New York

Tom Wesselmann, Still Life #48, 1964, acrylic, collage, and assemblage on board, 48 x 60 x 8". From “Deadeye Dick: Richard Bellamy and His Circle.” © The Estate of Tom Wesselmann/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

Tom Wesselmann, Still Life #48, 1964, acrylic, collage, and assemblage on board, 48 x 60 x 8". From “Deadeye Dick: Richard Bellamy and His Circle.” © The Estate of Tom Wesselmann/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

“Deadeye Dick: Richard Bellamy and His Circle”

Peter Freeman, Inc.

Tom Wesselmann, Still Life #48, 1964, acrylic, collage, and assemblage on board, 48 x 60 x 8". From “Deadeye Dick: Richard Bellamy and His Circle.” © The Estate of Tom Wesselmann/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

Richard Bellamy (1927–1998), aka Deadeye Dick, was among the significant figures of his generation, credited with identifying and exhibiting both Pop artists and Minimalists early on. Anyone who’s old enough to have visited galleries Bellamy directed, be it the Green Gallery or Oil & Steel, remembers his perspicacity, catholic taste, youthful exuberance, and gift for installing art to maximum effect. After his death almost twenty years ago at the age of seventy, his reputation dropped off the radar of a younger generation.

With the publication last year of Eye of the Sixties: Richard Bellamy and the Transformation of Modern Art, Judith Stein’s superbly researched and well-written biography, Bellamy has returned to the limelight. And this exhibition, “Deadeye Dick: Richard Bellamy and His Circle,” which Stein curated, could not have illuminated better what set this dealer apart from other gallerists. Stein could have merely borrowed well-known paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by boldface names. Instead, she achieved something more original and enlightening. In many instances, she placed on view early work by, among others, Larry Poons, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, and Peter Young that allowed visitors to her group show to see what Bellamy originally saw: raw talent. The examples of their fledgling efforts are tentative and not as immediately recognizable as their mature efforts.

Would you have invited any of the Minimalists, Pop artists, or figurative painters whose work was on display to have a solo show in your gallery? Would you have dedicated your energy, your backers’ funds, your few open slots throughout the exhibition season to those with work in “Deadeye Dick”? Be honest.

It was a thrill to go back in time to the early days of Pop and Minimalism. Tom Wesselmann, for example, has never looked better than he did with a stark still life from 1964, composed of a jar of mayonnaise and a juicy tomato. James Rosenquist’s shaped canvas from 1961 had a zany quality that once characterized his art. The galvanized iron wall box fabricated by Donald Judd in 1965 made clear that a specific object could be austere. As for the Untitled (Lead Roll) from 1968 by Richard Serra, which measures only thirty-six-and-a-quarter by four-and-a-half inches, how many visitors to “Deadeye Dick” had ever realized this sculptor once worked this small? And painters such as Dan Christensen, Jean Follett, and Neil Williams, as well as sculptors such as Gary Kuehn, David Rabinowitch, and Richard Nonas, all of whom were featured in this show, reminded one of the many other artists who were once better known.

For a gallerist who seemingly favored the avant-garde, Bellamy also exhibited an amazing range of figurative painters. Sidney Tillim, Emilio Cruz, Jan Müller, and Milet Andrejevic are not artists associated with either Pop or Minimalism. But their somewhat dramatic, provocative representational pictures were integral to Deadeye Dick’s program, rounding out the picture of how modern art had evolved since the days of social realism, not to mention those of Abstract Expressionism.

Stein wasn’t able to borrow George Segal’s life-size plaster-cast portrait Richard Bellamy Seated,1964, from the Saint Louis Art Museum. She made up for this omission, however, with a large group of likenesses in various media (painting, sculpture, collage, charcoal, graphite, pastel, gelatin silver print) that were by turns charming, heartfelt, inventive, and admirably rendered by Miles Forst, Robert Frank, Al Hansen, Neil Jenney, Alex Katz, Segal, Tillim, and Daisy Youngblood.

These days, Bellamy’s various emporia would be called midsize galleries. Although many of his artists are currently featured in art-history books and museums around the world, the dealer, according to his biographer, wasn’t a crackerjack businessman. Despite this, it seems clear we probably won’t see the likes of Richard Bellamy again.

Phyllis Tuchman