The CIA agent who became a visionary art collector
All the while, as he acquired, Baker was also an amateur, fitting into a vibrant cultural scene. He started off one of the most charming anecdotes in his journals, from 1959 or 1960, with a bit of gossip, social observation, and staging.
“Sir. [Robert] Scull [a notable collector] sent his Cadillac to Manhattan with his personal driver to pick up a group of us from the Leo Castelli Gallery, ”he wrote. “Illeana, Leo’s wife, is sick and hospitalized. An attractive young French woman was Leo’s partner for the evening ”(Baker, Oct 16, 52 — May 56. MoMA Archives, NY).
The story doesn’t just play on voyeurism and nostalgia for the art world, it captures a moment on the cusp of a radical shift from abstract expressionism to a new pop aesthetic. It’s easy to read Baker’s diary entry – and his gravitation towards Rauschenberg and Johns instead of Kline and Kooning – and imagine a world prepared for the rise of Warhol, who launched his series “Campbell’s Soup Cans “a few years later, in 1962 The popular image of the artist quickly transformed, as Baker captured it perfectly in his description of Rauschenberg’s luxurious car and his public relationship with Johns.