The Stable Gallery: In

Conversation With Nicolas

Carone

by Phong Bui, The Brooklyn Rail

As part of the Rail’s ongoing effort to bring resources and

historical awareness to the current dialogue in our evergrowing

art community, I wrote an article several issues ago

about The Club, and was able to interview Philip Pavia—the

sculptor and organizer of The Club and publisher of It Is

magazine. It was The Club that provided the informal yet

critical format for panel discussions which included various

topics: painting, sculpture, philosophy, music,

anthropology, and on some occasions even heated political

debates. Now, with the recent addition of new gallery spaces

beyond the Williamsburg area—Greenpoint, Dumbo, and

Bushwick—it would seem timely to follow up with the story

of the legendary Stable Gallery.

The Stable Gallery began as a real horse stable on Central

Park South, but it was more than just the first to convert an

industrial space into an art gallery, a concept which

anticipated fashionable Soho and the new Chelsea galleries.

The Stable was also famous for having a broad and

democratic philosophy. Besides the Stable Annuals, which

involved the most established artists of the downtown scene

at the time, it also showcased many young and emerging

artists like Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, and Joan

Mitchell. In addition, it resurrected the eccentric and unique

work of John Graham and Joseph Cornell.

The Stable Gallery was a perfect passageway for other

galleries to come and pick their artists or to observe its

unorthodox and experimental spirit. The following is an

interview with the distinguished painter and teacher Nicolas

Carone, who was the assistant director of the Stable Gallery’s

first three or four crucial years. Carone was also a founding

faculty member of the New York Studio School and the

former director of the International School of Art in Umbria,

Italy.

Phong Bui (Rail): In 1951, the members of The Club

invited 61 artists to each submit one work for a big group

show. It was called The Ninth Street Show. The appeal was

that it included most, if not all, the artists of the downtown

scene—the older and the younger generation. It must have

been exciting to see the work of Kline, de Kooning, or even

Kewitin next to Fairfield Porter, and Louise Bourgeois, and

Michael Loew. From what I’ve read and been told by some

of the participants, it was a great success.

Nicolas Carone: Well, it was a success because it was

more like a social event that anything else. Nobody was with

a gallery in those days, especially the younger artists who

were still trying to figure out what was going on, I mean in

their own work. It was good for them to come to an event

like that because they could meet the older artists, see what

the older artists were doing.

Rail: Didn’t The Ninth Street Show consequently turn into

the Stable Annual? Wasn’t that how the Stable Annual came

to be?

Carone: I’ll get to that later, but first the story began with

the Alexander Iolas who was running the Hugo Gallery at

the time. I’m sure you remember the Blood Flame exhibit

organized by Nicolas Calas and designed by Frederick

Kiesler. Anyway, Iolas was a great friend of mine and given

his background it made sense that someone like Eleanor

Ward would be attracted to him. Iolas came from a mix of

Egyptian and Greek origins. He was very handsome and at

one time a ballet dancer. He had a strong interest in esoteric

philosophy. You can imagine the sophisticated European

circles of Surrealist artists like Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy,

Roberto Matta, and many distinguished ex-patriots that

were accessible to him. Even the formidable Donna Maria

Ruspoli—she was a Princess—and the Marquis de Cuevas

were helping Iolas with the gallery.

Rail: What about Eleanor Ward?

Carone: She was working for Christian Dior as a

representative promoting The New Look. You know she

primarily came from the fashion industry and had no

experience in the art world. But she had this friend with a

real horse stable building on 58th Street and 7th Avenue

right by Central Park South. Since the friend had a long

lease but was quitting her business—which was making

mannequins, papier maché window displays for Saks Fifth

Avenue, Bonwit Teller, all those fancy uptown stores—well,

she was willing to give the space to Eleanor. The first thing

Eleanor did was to put up a casual Christmas show with all

kinds of Sunday painters and dilettantes. It was not serious

at all but it got a lot of attention. It even got coverage in the

New Yorker and many things were sold. Just to remind you,

Eleanor gained the backing of a wealthy man because of

that Christmas show… and that’s when she came to Iolas

and asked his advice. He came to see the space and agreed

to help her as a curator. Well, through his gallery, he put up

a big group show that would officially introduce the Stable

Gallery to the art world. The show included the obvious

names of the modern Italian artists like de Chirico,

Modigliani, and Morandi—and it also made exceptions with

some other work like Fazzini and de Pisis. My work was

included in that show as well.

Rail: But with all of Iolas’s European connections, how did

that have anything to do with the undercurrent scene

downtown?

Carone: See, you have to understand in spite of his

involvement with the Surrealists and even the Neo-Romantic

artists like Pavel Tchelithew and Eugene Berman, he knew

there was a new climate in the making. So, to his credit,

having seen an enormous space like the Stable, he thought it

would be a perfect opportunity to show some large abstract

paintings.

Rail: You mean Abstract Expressionist paintings?

Carone: Not quite exactly. He had some notion about

showing some young French painters like Matthieu, I

suppose, as a way of prefacing what was to follow in New

York. Anyway, things didn’t work out with Eleanor Ward, so

Iolas terminated his relationship with her.

Rail: So when did you enter the picture and what was your

role at the gallery?

Carone: Well, I met Eleanor through Iolas, I came in right

after he left. The truth of the matter was she didn’t know

what to do next. I tried to propose to her all different kinds

of paintings that could be available for showing in the

gallery. In fact, I showed he a big article about the Betty

Parsons Gallery and the New Paintings in Vogue magazine,

you know, with Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Mark

Rothko, and Clifford Still. I said to her, “that’s the new

painting, the new avant-garde.” She responded right away,

“Yes, that’s what I want.” I told her, in that case, she would

have to give me some time to find young artists qualified to

have a show because most of them didn’t necessarily have

enough work. They were still working things out. No one

could make a statement overnight, anyway. You see, at that

time, making a statement was paramount. That would have

meant who you were. You could be the most talented guy in

the world but if you didn’t make your statement you were

out. That was one of the big reasons why most artists didn’t

show their work until they were older. Don’t forget de

Kooning did not have his first one-man show until 1948. I

believe he was about 42 years old.

Rail: Yes, at the Charles Eagan Gallery. In any case, most of

the older artists like de Kooning, Pollock, Rothko, or Kline,

or Gorky were already with other established galleries. So

you didn’t have much choice except to find good artists

among the younger generation.

Carone: [laughs] That was my intention anyway. For

instance, I came to visit a collector friend of mine’s

apartment and I saw a big painting by Edward Dugmore

that I liked. You know Dugmore and Ernie Briggs were from

the West Coast where they had studied with Clifford Still.

They came to New York at the height of everything that was

happening. They were considered outsiders, but I didn’t care

too much for all of that. I liked his work. So we gave him his

first show at the Stable. That also gave me more time to look

for other artists.

Rail: So it would appear to be good timing because from

the Annual you could certainly pick and choose all kinds of

artists and invite them to join your gallery.

Carone: Actually a friend that made it possible for me

besides Philip Pavia and Conrad Marca-Relli at The Club

was Jack Tworkow. He instigated the whole arrangement. I

suggested to bring The Ninth Street Show to the Stable,

Tworkow spoke to Pavia and some other artists, and they

were all for it. That’s how the Annual came to be. But again

that was just the Annual—otherwise most of my friends like

Philip Guston, Marca-Relli, Vincente, they all wanted to join

Charlie Eagen because of de Kooning. Guston finally got in.

You must understand the whole climate then was about de

Kooning. Critics like Tom Hess, Harold Rosenberg, they were

busy building up de Kooning. De Kooning was the hot

painter. Pollock was already in South Hampton drying out,

so to speak. He already made his statement. He was seeing

his psychiatrist and Lee was protecting him from everything

going on.

Rail: I think the whole phenomenon of de Kooning versus

Pollock simply rests on the fact that in de Kooning’s work,

because he was trained academically and had more skill

than Pollock, the visual vocabulary and the evolution of his

process appears to be more cohesive. It’s really not a matter

of judgment. I am just making a personal observation. What

I mean is that de Kooning’s work is more tangible for

emulation. After all, practically the whole second generation

of young artists were painting under de Kooning’s influence,

both abstractly and figuratively. In Pollock’s case it was

different. Pollock’s influence didn’t really stop with Clement

Greenberg and his circle of artist friends, such as

Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, or Larry Poons—even though

part of its appeal for them was the decorative side of his late

drip paintings. Pollock’s greater spiritual legacy continued

right in to the Happenings with Allen Kaprow, also with

Earth Art and Michael Heizer, and with Robert Smithson.

Anyway, what happened next?

Carone: I went to see a group show at the Samuel Kootz

Gallery. I saw Cy Twombly’s paintings for the first time. They

were painted mostly in black and white with enamel house

paint. The surfaces were thickly painted but smooth at the

same time. They looked like a combination of Franz Kline

calligraphy and that wuality of Ryder’s—painterly and

glowing. They had a real plastic sensibilities. Both Eleanor

and I went to see him in his studio. A few days later, he

came to see the space and liked the idea of the gallery and

eventually agreed to show with us only if we would take on

his friend Bob Rauschenberg as well. I liked Cy’s work and

his discretion, so we put up a two-man show with his and

Rauschenberg’s work together.

Rail: Cool. Didn’t you also mount a show of John Graham

at the Stable? How did that happen?

Carone: Well, I had a very strong idea about the Stable. I

didn’t want it to be just a gallery that only shows abstract

paintings. I told Eleanor that we needed some figurative

artists but whose work had to have a strong metaphysical

basis. Of course, when I read Graham’s book System and

Dialectics of Art, like everyone else at the time, I knew right

away that this was a man who knew. He was a great

connoisseur really. I asked among my friends but they didn’t

know where he was. As every one of us knew, Graham was

important to Gorky and de Kooning’s formative years in the

late ’30s and early ’40s but the whole art world was different

by the ’50s. Anyway, I knew a man named Don Braider who

ran a local bookstore near my home in East Hampton. He

was the one who told me where John Graham was in South

Hampton. The strange thing was that, before Eleanor and I

went to see him, I found out that Graham was married to

Ilena Sonnabend’s mother. That means he was Leo Castelli’s

father-in-law.

Rail: Yeah. That’s a really strange fact. Please go on.

Carone: You wouldn’t believe it. When we invited Graham

to have a show at the Stable he came in to the gallery and he

was thrilled. He even suggested a retrospective of his work.

He said that he could arrange to get a lot of his work from

the Philips Collection in D.C. You would be surprised at the

range of his work. Most people identify Graham’s work with

his landmark cross-eyed women with all kinds of esoteric

symbols and writing on their face or neck. I saw paintings

that were like Barnett Newman’s, I mean long before

Barnett became the painter as we know him. It was an

amazing and haunting exhibit. Every single painter in New

York came to that show even though we didn’t manage to

see one painting. In spite of all of that, some of my friends

were against the idea that I was showing John Graham’s

work. They had the same reaction when I showed Joseph

Cornell earlier.

Rail: Was the Cornell show through Iolas’s connections?

Carone: Yes. I knew him through Iolas. Believe me, only a

few supported me with this idea. Noguchi loved the Cornell

show and because of that he later joined the gallery. And

later Jack Tworkow and Joan Mitchell and even Myron

Stout came in.

Rail: How would you compare the Stable with other

galleries like Martha Jackson, Pointdexter, and Tibor de

Nagy?

Carone: Well, at the Stable Annuals many galleries would

come and pick and choose their new artists. After three and

a half years I had to quit my job because my own paintings

demanded more time and I needed to have my own career

as a painter. As a manner of fact I quit the Stable in order to

show my work at George Stampfli’s gallery. It was alright

with Eleanor. I left on friendly terms. She continued to

consult with me later on so I still remained somewhat

involved.

Rail: The Stable Annual came to an end in 1957.

Carone: It was unfortunate. Abstract Expressionism was

nipped at the bud. It was forced out to make way for Pop

Art. Yes, everything comes to an end.


Copyright 2005-2012 The Brooklyn Rai


© Estate of Nicolas Carone 2012 (except in case of previous copyright)