When I was an 18 year old art student, I met Ivan Carp in his New York gallery OK Harris. He was standing around looking at his current show, the work of the Photo Realist painter John Salt. Recognising him, I tried to strike up a dialogue. He was abrupt and curt with me. I have spent the last 40 years thinking, “This man was a complete arsehole”! On another occasion I caught a glimpse of him looking at the work of a talentless but attractive young artist who had brought her portfolio to the gallery for show and tell. He was offering kind words of encouragement. Was he interested in the work? I always concluded that he was more interested in the girl, showing the work on the floor.
In the early days of the West Broadway scene. Ivan Karp was Mr. SoHo. After having been co-director of Leo Castelli Gallery from 1959-1969 during which time he was instrumental in launching the careers of pop artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselmann and John Chamberlain. Although Castelli had rejected Warhol, Ivan Karp remained an early advocate of the artist, introducing him to collectors, whom Karp described as “emancipated in their collecting instinct.” Among the people that Karp brought to Warhol’s studio was the assistant curator for twentieth century American art at the Metropolitan Museum, Henry Geldzahler. Ivan later broke away from Leo Castelli and launched his own gallery, OK Harris. Its establishment in SoHo made it the first in the area.
In addition to being at the forefront of the Photo Realist movement in 1969, OK Harris was among the first galleries to exhibit the work of Duane Hanson, Deborah Butterfield, Manny Farber, Richard Pettibone, Robert Cottingham, Robert Bechtle, Marilyn Levine, Nancy Rubins, Malcolm Morley, Luis Jiminez, Jake Berthot, Jack Goldstein, Porfirio DiDonna, Al Souza and Arman.
Karp in many ways was the first of a generation of art salesman, hence the name of his gallery, OK Harris, a play on an American used car dealership. He was one of the first art critics for the Village Voice and blossomed during the period which saw the NY art scene transform from Abstract Expressionism into Pop Art. In many ways his input was responsible for this transition, which carried through the Photo/Hyper Realism idiom, a movement created and manipulated by Karp.
Ivan Karp who has died of natural causes at his Charlotteville, New York, home on 28 June. He was 86 and is survived by his wife,his sons, Ethan and Jesse; his daughter, Amie Karp; his sister, Rhoda Ben-Isaac; and two granddaughters.
Photo: Ivan Karp By Andy Warhol