

LEO CASTELLI: And he was with the group, too.

NINA SUNDELL: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

LEO CASTELLI: And who else was there? Everybody of that pioneering generation was part of that club, and it was very lively. We met there, and then just downstairs, across the street practically, was the Cedar Bar, where you would always find Franz Kline drinking beer. [Laughs.]

NINA SUNDELL: That's who we forgot to say. Franz Kline.

LEO CASTELLI: He also came up, but then he was mostly interested in having his beer so he would go down and drink beer at the Cedar Bar, which I think still exists.

NINA SUNDELL: Oh, yes, it's really quite awful.

LEO CASTELLI: Not as it was at the time, but there's a bar called Cedar Bar in the same location on University-is it University Place, yes?

NINA SUNDELL: It's University Place, yes. And it's a misery. [Laughs.]

ANDREW DECKER: How many women were involved?

LEO CASTELLI: How many?

ANDREW DECKER: Women?

LEO CASTELLI: Women? There were a number of women around, but let's try to remember who they were. Really there were all those hangers-on, of course, various girlfriends of-

NINA SUNDELL: Of the Ruth Kligman. [Laughs.] There was Buffy. Did Buffy Johnson participate?

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, she was around, yes.

NINA SUNDELL: And did Grace Hartigan?

LEO CASTELLI: Who?

NINA SUNDELL: Grace Hartigan. She was younger.

LEO CASTELLI: Grace Hartigan, yes, was a part of the scheme, yes.

NINA SUNDELL: Was Larry Rivers? Were Larry Rivers and Frank O'Hara and all those people?

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah.

NINA SUNDELL: Did they come to The Club, too? They were a real generation younger.

LEO CASTELLI: They came, too, later on. They were the younger generation, but they also joined later on.

NINA SUNDELL: Were there people like Louise Nevelson, for instance, who-

LEO CASTELLI: Well, Louise Nevelson was sympathetic, but I don't think of her as having been very involved with us. She was a bit remote.

ANDREW DECKER: What about Lee Krasner?

LEO CASTELLI: Who?

ANDREW DECKER: Lee Krasner.

LEO CASTELLI: Lee Krasner was very much involved because of Pollock, and Pollock really was one of the great promoters there, in his fashion.

ANDREW DECKER: How would you characterize his fashion?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, very boisterous as he was. [Laughs.] But he could also-I don't know whether you remember that-be very sweet.

NINA SUNDELL: He really could.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, he could be very good, very friendly, full of understanding for problems of other people, and he was not just-

NINA SUNDELL: Well, he'd get very angry and insult people, but he always insulted people for an attribute that they didn't have. [Laughs.] He would make anti-Semitic remarks to homosexuals and always anti-homosexual remarks to Jews, and, in general, whatever it was, it was just an expression of hostility, but he seemed to have a real instinct for not really saying dreadful things. The only really dreadful things, I think, were about people being bad artists which-

LEO CASTELLI: Really bad artists.

NINA SUNDELL: [Laughs.] Really bad artists. Must have been very painful. There were so many really-

LEO CASTELLI: All in all, he could be surprisingly sweet and full of understanding-something that nobody would believe. But you experienced his-

NINA SUNDELL: Yes.

LEO CASTELLI: Kindness and his sweetness.

NINA SUNDELL: A little. I generally was rather scared of him.

ANDREW DECKER: So these are all people who you didn't really work with so much?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, I didn't really have a gallery, so I was in the sense that I tried to get them into good galleries, recommend them to other dealers who had galleries, since at that time I didn't feel like opening one of my own, but just act as an intermediary. But I certainly tried to help.

ANDREW DECKER: So what was it that convinced you to open your own gallery?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, it was a little bit-well, it seemed to me that I had not enough practical experience-you know, real practical nuts and bolts experience to run a gallery, and also there was very little money around at that time, and it seemed to me that a gallery would be a costly affair-the rent and all that. So perhaps I hesitated much too long before opening one. But I finally did.

NINA SUNDELL: It would have been a different gallery, a complete parallel reality, if you had opened your gallery and all the abstract artists who were involved at The Club had been in your gallery.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, it would have been very different.

NINA SUNDELL: Unthinkable.

LEO CASTELLI: Actually, my gallery became the gallery of the new generation. A lot of my friends with whom I had sort of shared all those years, they said [that they] actually expected me to really do something for them, but then to their great surprise I chose younger people.

ANDREW DECKER: How did you support yourself before your gallery?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, my family-or the family of my wife, Ileana-was a wealthy family, and so there was always some money for her available. And I myself, well, tried to sell paintings, you know, in the secondary market. Tried to sell them for-do that kind of business.

ANDREW DECKER: So did the paintings that you sold on the secondary market, were they mostly European?

LEO CASTELLI: There were Europeans, yes, to whom I had really more access and whom I knew more about than my colleagues here in New York. But also Americans, especially, as we have been saying all along, people like de Kooning and Newman and that group.

NINA SUNDELL: We had in our apartment wonderful paintings. Two wonderful paintings by Léger, and two wonderful paintings by Paul Klee, and a wonderful, wonderful Miró, and an extraordinary Mondrian, a nice Picabia, and they all slowly disappeared.

LEO CASTELLI: They all went, all bought to-

NINA SUNDELL: And then you were buying Pollock and things like that, with, you know-

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, well, I had all these-

NINA SUNDELL: And then the Pollocks disappeared and they were replaced by people who were in the gallery like Rauschenberg and Johns at the beginning. So it was kind of a great evolution not only of perhaps of taste but also kind of recycling of how he made good choices, so that you could make other good choices on the proceeds.

LEO CASTELLI: So, anyway, there was a transition from European artists-good ones that I was involved with-and then the Americans, after a while, and all the Europeans, little by little, disappeared. So that was the story, roughly.

ANDREW DECKER: And then you opened your gallery.

LEO CASTELLI: And then I opened my gallery. First, I mean-I must have had a gallery on the fourth floor.

NINA SUNDELL: Oh, downstairs there are a lot of the best things. Don't you remember? You opened the gallery as soon as I went to college, because then you could use my bedroom as an office.

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, yes. You vacated-she vacated her bedroom.

NINA SUNDELL: And they moved to a much smaller apartment, so that when that when I left I had a place, and when I came back there was a gallery, which I must say, was much more exciting.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, just to think that, really, the first gallery was her bedroom, so that's-

NINA SUNDELL: [Laughs.] And then you moved downstairs for a long time.

LEO CASTELLI: Then I moved downstairs, and the space downstairs was and is a very good space with high ceilings and well-proportioned. And that's a gallery that I wouldn't mind having today.

NINA SUNDELL: Oh, yeah, it would be great to have that. And then you didn't move down to Broadway-to West Broadway-for many years.

LEO CASTELLI: For quite a long time, yes.

ANDREW DECKER: That must have been in the mid-seventies that you-

NINA SUNDELL: Early seventies.

ANDREW DECKER: Early?

NINA SUNDELL: 1972?

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, those things happen. You're not planning them. When the right moment seems to appear then you do it. But it's not that I did plan, "Well, I'll do that and next I'm going to do that." It just happened in a rather casual way. And now, here we are.

NINA SUNDELL: Yes.

ANDREW DECKER: So all those exhibitions during the sixties were up on 77th Street.

LEO CASTELLI: Many, many-multiple exhibitions were there, yes. And that's a very beautiful space.

NINA SUNDELL: Yes, that was a beautiful gallery.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah.

NINA SUNDELL: And yet, maybe it was too small.

LEO CASTELLI: And it what?

NINA SUNDELL: In the end, maybe it was not quite big enough, when people started making such big work.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, we always showed just a few. There was enough space for one or, let's say, three large paintings. But, of course, it doesn't look like enough. You need sort of a supporting space, and there was not enough of that there.

ANDREW DECKER: I'm wondering if we should continue now or another time. What are your schedules like?

LEO CASTELLI: Well-

NINA SUNDELL: Want to stop?

LEO CASTELLI: Let's see. It's a quarter of five. I don't know. What else can I tell you? I'll be happy to go on talking if you wish.

ANDREW DECKER: Okay. How are you? [Addressing Nina.]

NINA SUNDELL: Oh, I'm fine.

[Tape 2, Side A.]

LEO CASTELLI: Well, let me see, what happened, really, why we sort of felt that the spaces uptown were not sufficient. To begin with, I never considered the 77th Street location as a very good one, because at that time 57th Street was really the center. And then, little by little, Soho opened up, I didn't choose to go to 57th Street, but moved to that new area, which seemed more interesting and more promising and also, well, cheaper. [Laughs.]

NINA SUNDELL: People are under the general impression that you opened up Soho, but I thought at that time that Soho was really much livelier even though a lot of it was not very commercial, but, as well as Paula [Cooper], there was the Green Gallery.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, that was-

NINA SUNDELL: The Green Gallery, that was Richard Bellamy, wasn't it?

LEO CASTELLI: Richard Bellamy was on 57th Street, I think.

NINA SUNDELL: No, I think that was the gallery that was downtown already.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes?

NINA SUNDELL: Not quite as far down as Soho. Well, maybe I don't remember right. I expect it must have been more about finding it stuffy as well as physically constraining uptown, and wanting to move downtown. By then lots of artists lived downtown.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah.

NINA SUNDELL: And, of course, it was cheaper. It was cheap, an incredibly good time to get real estate down here.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, those things do happen in sort of a natural way. It's not that we were planning Soho. Soho just happened little by little. And now, perhaps, it will have filled its mission and we are going to move somewhere else. Although moving to Chelsea, what is it, 22nd?

NINA SUNDELL: Chelsea. That seems quite out of the way.

LEO CASTELLI: 22nd Street doesn't seem to be the right new location, so we are going to stick to Soho for a while longer.

ANDREW DECKER: Had your artists talked to you about moving down to Soho?

LEO CASTELLI: Had they what?

ANDREW DECKER: Had your artists talked to you about moving down to Soho? About finding a place where they could show more canvases?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, most of them, I think, liked the idea of Soho, yes.

NINA SUNDELL: Wait a minute. You had the [Leo] Castelli Warehouse, which was on 125th Street, I'm remembering.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

NINA SUNDELL: And I remember that you had a terrific show there.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, well, I had a warehouse space.

NINA SUNDELL: You had several shows there, and I think Dorothy Lichtenstein was overseeing that.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes. [Laughs.]

NINA SUNDELL: And those shows were so incredible.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, they were. The space was just wonderful. It was a storage space, but I developed it into a good exhibition space and, had it been around here or in a better location, it probably would have become the main gallery, but then it seems that that location was just impossible.

NINA SUNDELL: As I remember it, they were doing completely impossible work, as people did in the late sixties and early seventies, that you couldn't possibly do in a gallery with a parquet floor. You remember that Richard Serra did that "Splash" lead piece [1969]-

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

NINA SUNDELL: That was splashing lead on the intersection of the wall and floor. There were other things that were very big and very messy, very-

LEO CASTELLI: Well, but here we have a very genteel parquet floor. [Laughter.]

NINA SUNDELL: That's true. But I think that you opened downtown after you had had two or three shows on 125th Street that the artists were very happy with, especially as your newer artists were not Pop artists any longer but more Minimalists and Anti-Form, they now call them.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

NINA SUNDELL: I think when you added those artists to the gallery that it became more fun to have a really big space where they could do grandiose projects.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, you know, things develop in that way according to the various circumstances and the plan, of course. Also, the demands of the artists for a space that's-they do need. If you can't give it to them, then they move to galleries that have that space. So that's how it is.

NINA SUNDELL: Do you remember-well, it's probably certainly documented, but I don't remember what show you opened with here at 420.

LEO CASTELLI: I don't-well, it's easy to find out, of course. Just have to go-

NINA SUNDELL: I thought you might have all kinds of wonderful memories attached to it, which I don't have because I think I wasn't-I think I was in France when it opened, or something.

LEO CASTELLI: You were where?

NINA SUNDELL: I think I was in Paris.

LEO CASTELLI: I don't know. Maybe in college, or in Paris. I don't know.

NINA SUNDELL: I was in Paris. So-

LEO CASTELLI: Anyway now, well, things developed from there, and then things also, well, disappear. Now, for instance, something that will have an important impact is the fact that Roy Lichtenstein died, and therefore he won't be able to continue new paintings, new ideas. But-

ANDREW DECKER: Now he was very active until very recently.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes. Well, definitely he did-

NINA SUNDELL: I think until the day they took him to hospital. From what I hear he was just painting every day.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, he was very productive and full of fresh ideas all the time. But there are others, too, of course. He was not by far the only one. So the gallery will go on after adjusting to this loss, which is, of course, a very severe one. The gallery, after all, is not just a place where you hang paintings. It's a living organism, you know.

ANDREW DECKER: Well, that is something that you talked about in the earlier interview, that-

LEO CASTELLI: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

ANDREW DECKER: In your earlier interview, 27 years ago-

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

ANDREW DECKER: You talked about a gallery being a living organism-

LEO CASTELLI: Did I?

ANDREW DECKER: And how there were some people who were in the gallery, but you could see, almost from the beginning, that they wouldn't stay in the gallery because of how they related to other people.

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, yes. It's a complex thing as to how-it's not just that you show one artist, that each artist is an isolated phenomenon. They have to interact in some way. You can't suddenly show artists that don't relate at all to the others. So that whole thing is adjustments. Now that Roy died, there'll be adjustments to be made.

ANDREW DECKER: In the '70's, did Bruce Nauman come in to work within the gallery comfortably?

LEO CASTELLI: To? What?

ANDREW DECKER: When you first started working with Bruce Nauman?

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, Bruce Nauman fitted in right away. Yeah, he was a natural.

NINA SUNDELL: The first show was uptown, the first show of Bruce's.

LEO CASTELLI: Was it? Do you remember what I showed?

NINA SUNDELL: All the best stuff. [Laughs.]

LEO CASTELLI: All the best stuff?

NINA SUNDELL: You know, Henry Moore, Bound to Fail [1967], and-

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, yes. Some great things-

NINA SUNDELL: All those beautiful wax pieces, and casts. From Hand to Mouth [1967] was in that show. And some rather mysterious wax things that were casts of his leg extended over space. No, I remember feeling that was such a wonderful show.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, that was really-

NINA SUNDELL: I really walked into that show and felt, "Ah, now the world was changed." It was so completely not like anything else.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

NINA SUNDELL: And yet so accomplished and so-

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah. Certainly is a great artist.

ANDREW DECKER: Well, what made it so easy for him to fit in?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, because, actually, the key figure in my gallery is somebody that I never showed and that died, well, soon after I opened the gallery. That was [Marcel] Duchamp. He was the great influence on all the younger-on all the painters, all the [inaudible]. Painters who are not influenced by Duchamp just don't belong here. [Laughs.]

ANDREW DECKER: Right.

LEO CASTELLI: So that he is the godfather. And probably all the painters will tell you that he is the godfather.

ANDREW DECKER: So was he an important centerpiece of conversation at different times?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, there's not much to say about Duchamp, because he was there monumentally, and one just didn't have to talk about him. His presence was so great that we didn't talk about him.

ANDREW DECKER: Who else fit in very comfortably into the gallery after Bruce Nauman?

LEO CASTELLI: Who else?

NINA SUNDELL: After Bruce. Who came to the gallery after Bruce?

LEO CASTELLI: Who did? Can you think of the-

ANDREW DECKER: Who fit in very easily?

NINA SUNDELL: That everybody liked. I don't know. I should have my chronology with me, because I'm not sure who came before and after.

LEO CASTELLI: Bruce was really the last one, I think.

NINA SUNDELL: Bruce-didn't Keith Sonnier come after?

LEO CASTELLI: No.

NINA SUNDELL: No? Okay, that's right. Well, he was in the warehouse shows.

LEO CASTELLI: Keith Sonnier. There's Bob Morris, but Bruce is really the last one that came in importantly.

NINA SUNDELL: Well, but yet you had a whole-

LEO CASTELLI: Well, there are the Starn twins [Douglas and Michael], who are-

NINA SUNDELL: You know, you skip over a whole ten-year period in the gallery when you were showing boring Conceptual artists. And I think that for younger people like people Margaret's age-my daughter's age-that artists like Joseph Kosuth-

LEO CASTELLI: Like who?

NINA SUNDELL: Joseph Kosuth.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

NINA SUNDELL: That Joseph was tremendously influential and important.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

NINA SUNDELL: And he certainly came after Bruce.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

NINA SUNDELL: Then you had Lawrence Weiner, and, oh, somebody whose work I never really connected with who just died recently. But you had a certain number of conceptual artists; Hanna Darboven. And I think that, showing all that, this gallery was historically important and it did fit in, in a way. As you say, they were all people who admired Duchamp, and I think that everybody tends to underrate that phase of the gallery.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

NINA SUNDELL: It wasn't flashy but it was-

ANDREW DECKER: Did those artists have much to do with people like Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein socially?

LEO CASTELLI: Not very much, no. Some of them they liked more than others, but I think they all liked Nauman.

NINA SUNDELL: Yes.

LEO CASTELLI: But others they never got much closer to.

NINA SUNDELL: Were they friendly with people like Judd and Flavin, who also showed at the gallery for some time?

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah.

NINA SUNDELL: Did Jasper and-

LEO CASTELLI: No, there was not much of a relationship between Judd, Flavin, and Jasper Johns, and Rauschenberg.

NINA SUNDELL: Of course, Johns didn't have much of a - very close relationships with many artists after his first friends.

LEO CASTELLI: Which?

NINA SUNDELL: Jasper. His friendships were more in other fields, like dance and music and literature.

LEO CASTELLI: Oh, yes. I think that-let's see. Does he like any other painters particularly?

NINA SUNDELL: I haven't had a conversation with him about that for years.

LEO CASTELLI: He certainly does-

NINA SUNDELL: But he's nice with people. I think Gary Steffan was his assistant, and he had nice words to say about Gary.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, but Gary remains sort of a secondary figure.

LEO CASTELLI: I think that, generally speaking, the important artists never will pick an artist that's their equal. [Laughs.]

NINA SUNDELL: Unless they knew them when they were very young.

ANDREW DECKER: Did you feel that you were running a business from the beginning?

LEO CASTELLI: Did I what?

ANDREW DECKER: Did you feel that you were running a business?

LEO CASTELLI: Frankly, not. No. I was running a gallery, and financial considerations played a secondary role. They were a necessary evil. The gallery had to be supported somehow. So money was needed, but it was never a consideration. I never considered the gallery as a business.

NINA SUNDELL: [Leo] is the most completely optimistic person I ever met. You were always convinced that if you did the right thing, which sometimes was quite expensive, that if you did it right, something would turn up. And, in your case, unlike in the case of most other people, something always did turn up.

LEO CASTELLI: For 40 years now, something always turned up. And, obviously, a gallery like mine with artists of such magnitude probably should have been financially a better kind of enterprise. But since I didn't really care very much about the financial aspects of my activity, it didn't become the wealthy gallery that some other galleries [inaudible] with lesser artists-

NINA SUNDELL: Well, you wanted to make a gallery. You weren't in it to make money. You were in it to make a gallery, and you did.

LEO CASTELLI: Yeah, the money. I did want to make money. I suppose most people in the art world-good galleries are not there to make money, but still they probably had a greater interest in it than I had.

NINA SUNDELL: I never heard anything about money until the eighties. I mean, if people-certainly there were serious galleries to whom it was very important to make money, but they didn't talk about that.

LEO CASTELLI: No, you didn't talk about that.

NINA SUNDELL: It just wasn't what people talked about, because it wasn't that kind of business.

LEO CASTELLI: The fact is that, obviously, money is essential, because you have to support the artist, and as they develop and become important they expect more and more. So it's certainly an aspect of my activity that I cannot neglect. But it's not the main thing.

ANDREW DECKER: There were a lot of very high prices in the 1980s.

LEO CASTELLI: High prices?

ANDREW DECKER: Yeah. Things started selling for a great deal of money.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, very high prices came really much later, when artists like Johns or Rauschenberg and others became important figures in the sales. Their prices-high prices-were established, and then people became accustomed to the fact that you couldn't have a painting by Jasper Johns for $1,200 anymore. [Laughs.]

ANDREW DECKER: Did that make any sense to you? Or was that kind of a strange thing-to see paintings that you had known and lived with for many years suddenly become these objects of desire for a lot of people you didn't know or had never heard of?

LEO CASTELLI: No. I really was never surprised. For me they were, right from the beginning, obvious desire for a smaller group. And then, of course, with what the auctions and other events-museum shows and so on-well, the money aspect became increasingly important. So that developed very slowly and gradually, so that I never suddenly woke up one morning and said to myself, "What the hell's going on here?" [Laughs.]

NINA SUNDELL: I think he had something like a kind of point system where an artist would score a point by having a one-man show or being in a very prestigious group show, and they would also score a point by selling a painting for more money than they had ever sold a painting for. And that you seemed almost to regard it as a matter of prestige-

LEO CASTELLI: Yes.

NINA SUNDELL: And instead of sitting there and saying, "Why did I sell all things for a thousand two hundred dollars?" you were just delighted that they were reaching a level where everybody understood, as you had always understood, that these artists were close to priceless.

LEO CASTELLI: Well, that's so, really, yes. So it goes on.

ANDREW DECKER: I remember going to Christie's one night in 1988 when White Flag [Jasper Johns, 1955] was up for auction from the Tremaine collection, and thinking, "This is a divine painting. It's quite remarkable," and being quite surprised to see it sell for six and a half or seven million dollars. And then the next night going to Sotheby's and seeing False Start [Jasper Johns, 1959] sell for $17 million.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, that was the highest price ever.

ANDREW DECKER: Yes, but that was like such a huge leap.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes, it was a huge leap. But it was a little bit of a freak, I would say. Yes. It was a sudden jump and the fantastic figure never occurred again. Generally speaking, increases like that happen gradually. But the 17 million was a surprise, yes. [Laughs.]

ANDREW DECKER: Do you think that there is a connection between the beauty or importance of an object, and what people are willing to pay for it?

LEO CASTELLI: What do you mean exactly?

ANDREW DECKER: Well, do people who have money recognize quality?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, some. Very few obviously, not something that is generally the case, but there are a few people who are really good collectors and connoisseurs who have the money to satisfy their tastes. But very few. Most people who have money don't have the taste. [Laughs.] Or to a limited degree, anyway.

ANDREW DECKER: Or people who have taste don't have money.

LEO CASTELLI: Yes. Of those there are many more.

ANDREW DECKER: Yes. So will you have an exhibition remembering Roy Lichtenstein?

LEO CASTELLI: Well, it's a little bit too soon to see what kind of memorial show I'm going to put together. But I will, yes. I want to do that. Perhaps soon. You have to do it very properly, sort of show his most important works. The development of his art through the years, that would be one way of doing it. Or then showing the last painting. I don't know yet what we can do about this. But I certainly want to commemorate his long companionship.

ANDREW DECKER: Would it be okay if we ended for the moment?

LEO CASTELLI: If what?

ANDREW DECKER: Would it be okay if we stopped here for the moment?

LEO CASTELLI: It's [inaudible] for the moment, and then we're always happy to go on talking.

[END OF INTERVIEW.]

 


This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Leo Castelli, 1997 May 22, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.