All the while, as he was acquiring, Baker was also hobnobbing, inserting himself into a vibrant cultural scene. He began one of his journals’ most charming anecdotes, from 1959 or 1960, with a bit of gossip, social observation, and scene setting.
“Mr. [Robert] Scull [a notable collector] sent his Cadillac into Manhattan with his personal chauffeur to pick up a group of us at the Leo Castelli Gallery,” he wrote. “Illeana, Leo’s wife, is ill and hospitalized. An attractive-looking young French woman was Leo’s partner for the evening” (Baker, Oct 16, ‘52—May ‘56. MoMA Archives, NY).
As the night progressed, artists
arrived late in the latter’s white Jaguar. Baker talked to Johns—who defended the work of
—and then chatted with Margaret Scolari Barr (the wife of the first MoMA director, Alfred H. Barr) about the time Gary Cooper met
. Dinner that night included Rock Cornish guinea hens, salad, champagne, and strawberries with whipped cream.
was in attendance, as were
and his mistress, Ruth. Baker got a ride back from East Hampton to the city with Johns and Rauschenberg in the Jaguar.
The story doesn’t only play to art-world voyeurism and nostalgia, it captures a moment on the cusp of a sea change from Abstract Expressionism to a new Pop aesthetic. It’s easy to read Baker’s journal entry—and his gravitation toward Rauschenberg and Johns instead of Kline and de Kooning—and imagine a world primed for the rise of Warhol, who debuted his “Campbell’s Soup Cans” series a couple of years later, in 1962. The popular image of the artist was quickly transforming, as Baker perfectly captured in his description of Rauschenberg’s ritzy car and public relationship with Johns.
Baker’s insights also extended to art classrooms and studios. He studied painting with
, ultimately realizing his skills didn’t lie in making, but in supporting. He shared coffee and cookies with
, commenting on the spareness of both his work and home. He relished all of his interactions with artists; all of his gallery and museum visits with Stankiewicz and