Ivan Karp as I saw him @ OK Harris in 1984
Ivan Karp was one of those people in the NYC, Art World that you can never forget. Fast talking and quick witted, Ivan Karp was the champion of the unknown artist. Always keeping an open door policy, he would look at any and all art which would came his way, right then and there on the spot. He believed in finding the next great talent and he knew to do that you had to be open and available, unlike his counterparts who made you wait endlessly and then jump through many hoops to get that opportunity.
Ivan Karp didn't mince words either, he would glibbly say things about your work that might make you wish you never come to see him, but if you listened carefully he always gave you enough information to keep on keeping on and strive for another day in which to return for a follow-up visit and perhaps be granted a show.
This was the case for me, back in the early eighties, where on my first attempt to show him my work called Street Mysteries, he said outright he could never sell these images, which I had so successfully exhibited in Montréal and gotten very positive reviews including in Popular Photography.
Yes, I was upset, but lucky for me down at the bottom of my portfolio I had a few images of my current work-in-progress called Graven Images and that is when we became life-long friends. We both had a love for sculpture and the cemetery and I went on to have my first One Man Show in NYC at the OK Harris Gallery called Graven Images in April 9-30,1988.
Once in a while in the mid-Eighties I used to show up in the gallery dressed in bright sunny colors. Ivan, speaking to one of his friends/customers, laughed and said: "Just take a look at this artist all youthful and bright-colorful! I bet you could never figure out that his art-specialty is Cemetery Images!"
For me Ivan Karp was the Kwisatz Haderach of the Art-World. Not only did he know what was going on in its secret corners, but he also had the instinct and vocabulary to encourage or dismay all those who might come his way.
The three years I lived in NYC, back in the eighties were the most memorable because of my monthly visits to OK Harris. Which made me feel like Dorothy visiting the great OZ, which he surely was. My relationship to Ivan, my keen respect for him, the countless excellent shows I saw at OK, made me strive to create better art. These are influences that have lasted a lifetime and are ever stronger now that he has passed. It's without a doubt a case of knowing he's watching me from above, and I better not disappoint him.
Ivan Karp was the dealer of such luminaries as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. He was one of the few art dealers who posted a sign in the Gallery "Smoking Permitted" and he had a good run with a logo called "Fine Arts Forever"! He was unofficially the Mayor of Soho and one of the founders of the entire Soho Art Scene. There, at his West Broadway location in the OK Harris Gallery, is where Ivan Karp kept house. And what a house it was.I am really sorry to say I shall miss my contact with his greatness, personality and vision. I shall always cherish the few small handwritten notes I have gotten from him.
RIP Ivan Karp, knowing that those whom you were enthusiastic with were then inspired for a lifetime. Always hoping to return the favor with a new body of work that captured your interest and critical eye!
Below is an image from "Holy Cow" another Portfolio of mine exhibited at OK Harris. Our sacred bull has left us but the nourishment of his thoughts and actions shall carry us through the rest of our lifetime knowing we met and dealt with such enthusiastic and knowledgeable artiness.
My final ode to Ivan must have been created a few weeks ago when I made this image for my Born in Stone series. It's doubtlessly young Ivan Karp organising things in Heaven, so the fine details of creation will also get their 15 minutes of fame as Andy Warhol said they would. Only, this is in Heaven, baby!
Ivan Karp died at the ripe age of 86 . His gallery OK Harris will always be a beacon of art-greatness at 383 West Broadway, Soho, NYC