January 15, 2014  |  Collection & Exhibitions, Publications
Paying Tribute: Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New
Cover of the publication Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador For the New, published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Cover of Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador For the New, published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New is the catalogue published to accompany the exhibition of the same name currently on view at MoMA. Both are a tribute to art dealer and gallerist Ileana Sonnabend (1914–2007) for her taste and enduring influence.

For those unfamiliar with Ileana Sonnabend, Leslie Camhi’s biographical essay in the book begins with her birth in Bucharest and touches on various points of her personal life and career. The essay is interspersed with snapshots and archival photographs of Ileana and exhibitions mounted in her Paris and New York galleries.

Ambassador For the New is firstly a tribute to Sonnabend for her lifelong commitment to championing new, difficult artwork, and is also a call to recognize the major role of the art dealer and commercial gallerist in the trajectory of modern art history.

In “A Lasting Legacy,” Ann Temkin, Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, discusses this lacuna in the historical narrative:

“With the exception of a few notable biographies and exhibition catalogues, the role of the art dealer (regardless of gender) has been greatly downplayed in the history of art as it is usually told. There are many explanations for this, including the romantic desire to pretend that art exists independently of a commercial context and the readiness of curators and collectors to take full credit for their artistic choices.”

The plate section of the catalogue features work from groundbreaking exhibitions at her Paris and New York galleries by artists such as Jeff Koons, Ashley Bickerton, Jan Groover, Larry Bell, and Bruce Nauman. The plates are accompanied by short essays on the featured artists and their works. In addition to these essays are a number of text contributions by artists who knew and worked with Sonnabend, happily sharing memories of their first meeting and stories of time spent with her or spent observing her.


Larry Bell. Shadows. 1967. Partially silvered glass with chromium frame, 14 1/4″ x 14 1/4″ x 14 1/4″ (36.2 x 36.2 x 36.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist (by exchange). © 2014 Larry Bell


Jeff Koons. Pink Panther. 1988. Porcelain on Formica base, 41 x 20 1/2 x 19″ (104.1 x 52 x 48.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Werner and Elaine Dannheisser. © 2014 Jeff Koons


James Rosenquist. Volunteer. 1963–64. Oil on canvas, 72 x 78”. The Art Institute of Chicago. Through prior acquisitions of Mary and Leigh Block, Samuel P. Avery Endowment, and Mr. and Mrs. Carter H. Harrison; Robert and Marlene Baumgarten Fund; estate of Solomon Byron Smith; Constance Obright and Samuel and Sarah Deson Memorial funds. © 2014 James Rosenquist/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Artist James Rosenquist reflects:

“Ileana was a professional; she would let artists do what the hell they wanted, and she wouldn’t interrupt. Whatever the artist did, she accepted it. If she liked an artist, she really liked them; otherwise she wouldn’t bother. She never made any suggestions about what an artist should do—ever. I think her taste was unique.”

Download a free sample of the catalogue here.

Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New is on view now through April 21, 2014 in the third-floor Special Exhibitions Gallery.