By ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST, July 2021
Rick Librizzi had rather a special relationship with artists and the artworld generally for a dealer, kind of intimate, and this was surely because he had begun as an artist, and was making and showing work until his death. A talk with him was always richly referential, and often required that notes be taken for the record. So here, instead of the standard obit, a data-studded verbal tombstone, are such notes, taken in 2014 at a table in El Quijote, the eatery adjoining the embedded-in-art-history Chelsea Hotel, where he had long lived and was one of the last hold-outs when he died.
Librizzi, who I described as having the wise, no BS look of a prizefighter philosopher, was brought up beside a railroad in a little town near Albany. “It was just over the Massachussets border,” he said. “An industrial landscape. Railroads, rivers, bridges”. His father was a writer, journalist, and painter. “An Outsider painter really,” he said. He came to New York to go to the Art Students League in 1956 and took a job at Frederick’s Art Store on 57th Street. “Andy used to come in. And that was where I met Andy,” he says.
“Then one day a young painter took me to the Cedar Bar. We are in there, drinking, and all of a sudden there was a hush. And people said, "Here’s Franz Kline." This guy walked in. And he looked like Christ Among the Multitudes by Rembrandt. There was a literal light coming out of him! And I thought Ohmigod! What’s this? What’s this about? And that was my introduction to Abstract Expressionism”.
The Ab Exes, he quickly learned, dominated his school. “We were all taken with de Kooning’s Easter Monday which was in the Metropolitan,” He said. “I used to stand there looking at it after the Franz Kline incident and thinking where do I go from here? And what can I possibly do? My resolution was the less I did the more it looked like me. The more I did, the more it looked like them.”
Librizzi’s move into dealing as a way of putting bread on the table got him deeper into the art world’s moving parts. He worked with the heavy duty collector, Walter Chrysler Jr., son of the automobile magnate, for who he secured works by John Chamberlain and David Smith, and also with contemporaries. Like Andy Warhol. “I dealt with him for fifteen years,” he told me. “At the time of the Palladium really.”
Librizzi also worked up-and-comers. Graffiti was where the heat was. “There was a lot of really interesting work being done and I opened a small graffiti gallery on Broome Street.” Librizzi said. “I had little shows of some of the younger graffiti artists that since became big names. That didn’t work out very well. Because you have to be a psychiatrist and a doctor and a lawyer to deal with those kids. They were all nice kids but it was very difficult and I was losing money in the secondary market by putting in so much time there. Nonetheless it connected me with what was going on in New York.”
Librizzi’s modus operandi was to hold his cards very close to his chest. “I kept my business within a very tight circle,” he said. “When the East Village happened, I picked out a number of artists that I thought were interesting.” Such as Keith Haring, Basquiat. And Richard Hambleton. “I always thought he was an important artist. I built collections for several of my clients of East Village artists. And then I went back to my regular business of dealing with Andy and dealing with Chrysler.”
At the time of our El Quijote sit-down Rick Librizzi was involved with Ruth Kligman, former mistress of Jackson Pollock, the survivor of his fatal crash, and the involvement concerned a canvas that Kligman claimed was a Pollock but which Lee Krasner, Pollock’s widow, herself a tremendous artist, was saying was a fake. Let me say that I have vestigial memory of this dispute, and zero opinion, but that Librizzi’s discussion of Pollock offers a lot of insight into ... Rick Librizzi.
“Pollock wasn’t just going to produce art for the galleries like they do today,” he said. “Jung describes the creative process very precisely. The spring gets tighter and tighter until finally it has to release. And it releases. So that’s what I think happened in this moment with this painting. It breaks through a bottleneck. If he had lived that’s where he would have gone. Big globs of paint with gestures. That painting is like a living human soul.”
I last saw Rick Librizi at a show of his own recent work organized by his son, Nemo. Knowing he was unwell, I slipped a note beneath his door when visiting a friend in the Chelsea. He was gone shortly after. WM
Anthony Haden-Guest (born 2 February 1937) is a British writer, reporter, cartoonist, art critic, poet, and socialite who lives in New York City and London. He is a frequent contributor to major magazines and has had several books published including TRUE COLORS: The Real Life of the Art World and The Last Party, Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night.
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