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Historical Note | A Finding Aid to the Leo Castelli Gallery records, circa 1880-2000, bulk 1957-1999 | Digitized Collection

Leo Castelli Gallery records, circa 1880-2000, bulk 1957-1999

Historical Note

Leo Castelli (1907-1999) was one of America's most noted contemporary art dealers and opened the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York City in 1957. The gallery showcased cutting edge American contemporary art, including Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Neo-Dada, Pop Art, Op Art, Color Field painting, Hard-edge painting, Lyrical Abstraction, Minimal Art, Conceptual Art, and Neo-expressionism, among other movements.
Leo Castelli was born as Leo Krauss on September 4, 1907 in Trieste, of Italian and Austro-Hungarian Jewish origin. He married art dealer Ileana Sonnabend in 1932 and the couple lived in Paris up until World War II. They had a daughter, Nina Castelli Sundell. In Paris, Castelli opened his first gallery in 1939. At that time, he was interested in the European Surrealists.
For years after Castelli moved to New York, he worked in his father-in-law's garment business. However, he organized his first American exhibition in 1951, the famous Ninth Street Show of 1951, a seminal event of Abstract Expressionism.
In 1957, he opened the Leo Castelli Gallery in his townhome on E. 77th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues in New York City. Castelli initially featured European Surrealism, but also curated exhibitions of American Abstract painters, including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Cy Twombly, Friedel Dzubas, and Norman Bluhm.
In 1958, Castelli discovered Pop artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and forged a life-long nurturing relationship with both artists. The gallery then began focusing more on Pop Art, Minimalism and Conceptual Art. Beginning in the early 1960s, Castelli's stable included Richard Artschwager, Lee Bontecou, Chryssa, John Chamberlain, Ronald Davis, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Ellsworth Kelly, Joseph Kosuth, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Larry Poons, James Rosenquist, Ed Ruscha, Salvatore Scarpitta, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, and Lawrence Weiner.
Leo and Ileana divorced in 1959, and Ileana returned to Europe. She later moved back to New York and opened a gallery close to Castelli's. The two remained close and together they established the joint venture of Castelli-Sonnabend Films and Tapes to accommodate artists interested in new media.
In the 1970s Leo Castelli opened a downtown SoHo branch of the Leo Castelli Gallery at 420 West Broadway. In the 1980s he opened a second larger downtown exhibition space on Greene Street also in SoHo.
Leo Castelli's second wife was Antoinette Castelli, with whom he also opened Castelli Graphics, an art gallery devoted to prints and photographs, mostly those by Castelli artists. The couple also had a son together, Jean-Christophe Castelli. In 1995 Leo Castelli married Italian art historian Barbara Bertozzi Castelli. She directs the Leo Castelli Gallery today, showing many of the same artists of the gallery's past.
Leo Castelli's unparalleled eye for quality, combined with his extraordinary skill for nurturing and promoting new art and artists, secured his position as one of the most respected and influential advocates of contemporary art for nearly five decades.