Now Open to Researchers
The Archives of American Art is ringing in 2011 by making available to researchers the Leo Castelli Gallery records. Measuring over 200 linear feet, the collection provides a glimpse into the evolving New York gallery scene and the works of some of the most prominent artists in modern American art throughout the last half of the twentieth century.
The Leo Castelli Gallery opened in 1957 and quickly made its mark as the place to see works by new artists. The Gallery was at the forefront of Pop Art, Minimalism, and Conceptualism, and represented many artists of those movements, including Dan Flavin, Jasper Johns, Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Lawrence Weiner to name a few.
Covering nearly fourty years of the Leo Castelli Gallery’s operation, the records include correspondence, administrative files, exhibition files, extensive artists’ files and printed materials, some artwork, awards and recognitions, photographs, and sound and video recordings. The collection also includes records from Castelli’s other business ventures, namely Castelli Graphics and Castelli/Sonnabend Tapes + Films.
The extensive collection contains many treasures that will keep researchers busy for years to come. As one of the processing archivists, highlights I enjoyed spending additional time with include:
- Leo Castelli’s notebooks from 1974–1988 are filled with Castelli’s daily to-dos, contacts, phone numbers, and other notes written in his easily-identifiable handwriting using sharp capital letters angled to the right. Patience will be necessary in deciphering his notes and determining the dates of each entry, but I have a sense that researchers may find these notebooks fascinating.
- A handful of letters from Leo Castelli’s first wife and business partner, Ileana Sonnabend, from the 1960s: These letters show the close working relationship that the two maintained and their interests in the artists they represented. It’s a small glimpse into their honest opinions and concerns, seldom seen elsewhere in the collection.
- The Gallery understood the importance of documentation and maintained photographs of all exhibition installations, as well as many exhibitions of the artists they represented that were held elsewhere. The collection contains photographs from over 650 installations at the Leo Castelli Gallery from 1957–1999.
- A browse through the exhibition guest books from 1957–1966 provide a who’s who of the art world during the first decade of the Leo Castelli Gallery. Although few people tended to write comments about the exhibitions, the comments elicited by Robert Rauschenberg’s first exhibition in 1958 make me smile: “strange!,” “crazy, man!,” “lovely – or shocking...,” “I can't explain it!,” and humorously, “almost as good as J.J.”
The Archives of American Art also has three oral history interviews with Leo Castelli, the transcripts of which are available online. In addition, oral history interviews with many of the artists represented in this collection are also available at the Archives of American Art.
- Oral history interview with Leo Castelli, 1969 July
- Oral history interview with Leo Castelli, 1969 May 14-1973 June 8
- Oral history interview with Leo Castelli, 1997 May 22
Sarah Haug is a contract processing archivist at the Archives of American Art.