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Bettina's Take, London: Annie Cohen-Solal at the Beauchamp Club


Cora Sheibani

My London adventure continues. So far I've avoided the area around Buckingham Palace. I heard they'd started building the bleachers for the wedding and traffic could be messy. So when the Queen asked me over for tea and Hobnobs, I politely said no.

Just kidding.

I did, however, go to the Beauchamp Club, the chic, happening private club owned by Farhad Farman-Farmaian. Farhad is a descendant of the last Persian Qajar king, and his club reflects a centuries-old knowledge of how one should receive. Impeccably decorated by Adam Bray, with fabrics reminiscent of Farhad's heritage, the cozy townhouse is filled with elegant furniture and a sophisticated dining area overlooking a garden and a typical Persian fountain.

The occasion was a reading and discussion by Annie Cohen-Solal of her latest book, Leo and His Circle: The Life of Leo Castelli.

Annie, a magnetic, charismatic speaker, had her audience completely mesmerized—and no one wanted her to stop. She is currently a visiting fellow at NYU's Tisch School for the Arts, and I envy her students.

According to Annie, Castelli was an art dealer with roots in the European traditions, and when he began in 1957—Jasper Johns was his first artist—his way of doing business revolutionized the art world.

"Castelli identified and empowered the artists in the U.S., a country where they were neither visible nor respected," Annie explained. "Today there is a need to identify and empower artists in emerging democracies."

Annie met Castelli in 1989, when, following the publication of her best-selling biography of Sartre, she was appointed by Mitterand to be the French Cultural attaché in New York. She was at a small lunch with the then 82-year-old dealer, who looked admiringly at this vibrant and attractive woman in a transparent skirt and opera gloves, and told her she would do very well in her new job as she was quite a contrast from her stuffy predecessors. They became great friends, and Castelli was instrumental in introducing Annie to the exciting emerging art scene of that time.

She spoke of how he was the first to enlist a network of dealers around the world, with those partnerships creating a global brand. Bruno Bischofberger was one of them; his daughter, the talented jewelry designer Cora Sheibani, was in the audience, fascinated like the rest of us.

There were many wonderful stories, including Castelli's mentoring of Larry Gagosian, and Jeffrey Deitch's dedication to the art scene from day one. I don't have the space here to tell them all, but the book is filled with them, and well worth reading.

Several of us stayed for dinner downstairs, and the discussions about the changing face of the art world continued well into the night. Annie, we can't wait for your next book.

Photo: Cora Sheibani