Ileana Sonnabend, one of the most influential figures in the 20th-century artistic canon, undoubtedly steered the trajectory of Post-War art in the United States and Europe. The visionary gallerist, patron, and collector facilitated a vibrant cross-continental dialogue via her influential New York and Paris galleries. She championed Pop Art, Conceptualism, Minimalism, Neo-Geo, Arte Povera, Process Art, performance art, video art, and more. Her discerning and bold selections, frequently at odds with commercial viability, consistently determined the art world’s next big thing.
‘I just follow my nose’
When it came to exhibiting the next big thing in art, Ileana never stopped hitting the target. ‘I just follow my nose,’ she said coyly, ever the private woman. As Ann Temkin, Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA said, she was looking for ‘what said to her “this matters”.’ On a hunt for work that mattered, endlessly hungry for new and challenging aesthetic experiences, Ileana Sonnabend discovered, championed, promoted, and collected art fearlessly. In the process, she took to the helm of art history, determining its late 20th-century course.
Leo Castelli with Ileana Sonnabend during the installation of Robert Rauschenberg’s “Jammers” at the Castelli Gallery, 420 West Broadway, 1975. Photograph by Gianfranco Gorgoni. © Gianfranco Gorgoni. Artwork: © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
Lovingly referred to as an ‘iron marshmallow’ by Robert Rauschenberg, the diminutive Ileana Sonnabend was iron-clad in her commitment to her artists and her legendary—shrewd and passionate—connoisseurial eye. Her exceptional collection of modern and contemporary work is a testament to her vision.