A young Italian baroness founded a gallery of contemporary art in Milan in 1955 that she named Galleria dell’Ariete (Gallery of the Ram). Described in the press as a “sharp-willed beauty,” or a “feminine dynamo,” Beatrice Monti della Corte was among the first Italian dealers to cherish the goal of selling Italian artists—such as Enrico Castellani, Alberto Burri, and Luigi Parzini—in the U.S., and American artists—such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Ron Davis—in Italy. Before the day when art-world participants were globe-trotters, Monti della Corte flew back and forth frequently between continents, developing close working relationships with American artists, dealers, and collectors.
Newly catalogued at the Getty Research Institute, the Galleria dell’Ariete records offer abundant evidence of Monti della Corte’s prescient grasp of now-current practices of international partnering among dealers, and of her role in shaping major contemporary art collections in the U.S. and Europe, including the Panza collection that is now part of the permanent collection of MOCA Los Angeles.
First among Monti della Corte’s American colleagues was the New York-based purveyor of Pop art, Leo Castelli, whom she admired for “his honesty, his devotion to the artist he represents, and for his absence of doubt in making decisions.” (L’Eco della stampa, February 1976). Leo’s first letter to Beatrice, in 1959, begins “I’m sorry I must write you in English, but I’m sure that you speak it as well as I do.” His second letter (from July 12, 1960) continues the courtly flattery: “It was wonderful to see you lovely and active under the sign of the ram.”
Quickly, however, their exchanges develop a conspiratorial tone, especially with regard to their collectors. Beatrice, writing always in Italian, complains that a famous collector is cheating her. “I completely agree with you that _______ behaves like a rascal,” Leo writes on April 7, 1962. And five days later: “I really don’t understand how a man can display such bad faith.” Beatrice apologizes for troubling Leo: “I’m sorry to once again to have put you in the middle of this ugly situation that sorely tests your patience and your friendship.” Then she adds: “In compensation I have a good chance of selling the white Rauschenberg.” (April 6, 1962).
Robert Rauschenberg was indeed the key artist in Beatrice’s alliance with Leo and in her campaign of selling Italian collectors on American art. In November 1961 she organized, with Leo’s participation, a Rauschenberg show in her gallery. Leo writes reassuringly in relation to this show that the collector Giuseppe Panza will come to see him “and I shall then discuss with him the problem of payments. Of course you will be entirely protected” (October 24, 1961). In a later letter he reports that Panza found her show “very beautiful.” A handwritten note that Rauschenberg left for Beatrice after visiting the “beautiful” gallery invites her to join him at the Alfio Restaurant.
Reward followed this ardent teamwork in 1964, when Robert Rauschenberg won first place at the Venice Biennale, and one of Beatrice’s artists, Andrea Cascella, won best Italian artist. Photographs show the triumphant foursome celebrating after the award announcements. These prizes were critical, Beatrice later noted, in validating her taste in American art to Italian collectors. They worked for American collectors as well, who not only began to buy Cascella, but other Italian artists she represented—a major achievement for this “feminine dynamo.”