There’s a famous story about Leo Castelli. A major collector was invited to Castelli’s home and stood, mouth agape, as Leo showed off his living room: here, a Jasper Johns, there a Robert Rauschenberg, then a James Rosenquist. "And the best thing about them," Castelli commented," is that they are all for sale!"
Such is the consummate art dealer, the soul of a used-car salesman inside the costume of a Russian nobleman, and André Emmerich, who died yesterday, was the consummate consomme. It’s hard to believe now but Emmerich’s uptown space was the only place to go for painters in the early 1970s, where they could load up on a cafeteria of Larry Poons, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski. This was a world in which Warhol was "tres outre," and a Clemenza of "gestures," "fields" and "strokes" controlled the mind.
Emmerich kept a pecking order of his stable, at all times, in his mind, and even those out of favor worshipped him. All you had to do was hear Anne Truitt, for example, utter the word "André," and you were aware of the spell he could cast over artists.
Only Wildenstein has backrooms as uxurious and luxurious as Emmerich. Dorothea Rockburne once turned one into a celestial planetarium. It was gorgeous. A wrong turn up the right staircase would yield a boîte of Roman busts or Pre-Columbian treasures. Emmerich was a past master at making such things "disappear."
He was also example of the axiom that "manners are the best weapon," concealing the interests of the shrewd, the manipulative and the self-absorbed under cover of culture. I could say we might never see his like again, but, in a very real way, all the art dealers of today are his children.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).