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Historical Note | A Finding Aid to the Ivan C. Karp papers and OK Harris Works of Art gallery records, 1960-2014

Ivan C. Karp papers and OK Harris Works of Art gallery records, 1960-2014

Historical Note

OK Harris Works of Art specialized in a wide range of contemporary art and was known for its early support of Photo-realism. When it opened in 1969, the gallery was one of the first to operate in the SoHo area of Manhattan and its presence helped shape the neighborhood's development into a vibrant arts district.
Ivan C. Karp (1926-2012), the founder of OK Harris Works of Art, established a reputation in the art world while co-director of Leo Castelli Gallery from 1959-1969. He is credited with launching the careers of Pop artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, John Chamberlain, Tom Wesselmann, and Claes Oldenburg. Karp wrote, published, and lectured extensively on art and the art business. He was the author of a romantic novel about New York life, Doobie Doo (published in 1965, front cover by Roy Lichtenstein, back cover by Andy Warhol) and his short stories were published in literary reviews. Karp was actively involved in architectural preservation efforts in New York City. As President of the Anonymous Arts Recovery Society, he rescued and stored cornices, capitals, portals, columns and other architectural fragments of historical and aesthetic interest from demolition sites. Many are displayed in his Anonymous Arts Museum, Charlotteville, NY and some became part of a sculpture garden that Karp donated to the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
While Leo Castelli Gallery was closed for summer vacations in 1963 and 1964, Karp ran his own contemporary art gallery in Provincetown. He named it OK Harris, a name he thought suggestive of a colorful, very American character. A few years later, Karp opened OK Harris Works of Art in SoHo where a portrait of a bearded man titled "Oscar Klondike Harris" hung in his office. "Mr. Harris" frequently assumed blame for delays, rejections and other unwelcome news or decisions. OK Harris Works of Art (first at 469 West Broadway and later at 383 West Broadway) was a 10,000 square foot ground-floor space where as many as six concurrent solo exhibitions were presented every six weeks. The goal was "to exhibit the broadest spectrum of the most adventuresome art being offered" and the focus was on emerging artists, many of them unknown. In addition to being at the forefront of the Photo-realist movement in 1969, OK Harris Works of Art was the first gallery to exhibit the work of Duane Hanson, Deborah Butterfield, Manny Farber, Richard Pettibone, Robert Cottingham, Robert Bechtle, Marilyn Levine, Nancy Rubins, Malcolm Morley, Luis Jiminez, Jake Berthot, Jack Goldstein, Porfirio DiDonna, and Al Souza.
An approachable, friendly man who enjoyed sharing his knowledge, Karp usually sat at the gallery's front desk and was available to all. Unlike many dealers, he was willing to look at and discuss artists' slides, offered encouragement, and often followed up with studio visits.
At his request, Marilynn Gelfman Karp became gallery director after her husband's death in 2012. She ran the business with gallery staff including Ivan's oldest son, Ethan. Following Ivan's guidelines, OK Harris Works of Art closed with a gala celebration 2014 for all the gallery's artists, collectors and friends.