A narrative of the art dealers and gallerists who have shaped art history from behind the scenes.
Many art histories have overlooked a critical narrative in its development to the present day: art dealers. At least, that is the argument of art historian Hook (Breakfast at Sotheby’s: An A-Z of the Art World, 2013, etc.), who is a board member and senior director of impressionist and modern art at Sotheby’s. For the author, the development of Western art following the Renaissance coincides with the development of the commercial art market and the individual dealers and, later, gallerists whose tastes helped shape the market and favor certain artists and styles over others. Among the dealers Hook profiles are Englishman Arthur Pond, whose connoisseurship and reputation as an artist helped pioneer the role of dealer/scholar in the 18th century; William Buchanan, whose entrepreneurial attitude foresaw the value of art speculation in the early 19th century; the Wildenstein family, who established an art dynasty spanning the 20th century; and midcentury titan Leo Castelli, who cornered the abstract expressionist and pop art movements and represented a major power shift in the market. For some readers, Hook may come off as biased because of his position at Sotheby’s—he openly admits a refusal to discuss big name contemporary dealers due to possible conflicts of interest—as well as his devotion of an entire chapter to former Sotheby’s chairman Peter Wilson. Still, the role of auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s and their relationships with dealers are essential parts of the narrative, and the author’s study of art dealers and the big personalities that have shifted tastes in the art market is valuable for anyone interested in this “story of many varieties of human folly and duplicity, interspersed with ingenuity, inspiration and occasional acts of heroism.”
A lively exploration of the history of art and the tastemakers and dealers whose influence in shaping it is often overlooked.