The Sonnabend Collection at Remai Modern

October 5, 2019–March 22, 2020

Andy Warhol, Flowers, 1964, silkscreen ink on canvas, 55.9 x 55.9 cm. Courtesy of the Sonnabend Collection Foundation and Antonio Homem. © 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by SOCAN.
Jeff Koons, Buster Keaton, 1988, polychromed wood, 167 x 127 x 67 cm. © Jeff Koons
Roy Lichenstein, Little Aloha, 1962, acrylic on canvas, 112 x 107 cm. Courtesy of the Sonnabend Collection Foundation and Antonio Homem. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein / SOCAN (2019).

Organized by Remai Modern and the Sonnabend Collection Foundation. Curated by Antonio Homem.

Remai Modern presents The Sonnabend Collection. Developed through the vision of influential art dealer Ileana Sonnabend (1914-2007), her husband Michael Sonnabend (1900-2001), and their adopted son Antonio Homem, the collection is among the most significant private holdings of modern and contemporary art in the world. 

The Sonnabend Collection at Remai Modern features over 100 works by 67 artists, spanning seven decades of artistic production beginning in the 1950s. This will be the first exhibition of the Collection in Canada, and its most comprehensive presentation to date in North America. Curated by Homem, the exhibition takes visitors on a personal journey of extraordinary encounters with some of the most iconic artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jeff Koons.

Group photo of Ileana Michael and Antonio
Ileana Sonnabend, Antonio Homem and Michael Sonnabend at Sonnabend Gallery, New York, 1991. Courtesy of The Sonnabend Collection Foundation.
Opening of the Sonnabend Gallery in Soho, NYC 1971
Inaugural opening of Sonnabend Gallery, 420 West Broadway, New York, September 1971. Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images.
Warhol at the Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Paris, 1965. Photo Shunk-Kender ©Roy Lichtenstein Foundation. ©2012 Andy Warhol Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Ileana Sonnabend, born in Romania, was renowned for her intuition and exceptional eye for artists who would go on to become highly influential. 

Ileana and her first husband Leo Castelli opened Castelli Gallery in their own sitting room in the late 1950s. Ileana encouraged the exhibition of artists such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, later followed by then-unknowns Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. 

Though they remained partners in art throughout their lives, Leo and Ileana’s marriage ended in 1959. Ileana went on to marry Michael Sonnabend, with whom she opened Galerie Ileana Sonnabend in Paris in 1962. The gallery’s first New York location opened in 1970. 

Gilbert & George, THE SINGING SCULPTURE, 1971, living sculpture presentation at the opening of the Sonnabend Gallery at 420 West Broadway, New York.
Robert Rauschenberg with Ileana and Michael Sonnabend at the opening of an exhibition of his drawings at Galerie Ileana Sonnabend. Photo: André Morain, 1968.

“I had the idea that the gallery had a function to inform… when I find something of interest that is totally unknown, I want to make it known.”

—Ileana Sonnabend
Ileana Sonnabend at Paris Gallery
Ileana Sonnabend at her gallery in Paris, 1965. Courtesy of The Sonnabend Collection Foundation.
© SOCAN (2019)

The Sonnabend Gallery established an international presence, fostering creative exchanges and new audiences both in Europe and America. The gallery frequently championed artists early in their careers, anticipating and influencing developments in art, including Pop, Minimalism, Conceptualism, Nouveau Réalisme, Arte Povera, Neo-Expressionism, Neo-Geo, Photo Conceptualism and beyond. Above all, the Sonnabends believed in and supported the artists they exhibited and collected.

The Sonnabend Collection can be seen as an extremely personal account, a reflection of one family’s deep, unwavering belief in art and artists. At the same time, the collection provides a remarkable record of material, conceptual and philosophical shifts in American and European art from the second half of the 20th century.

Ileana’s work as a gallerist, patron and collector made an indelible impact on the contemporary art world, which continues even after her death in 2007. With a deep, unwavering commitment, the Sonnabends granted artists the opportunity to push boundaries, defy expectations and exhibit work that was difficult to sell. 

Jasper Johns
Robert Rauschenberg
Jim Dine
John Chamberlain
James Rosenquist
Mario Schifano 
Christo
Arman
Michelangelo Pistoletto
George Segal
Claes Oldenburg
Tom Wesselmann
Andy Warhol
Roy Lichtenstein
Donald Judd
Robert Morris
Larry Bell
John McCracken
John Baldessari
Sol LeWitt
Mel Bochner
Barry Le Va
Peter Halley
Clay Ketter
Mario Merz
Gilberto Zorio
Giovanni Anselmo
Pier Paolo Calzolari
Guilio Paolini
Jannis Kounellis
Keith Sonnier
Bruce Nauman
A.R. Penck
Anselm Kiefer
Jörg Immendorff
Ryan Roa
Haim Steinbach
Ashley Bickerton
Jeff Koons
Gilbert & George
Bernd and Hilla Becher
Christian Boltanski
Vito Acconci
Piero Manzoni
Boyd Webb
William Wegman
Andrea Robbins and
Max Becher
Hiroshi Sugimoto
Anne and Patrick Poirier
Luigi Ontani
Philip Haas
Richard Artschwager
Terry Winters
Carroll Dunham
Rona Pondick
Robert Feintuch
Peter Fischli
and David Weiss
Candida Höfer
Elger Esser
Lawrence Beck
Clifford Ross
Matthias Schaller

Experience Seven Decades of Art in Constant Flux

The Sonnabend Collection traces many key developments in modern and contemporary art. Swipe to get a primer on some of the movements showcased in the exhibition at Remai Modern.
Robert Rauschenberg, Payload, 1962, oil and silkscreen ink on canvas, 153 x 90 cm. © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / SOCAN, Montreal / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New-York (2019)

After Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism was a style of abstract art that emerged in American in the 1940s and 1950s. The movement has an improvisational style, embracing of the physical qualities of paint to emotional, often contemplative effect. The activities of the Sonnabend Gallery began with artists incorporating some aspects of Abstract Expressionism, including expressing brush strokes, but beginning to challenge or defy its conventions, anticipating the Pop art movement
Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Can (Turkey Noodle), 1962, silkscreen ink on canvas, 51 x 41 cm. © 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by SOCAN.

Pop Art

The American Pop art movement began in the 1950s, and was named in reference to the use of commonplace images and symbols drawn from popular culture. Works by Pop artists tapped into the post-war explosion of consumer products, advertising, mass media and celebrity.
Christo, Empaquetage Sur Diable [Package on Handcart], 1964, metal, handcart, 122 x 100 x 26 cm. © Christo 1964

Nouveau Realisme

This French art movement emerged in the 1960s and has been described as the European counterpart to America’s Pop art movement. Artists connected to Nouveau Réalisme frequently used readymade objects in assemblage and collage. Art critic Pierre Restany described the process as “a poetic recycling of urban, industrial and advertising reality.”
Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #133 (Arcs From Four Corners), 1971, lead pencil on wall, dimensions variable. © The LeWitt Estate / SOCAN (2019)

Minimalism

Developed in America in the 1960s, Minimalism reflected a shift towards simplified forms. Using geometry, repetition, and industrial materials and fabrication, artists focused on visual qualities and the nuances of perception.
John Baldessari, Everything is Purged…,1966-68, acrylic on canvas, 172.7 x 142.2cm. © John Baldessari

Conceptual Art

Conceptual art prioritizes ideas over the formal or visual components of artworks. Beginning in the mid-1960s, Conceptual artists produced works and writings that rejected standard notions of art and its value, including expression, skill, originality and commodification.
Giovanni Anselmo, Untitled (Struttura che mangia), 1968, granite, salad, copper thread, sawdust, 65 x 30 x 30 cm. © Giovanni Anselmo

Arte Povera

Arte Povera—"poor art"— emerged in Italy in the 1960s. Its most recognizable trait was the use of commonplace materials that evoke a pre-industrial age, such as earth, rocks, clothing, paper and rope. Arte Povera artists also incorporated process, energy and chance, with living or constantly changing components in their work.
Robert Morris, Untitled, 1980, felt, 250 x 300 cm. © Estate of Robert Morris / SOCAN (2019)

Anti-Form

An American sculptural movement that began in the late 1960s, Anti-Form incorporated organic processes and embraced arbitrary results. Rather than forcing a work into a specific structure, artists connected to this movement let their chosen material dictate the form, surrendering control over the final appearance.
Anselm Kiefer, Baum mit Palette [Tree with Palette], 1978, oil and woodcut prints on canvas, 280 x 191 cm. © Anselm Kiefer

Neo Expressionism

A return to Expressionism first hit Germany’s art scene in the 1970s. In contrast to the cool and sparse works associated with Minimalism and Conceptual art, Neo Expressionism was marked by a painterly approach, often drawing on historical and mythological themes.
Jeff Koons, Snorkel (Shotgun), bronze, 37 x 6 x 13 cm. © Jeff Koons

Neo-Geo

The term Neo-Geo, short for Neo-Geometric Conceptualism, started being used in early 1980s in New York. It referred to a young group of artists that were incorporating commercial objects, bright colours and strong formalism in sculpture and painting. Their work can be read as a re-engagement with the subjects of Pop through conceptual strategies.
Bernd and Hilla Becher, Water Towers, 1988, 21 black-and-white photographs, 170 x 328 cm. © Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, 2019

Photo Conceptualism

The Sonnabend Gallery was one of the first in America to embrace contemporary photography. Up until the 1970s, photography was often viewed as a craft or commercial medium. Contemporary artists engaged the particular qualities of the photograph to produce idea-driven works exploring form, seriality, and the nature of time and perception.