In 1959, Richard Bellamy was a witty, poetry-loving beatnik on the fringe of the New York art world who was drawn to artists impatient for change. By 1965, he was representing Mark di Suvero, was the first to show Andy Warhol’s pop art, and pioneered the practice of “off-site” exhibitions and introduced the new genre of installation art. As a dealer, he helped discover and champion many of the innovative successors to the abstract expressionists, including Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Walter De Maria, and many others.
The founder and director of the fabled Green Gallery on Fifty-Seventh Street, Bellamy thrived on the energy of the sixties. With the covert support of America’s first celebrity art collectors, Robert and Ethel Scull, Bellamy gained his footing just as pop art, minimalism, and conceptual art were taking hold and the art world was becoming a playground for millionaires. Yet as an eccentric impresario dogged by alcohol and uninterested in profits or posterity, Bellamy rarely did more than show the work he loved. As fellow dealers such as Leo Castelli and Sidney Janis capitalized on the stars he helped find, Bellamy slowly slid into obscurity, becoming the quiet man in oversize glasses in the corner of the room, a knowing and mischievous smile on his face.
Born to an American father and a Chinese mother in a Cincinnati suburb, Bellamy moved to New York in his twenties and made a life for himself between the Beat orbits of Provincetown and white-glove events like the Guggenheim’s opening gala. No matter the scene, he was always considered “one of us,” partying with Norman Mailer, befriending Diane Arbus and Yoko Ono, and hosting or performing in historic Happenings. From his early days at the Hansa Gallery to his time at the Green to his later life as a private dealer, Bellamy had his finger on the pulse of the culture.
Based on decades of research and on hundreds of interviews with Bellamy’s artists, friends, colleagues, and lovers, Judith E. Stein’s Eye of the Sixties rescues the legacy of the elusive art dealer and tells the story of a counterculture that became the mainstream. A tale of money, taste, loyalty, and luck, Richard Bellamy’s life is a remarkable window into the art of the twentieth century and the making of a generation’s aesthetic.
"Bellamy had an understanding of art and a very fine sense of discovery. There was nobody like him, I think. I certainly consider myself his pupil." --Leo Castelli
"Ms. Stein’s evocative portrait of Bellamy recreates in stunning, touching and often humorous detail the chaotic, creative, still bohemian art scenes of Provincetown, Mass., in the ’50s, and New York in the ’60s . . . With Ms. Stein’s biography . . . the secretive spirit of the ’60s becomes at last a concrete and real person with a permanent place in art history. The character that emerges is of an impossible, improbable, irresponsible, irresistibly innocent sophisticate who many found to be the hero of the masterpiece that was his life." —Barbara Rose, The New York Times
"By using [Bellamy's] unlikely ascent as a prism, Ms. Stein brings to vibrant life a corner of the culture that was as outrageous as it was visually revolutionary." —Ann Landi The Wall Street Journal
"An exemplary work of journalism and research . . . Stein’s attentive approach successfully bridges art’s journalistic and scholarly cultures, itself an important accomplishment when much art publishing cleaves to one or the other tribe . . . By sheer force of research and reporting, the book is sure to be a resource for future art-historical work on the decade." —Mostafa Heddaya, The Art Newspaper
"Stein brings vividly to life both the man and his wild artistic times." —Lew J. Whittington, The New York Journal of Books
"Her engrossing, impressively researched, consistently readable, and often entertaining tale restores a crucial figure to his rightful place in the annals of postwar American art." —Lilly Wei, Art in America
“An infectious biography . . . Shot through with verve, bearing years of research lightly, Stein’s book is the first to give this rare, inscrutable figure his proper due.” —James Miller, The Brooklyn Rail
“Stein’s ability to capture the changes in this world, and the cast of characters who brought them about, is remarkable . . . Indispensable reading for lovers of art from an era that changed everything.” —Jedd Beaudoin, Spectrum Culture
"Stein’s compellingly intimate portrait of a creative, passionate, and essential advocate for pop art, minimalism, and conceptual art doubles as a fresh and dynamic chronicle of a historic artistic revolution." —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
"An intricate biography of New York art dealer Richard Bellamy (1927-1998), written with a striking level of detail. . . This engrossing story immerses the reader in Bellamy's whole world—the "creative chaos" of the early 1960s New York contemporary art scene." —Publishers Weekly
"A scintillating, detailed portrait . . . [Eye of the Sixties] is an endearing and illuminating work of biography. A shadowy figure of the 1960s art world is gloriously revealed." —Kirkus Reviews
“In this colorful, meticulously researched, and captivating volume, Judith E. Stein perfectly captures the circus that was the art world of the sixties, in which Richard Bellamy was an inadvertent but essential ringmaster. He was a poet dreamer, an iconoclastic hipster who was as short on business acumen as he was long on vision. Unburdened by art history, his legendary galleries were arenas of possibility; in silence, with intuition and innocence of eye, his guileless ability to identify authentic artists—from Di Suvero to Oldenburg and from Rosenquist to Judd—was uncanny, matched only by the strategies of the great Leo Castelli.”
—Adam D. Weinberg, Alice Pratt Brown Director, Whitney Museum of American Art
“We all owe a debt to Judith E. Stein. Her biography of Richard Bellamy, Eye of the Sixties, retells the story many of us know and reminds us why we set out on our journey in the first place. The book is not academic, but a readable, worldly narrative of the art world by someone who knows and loves it.”
—Dave Hickey, author of Air Guitar
“Richard Bellamy was one of a kind: a legendary art dealer who was contrary and self-effacing, with a keen eye for the artistically vital and unexpected. The artists he showed at his transformative Green Gallery define the canonical American art movements of the sixties. In Judith E. Stein’s meticulously researched and magnetically animated biography, we see this formative moment in American art through Bellamy’s eyes. Here, it looks boundless, like some unstable nomadic family in which great artists commingled in a wildly generative swarm.”
—Michael Brenson, author of Acts of Engagement