Andy Warhol claimed a great artist was anyone who was exceptional at what they did. By that definition, the art dealers, gallery owners, comic book moguls and tastemakers profiled in Richard Polsky’s The Art Prophets: The Artists, Dealers, and Tastemakers Who Shook the Art World (Other Press) were all artists in their own right.
Straddling various movements and the men and women at their helm, the dynamic visionaries here include Ivan Karp, Stan Lee, Chet Helms, Bill Graham, John Ollman, Joshua Baer, Virginia Dwan, Ted Volpe, Jeffrey Fraenkel, Louis Meisel and Tony Shafrazi. “It’s a gift that allows you to recognize things before your peers. All these guys seem to get it early on,” Polsky says. “But in terms of traits, hard work comes to mind and these guys hustle in the best sense of the word. They’re hungry and it’s not about money, I think it’s about belief.”
Business may be an art form, but it’s a a studied one. “People who buy art are pretty savvy, but we’re talking about blue chip art, we’re not talking about young emerging talent here,” says Polsky. “The people you see at Sotheby’s and Christie’s at the evening contemporary art sales are very wealthy individuals who’ve decided it’s prudent to put 5 to 10 percent of their investment portfolios into fine art.”
But Polsky makes a point in his pages to highlight the humble beginnings of many artists and art prophets. It was not until recently that the monetary value of artistic talent had such a meteoric rise. “None of these guys are elitist,” says the author. “You can walk into Louis Meisel’s gallery in Soho and if you’re a gentlemen, nine times out of 10 he’ll invite you to see his personal collection. On the one hand, he’s hoping you’ll become a collector, but it really goes beyond that. He just wants to share his joy.”
That same joy permeates Polsky’s book. A longtime art dealer and collector himself, Polsky gives smooth, smart insight into a world he intuitively understands. The figures he writes about perform with panache and style, from Shepard Fairey adding flair to Obama’s campaign, to Chet Helm’s LSD-driven rock parties; Polsky impeccably connects the Benday dots. It’s an honor for every prophet profiled, and a surprising, smart read for creative aficionados, or anyone interested in art’s future and the icons who paved the way.