By April 1977, Castelli was staring down 70 and had not taken on a new artist in six years when a new gallery opened up in another floor of his gallery’s SoHo building, at 420 West Broadway. Castelli had never heard of his new neighbor, Mary Boone.
It took two years for the master to visit the young dealer’s space. When Castelli finally ventured downstairs to Mary Boone Gallery, he saw the first solo show by an artist named
. “This was a coup de foudre
,” Castelli told journalist Anthony Haden-Guest. “Like when I went to see Jasper in ’57 or Stella in ’59. I went in and I saw the clay paintings. And I was just bowled over.”
By 1981, Castelli was co-representing Schnabel with Boone, splitting the dealer’s share 50-50. The arrangement gave the young dealer a heap of clout—and Castelli’s contacts. “Leo has a big backlog,” one anonymous dealer told Haden-Guest. “If he wants to sell something, he can select five or six key collectors from the ten or twenty around the world.”
Those who bought work from Schnabel’s 1981 two-gallery show included Peter Ludwig and the Greek shipping heir Philip Niarchos. Castelli’s mentorship to Boone allowed him to shape the way a new generation approached running a gallery and selling art, and his influence is still felt today. Another early acolyte was Jeffrey Deitch, who helped Castelli sell
$2 million in prints to Japanese investors. Deitch was richly rewarded for his assistance selling the prints when he was starting his own space. “Leo realized I would need a list of contacts, so he instructed his assistant to run up a copy of his mailing list and just gave
it to me,” Deitch recalled
to Cohen-Solal, Castelli’s biographer.
Castelli also mentored Larry Gagosian
early in his career, before the young Angeleno went on to become the most commercially successful contemporary art dealer of all time. Castelli hooked him up with artists to show at his Los Angeles galleries in the early 1980s, and connected him to the collectors whose support kickstarted what would become a chain of 16 galleries around the world.
The best assistance could come at the most unexpected times. As Gagosian recalled to WSJ. Magazine
, the two were walking around SoHo when Castelli greeted a “completely nondescript gentleman,” in Gagosian’s estimation. Castelli said, “Oh, that was Si Newhouse. He can buy anything he wants.” Gagosian insisted Castelli run back to introduce him to the billionaire Condé Nast owner. By 1988, it was Gagosian at Sotheby’s bidding on behalf of Newhouse when he bought Johns’s False Start
(1959) for $17 million, smashing
the record for a work by a living artist.
Gagosian paid his respects to the master in 1996 with “Leo Castelli: An Exhibition in Honor of His Gallery and Artists,” one of the first shows at his gigantic Beverly Hills gallery. Castelli, then 88, made it out for the opening. Strolling through the exhibition with a Los Angeles Times reporter
, Castelli was clearly charmed by the gesture from the apprentice to the master. When asked if he had any regrets about his life as an art dealer, Leo Castelli, a lion in winter, said he did not.
“What else would I have done?” he said.