The art dealer Richard Bellamy isn’t exactly a household name. But he discovered the most celebrated names of the New York scene, a new biography reveals
Two complementary archetypes dominate the story of New York’s ascent to art world supremacy in the decades after the second world war: the inscrutable artist, from Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons, and the savvy dealer. It was Leo Castelli who perfected the latter role in the 1950s and 60s, though Larry Gagosian has since stretched it to an imperial extreme as owner of a global gallery chain this paper once called “the Starbucks of contemporary art”.
All of these men are much better known to casual gallery-goers than the subject of Judith E Stein’s scrupulous biography Eye of the Sixties: Richard Bellamy and the Transformation of Modern Art. Bellamy was a dealer with the enigmatic personality of an artist, and a visionary who launched the careers of such movement-defining figures as Claes Oldenburg, Mark di Suvero and Donald Judd. But his inability to convert masterpieces to paychecks reduced his legacy to a footnote. In rescuing him from obscurity, Stein constructs an alternative history of New York’s mid-century art world that keeps Warhol on the periphery and privileges creative breakthroughs over record-breaking sales.