LAMA BLOG

Just In: Leo Castelli 90th Birthday Portfolio

July 31, 2019

Considered one of the most influential figures in twentieth century art history, Leo Castelli is credited with bringing American minimalism and Pop art to Europe and convincing a wider audience of the movements’ value and significance. A relatively late bloomer, Castelli greeted the commercial art world with a fervor that revolutionized the relationship between galleries and artists. After World War II and in the midst of several false professional starts, Castelli was introduced, through Clement Greenberg, to many of New York’s up-and-coming painters. Over the course of the following decade, Castelli became increasingly immersed in this scene, even helping to found The Club, an artist’s organization that served as the social and intellectual center of Abstract Expressionism. In 1951, he financed the “Ninth Street Show,” which not only drew a global spotlight to New York, but legitimized Castelli’s association. Finally, in 1957 Castelli opened his famed gallery on 77th Street. It was here that he gave Jasper Johns his first exhibition and built an impressive roster that included Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, and Andy Warhol.

Within the “Leo Castelli Model,” as it would come to be known, representation meant more than retail space. The dealer created a brand out of each of his artists, nurturing both their sales and their public identities. Peter Schjeldahl of the New Yorker wrote that Castelli “played a long game,” prioritizing his artists’ attainment of institutional and art-historical significance over prices. Often the visibility and placement of a work, through its sale to a prominent collector, outweighed the profit it gleaned. Castelli engaged a vast network of high-profile international collectors and partnered with other galleries across the U.S. and throughout Europe, casting the widest possible distribution net even when it resulted in his own financial loss. Castelli was famous for having paid each of his artists a monthly stipend, regardless of their production rates, to insulate them from market instability and make certain that they would be able to “get along.” 

The Leo Castelli 90th Birthday Portfolio (1997-1998), which LAMA is pleased to include in the October 20, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction, celebrates the rippling legacy of the renowned art dealer. The prestige of the portfolio’s contributors, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Joseph Kosuth, Roy Lichtenstein, Bruce Nauman, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, and Richard Serra, is owed in great part to Castelli’s deep commitment to their work. From Rosenquist’s dancing flame that “[conjures] a wish for longevity” to Johns’ quiet rendering of the Leo constellation, this collection serves as a touching tribute to the architect of modern art sales. 

Freeman, Nate. “How Leo Castelli Changed the Art Market Forever.” Artsy, 31 July 2018, www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-leo-castelli-changed-art-market-forever.
“Remembering Pop Artist James Rosenquist.” Medium, The Jewish Museum, 3 Apr. 2017, stories.thejewishmuseum.org/remembering-pop-artist-james-rosenquist-97995de192b3.
Schjeldahl, Peter. “Leo the Lion.” The New Yorker, 7 June 2010.


LOT INFORMATION:

Lot 108
Various Artists
Leo Castelli 90th Birthday Portfolio
The complete portfolio of nine prints in various mediums, colophon, dedication page, and cloth portfolio case
Published by Jean-Christophe Castelli, New York
1997; published 1998
#68 of 90 artist’s proofs aside from the edition of 90
Edition inscribed in Roman numerals to colophon; each sheet signed with edition in Roman numerals; some dated; Rosenquist titled

Comprised of Leo (Jasper Johns); Blue (for Leo) (Ellsworth Kelly); Titled Quotation (for L.C.) (Joseph Kosuth); Interior with Chair (Roy Lichtenstein); Life Fly Lifes Flies (Bruce Nauman); Caucus (Robert Rauschenberg); The Flame Still Dances on Leo’s Book (James Rosenquist); “L.C.” (Ed Ruscha); Leo (Richard Serra)

Sheets each: 37″ x 27″ (or alternate orientation); Portfolio case: 39″ x 28.875″ x 1.25″

Estimate: $30,000-50,000
October 20, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

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