Leo Castelli Gallery Records

By the Archives

January 6, 2011

Now Open to Researchers

Lee Bontecou show at the Castelli Gallery
Installation view of Lee Bontecou show at the Castelli Gallery, 1960, Rudy Burckhardt, photographer, Leo Castelli Gallery records, circa 1880-2000, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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.

Leo Castelli's notebook
Notebook of Leo Castelli, 1979-1980, Leo Castelli Gallery records, circa 1880-2000, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Letter to Leo Castelli from Ileana Sonnabend
Ileana Sonnabend letter to Leo Castelli, 1963 June 6, Leo Castelli Gallery records, circa 1880-2000, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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.

Explore more:

Sarah Haug is a contract processing archivist at the Archives of American Art.


Nice post. Thanks. very exciting article and good guidelines. Keep posting.

Nice, Leo Castelli gallery, too bad I live far away and can't go see it.

Thanks Sarah, good blog to read about The Leo Castelli Gallery, the pictures i liked a lot.

This article was very useful to me, I will subscribe to your blog

Awesome Article, I found this blog today and its the best one!!! :)

Those who saw the collection of Casteeli's business ventures are fortune enough. The notebooks and the letters exchanged with the business partner will provide a treasure of information in successfully conducting a field one belongs to.

Thanks for a great article. I am just getting into art and culture I have learned a lot here.

Excellent information very valuable and successful ...

this article is amazing, im really thanks full for this.
blogging is the best invent in the human history.

Wow! Leo Castelli’s notebooks from 1974–1988 looks absolutely fascinating.

I got choked up just watching the preview for that movie. Looks great!

I would dying for an art. well i think everyone loves art. with your article i believe there will be more people to put more atention to an art. so i thank you for bringing such a great iea to talk about. just can't wait to read other articles from you.

Thanks Sarah, I found the exhibition guest book to be the most fascinating part, did you dig up any more interesting stuff?

I love Leo he is the original. I remember that David Geffen said that Leo was the Master! Thank you Leo and may you rest.

I go over your posts and the information found is really helpful. I'm so excited to go over the content which is really high quality. Quality subject to dwell upon. Keep it up!

It is so worth it go and see this exposition. My favorite artist is Jasper Johns his work is amazing

Loved this article! thanks for sharing

Leo Castelli's style is very unique and I really enjoyed reading this article. will bookmark your blog and come back later.

Wish I could visit the gallery. It looks amazing!

Really interesting article about art, has given me lots to think about. Thanks for posting. :)

thats great that its open for the researchers..thanks for sharing this news

Thank you very much for this work. This article will help me much because I'm doing work for college and it cost me good information and practical will find yourself on the subject in particular. I am very encintrando many interesting information on the site. Thank you for the link too.

Soon I will go to New York and I was pleased to meet this entry to know a little of what I see on this gallery. I am delighted to see these works. A hug.

It's awesome that researchers can have a closer look at Leo Castelli.

Good initiative to restore these documents.
Thanks for the review.

This is the first I've ever seen of Lee Bontecou's work...so glad I ran across this blog. I love wall art (I'm an Atlanta picture framer) with depth, turning 2 dimensions into 3 through various means...illusion, geometry, shadowboxing, etc...
Glad also to see the note about Castelli's archives being donated to the Smithsonian. I lived outside of DC for several years as a kid, and the Smithsonian was one of the great eye-opening experiences of my childhood (the Hirschorn, the King Tut Exhibit in 1976, etc).
You never know what nuggets you might find in someone's blog. Thanks a lot.

I'm also new to the blog, I was impressed photography where the works appear in three dimensions. I have read other articles and think it's a very interesting blog, I will from now on. Thanks for sharing!

wow! It's so awesome to see his diary. I think this is a great opportunity to "come closer" to his works.

Making available the gallery records is good move. It will help the researches to bring out more truths and to find out ways to develop contemporary arts. The letters from Leo Castelli’s first wife and business partner will be of more interesting to the researchers.

excellent post thanks for the info

bet it feels good that Castelli's finally all finished. I miss you!

Thank's Very much sarah

I like this article, thank's