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Judith Stein An Interview with richard tuttle on richard bellamy and the new york art world

One afternoon in 1986 when I was on the curatorial staff at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the guard at the front desk phoned. Three visitors from New York had come to see the Franz Kline show and wanted to consult the curator in charge. That was the day I first met the legendary art dealer Richard Bellamy, accompanied by his friends Mark di Suvero and Alfred Leslie.
          At the time, I knew about Bellamy’s Green Gallery, which had triggered the careers of di Suvero, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Claes Oldenburg, Larry Poons, James Rosenquist, Lucas Samaras, George Segal and Tom Wesselmann between 1960-65. But the man himself was a cipher. Roy Lichtenstein had famously ribbed the dealer with a character whose thought balloon read: “I’m supposed to report to a Mr. Bellamy. I wonder what he’s like.” Bellamy’s appearance that day surprised me. Indistinguishable in dress from the men who queued for meals at the church mission nearby, his pant cuffs were frayed to a fringe. He wore two sets of eyeglasses, one tethered around his neck, the other—broken in half and taped—posed on his nose. He was exceedingly polite, socially awkward and immensely charming.           Our professional paths would cross intermittently over the years. With each encounter, his intrigue grew. To reconcile his legend with the modest man I was getting to know, I decided to write about him. I began by interviewing his contemporaries. The elderly Leo Castelli confided: “Although Dick was younger than I, he was my teacher.” A mutual sense of play drew Oldenburg to Bellamy: he liked showing with a dealer who told people that he named his gallery after the color of money. To Richard Serra, Bellamy was less a dealer than a producer, seemingly immune to the profit motive. “Dick didn’t sell art; he placed art,” said Richard Nonas. For Bellamy, art alone had worth; artists were the true elite.
          In the last decade I have talked with nearly two hundred people whose lives he touched. I discovered that Bellamy’s decisive role in birthing the new American art that followed Abstract Expressionism was matched by his undocumented, behind-the-scenes activities as a facilitator and scout. He practiced acts of gratuitous kindness. My informants pointed to his egalitarian and subversive nature, and his penchant for sharing information and time with those whom others deemed nonentities—rare behavior in an often snooty art world.

JUDITH E. STEIN, former curator at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, organized the exhibitions Red Grooms: A Retrospective, The Figurative Fifties: New York School Figurative Expressionism, and I Tell My Heart: The Art of Horace Pippin. A recipient of the Pew Fellowship in the Arts for her writings on art, she is working on a biography of the late art dealer Richard Bellamy. “Bonds of Steel: Mark di Suvero and Richard Bellamy” (Art in America, November 2005) draws on this research, as does the present text.

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