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).

As the night wore on, the performers and arrived late in the latter’s white Jaguar. Baker spoke to Johns – who has championed the work of – and then chatted with Margaret Scolari Barr (wife of MoMA’s first director Alfred H. Barr) about when Gary Cooper met. Dinner that night included Rock Cornish guinea fowl, salad, champagne and strawberries with whipped cream. was present, as was his mistress, Ruth. Baker was brought back from East Hampton to the city with Johns and Rauschenberg in the Jaguar.

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.

Baker’s ideas also spread to classrooms and art studios. He studied painting with it, eventually realizing that his skills lay not in crafting, but in medium. He shared coffee and cookies with, commenting on the economics of his work and his home. He relished all his interactions with artists; all his visits to galleries and museums with Stankiewicz and.

Norma D. Ross