When Dealers, Too, Were Romantics

“Dealers are as important as the artists themselves,” the gallery owner Leo Castelli once said. “Hecannot exist without us, and we cannot exist without him.” Gendered language aside, Castelli’s remark captures the fragile symbiosis between those who make art and those who sell it.

Lately, however, dealers have been having trouble keeping up their end of this relationship — that is to say, just existing. Each month seems to bring a new closing announcementfrom an adventurous small or midsize gallery hobbled by, among other things, rising rents and multiplying art-fair expenses. In August, for instance, the dealer Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth circulated a candid letter announcing the demise of his nine-year-old Zurich gallery — citing, in place of the usual moving-on platitudes, “the consequences for art in an increasingly polarizing society ultimately built on power, finance and exclusion.”

Into this anxious moment comes a wistfully romantic portrait of the postwar dealer Richard Bellamy, a passionate advocate for contemporary art and a notably indifferent businessman.


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