By the time you reach page 99 of Eye of the Sixties, dear reader, you’ll be well acquainted with thirty-year-old Dick Bellamy. It’s 1959, and this charismatic, Chinese American beatnik is just one year away from opening his Green Gallery on 57th Street in New York, secretly supported by the taxi magnate Robert Scull. The market for contemporary American art is about to explode into life, and the prescient Bellamy would find himself shell-shocked at ground zero, and soon run for cover. Yet thanks to his uncanny eye for talent and ambition, he would launch the careers of nearly all the iconic artists of the sixties: he’d be the first to show Andy Warhol’s pop paintings, the first to sell a work by Yoko Ono, the first to show Kusama’s phallic furniture, and Flavin’s neon sculpture.Visit the Eye of the Sixties website.
But he’s not quite there yet on page 99. He’s working selling art in someone else’s gallery, dreaming up titles for shows that “mimicked the chance poetry of labels on multivolume reference books and card catalogue drawers.” He doesn’t last long. A friend tries to connect him with another dealer “who was about to open a gallery on Fifty-Seventh Street. [The fellow] was keenly interested in what he called ‘present- day’ art, and to [the friend], the two seemed a promising match. But Bellamy failed to impress the older man, who must have regarded him as too close to the raggle-taggle do-it-yourselfers downtown.” (Non-commercial artist cooperatives flourished in downtown Manhattan in the fifties.)
By page 99, you’ll be hooked by the unfolding story of this eccentric, charming, self-effacing visionary, an insider’s outsider and, alas, a womanizing alcoholic, who preferred not to enrich himself in the art market. Posterity-averse, Bellamy is the most influential tastemaker you’ve never heard of. By the final page (274), when you read about the poignant, near fictional manner of his death, it will be impossible to forget him.