Leo Castelli (born Leo Krausz; September 4, 1907 – August 21, 1999) was an American art dealer. He was best known to the public as an art dealer whose gallery showcased cutting edge Contemporary art for five decades. Castelli showed Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Neo-Dada, Pop Art, Op Art, Color field painting, Hard-edge painting, Lyrical Abstraction, Minimal Art, Conceptual Art, and Neo-expressionism, among other movements.
Leo Castelli was born at Trieste, of Italian and Austro-Hungarian Jewish origin. Castelli's first American curatorial effort was the famous Ninth Street Show of 1951, a seminal event of Abstract Expressionism. In 1957, he opened the Leo Castelli Gallery in a townhouse on E. 77th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues in New York City. Initially the gallery showcased European Surrealism, Wassily Kandinsky, and other European artists. However the gallery also exhibited American Abstract Expressionism. Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Cy Twombly, Friedel Dzubas, and Norman Bluhm were some artists who were included in group shows.
In 1958 Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns joined the gallery, signaling a turning away from Abstract Expressionism, towards Pop Art, Minimalism and Conceptual Art. From the early 1960s through the late 70s, Frank Stella, Larry Poons, Lee Bontecou, James Rosenquist, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Robert Morris (artist), Donald Judd, Chryssa, Dan Flavin, Ronald Davis, Bruce Nauman, Ed Ruscha, Salvatore Scarpitta, Richard Serra, Lawrence Weiner and Joseph Kosuth joined the stable of Castelli artists. In the 1970s Leo Castelli opened a downtown SoHo branch of the Leo Castelli Gallery at 420 West Broadway. In the 1980s he opened a second larger downtown exhibition space on Greene Street also in SoHo.
Castelli's first wife Ileana Sonnabend (born October 28, 1914, Bucharest, Romania), whom he married in 1932, was also a formidable dealer of 20th century art. She ran a contemporary art gallery in Paris during the early 1960s after the couple divorced. The couple had a daughter, Nina Sundell. In the 1970s, Ileana opened another contemporary art gallery in New York, the Sonnabend Gallery.
After Ileana’s death in October 2007 at the age of 92, her heirs sold a portion of her postwar-art collection for $600 million — reportedly the largest private sale in history.
Castelli's second wife, Antoinette Castelli, opened Castelli Graphics, an art gallery devoted to the prints and photographs of Castelli Gallery and other artists. The couple also had a son together, Jean-Christophe Castelli. In 1995 Leo Castelli married the Italian art historian Barbara Bertozzi Castelli.
In October 2007 Castelli's heirs announced the donation of the gallery's archives from 1957 through 1999 to the Smithsonian Institution
's Archives of American Art
. The Leo Castelli Gallery continues to operate at 18 East 77th Street in New York under the direction of his last wife showing many of the same artists from the gallery's past.