||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
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
He was exceedingly polite, socially awkward and immensely charming.
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
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
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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