The history of the Sonnabend Collection is one of the most fascinating in the XX Century. In 1962 Ileana and Michael Sonnabend open the Sonnabend Gallery in Paris in order to show the work of young American artists they admire. Later on they will also show the work of European artists in Paris and, from 1970 on, in New York too. Through the years their collection was enriched with important works of Pop Art, Nouveau Réalisme, Arte Povera, Antiform, Minimalism and Conceptual Art.
A selection of 116 works is now at Ca Pesaro on a long term loan to the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, and one room is always dedicated to the Sonnabend collection.
This room presents two works by Giovanni Anselmo and Jannis Kounellis who recently passed away. They are part of the Arte Povera movement, founded in 1967 and characterized by the use of “poor” materials and the exploration of their properties.
Traces of past months are now preserved in the permanent collection. Room 15 (Homage to Germano Celant) is a tribute to the Arte Povera movement, set up with works from the Sonnabend collection, and dedicated to Germano Celant, who recently died due to the coronavirus.
The relationship between Germano Celant and Ileana Sonnabend dates back to 1964, the year in which the Italian critic met the American gallery owner for the first time at the Venice Biennale.
From their mutual esteem and collaboration developed a series of events both preparatory and decisive for the birth, in the 1960s, of some of the main artistic movements such as Pop Art, Minimal Art, Arte Povera and Land Art.
After the first meeting, other encounters soon follow, facilitating the expansion of the production of the main artists working at that time: they met in Turin in 1965, where Celant used to go as editor of the magazine “Marcatrè” to participate in the artistic events of the city and where Michelangelo Pistoletto and the gallery owner Gian Enzo Sperone worked.
They would be among the first to make direct contact with Sonnabend which dedicated an exhibition to Pistoletto in 1964 in its Paris gallery, opened in 1962, while that of Roy Lichtenstein organized by Ileana in June 1963 is soon after shown (1963 – 1964) at the Il Punto gallery in Turin, where the young Sperone worked.
Celant, also in 1965, acts as an intermediary for the exhibition to be held the following year at the Galleria La Bertesca in Genoa under the title American Pop Artists.
The two met again in 1969 on the occasion of the When Attitudes Become Form exhibition in Bern and in the same year, within the program of the Sonnabend gallery in Paris, particular space was granted to some of the Arte Povera artists: solo exhibitions were held for Gilberto Zorio, Giovanni Anselmo and Mario Merz. The latter is the first Arte Povera artist whose works were exhibited in 1970 in New York, in the Sonnabend gallery on Madison Avenue. On this occasion Celant oversaw the installation.
Thanks to his suggestion, Ileana organized in the United States, in March 1972, the first anthological exhibition dedicated to Piero Manzoni and Sonnabend Press published in the same year the first monograph dedicated to Giulio Paolini, edited by Celant.
At the end of 2017 the critic, with the support of Antonio Homem and the Sonnabend archive, dedicated an exhibition, held at the Levy Gorvy Gallery in New York, to the relationship between Ileana Sonnabend and the artists of Arte Povera.
Find out more about permanent collection currently on view at Ca’ Pesaro:
The Chiara and Francesco Carraro Collection. A Twentieth-century Overview >