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Ileana Sonnabend

Ileana Sonnabend (born 1914, died 2007) was an early champion of American Pop Art in the Eurosphere and a pivotal figure in introducing Warhol’s work to the European market and a larger international audience. She developed a taste for high art early on, perhaps due to her membership of the affluent, well-to-do Schapira family of Romania. She wouldn’t stay in the country long however, ending up in Paris by 1935 with her newly-wedded husband, future art dealer and fellow important Warhol associate, Leo Castelli. Inspired by the Surrealist art movement, the Castellis opened a gallery in la Ville Lumière in 1939, hoping to ingratiate themselves in the scene there. But even that wouldn’t last; the outbreak of World War II caused the couple and their young daughter, Nina, to flee to New York, where they dealt art privately for nearly a decade.

The Castellis soon divorced. Leo opened a gallery in NYC, and Ileana did the same, but in Paris, after moving back there with new husband Michael Sonnabend. In 1964, Warhol held his first solo European show, simply titled “Warhol,” at the equally simply titled Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, which mostly consisted of pieces from his Death and Disaster series. This was not the first time Warhol’s work had been shown at the Galerie, as he featured as part of a group show that included works from other American artists such as James Rosenquist and Lee Bontecou a year prior. And this was not Warhol and Sonnabend’s first interaction either, as the former had been sending consignment pieces to the latter since late 1962. 

Over 40 years, Ileana Sonnabend gave large shrift to a wide range of Pop and other alternative or challenging artists. Like Eleanor Ward, she too recognized the art of photography, but would also take a liking to Minimalist art like that from Robert Morris and Donald Judd. She would also give space for performance art, with one piece by Vito Acconci living in particular infamy.

After 2000, she managed her remaining SoHo gallery until her death in October 2007. In the wake of her death, both the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art held exhibitions in her name, with artwork spanning the entirety of her career as a titanic art influencer and dealer. 

 

Portrait of Ileana Sonnabend, wife of Leo Castelli.
Portrait of Ileana Sonnabend by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1978.
Portrait of Ileana Sonnabend by Andy Warhol, 1973.
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