Ileana Sonnabend

Ileana Sonnabend in her Paris gallery in 1965, with behind her Roy Lichtenstein’s Kitchen Range (1961-62), purchased by the National Gallery of Australia in 1978.


It is no secret that Australian museums are home to some of the world’s masterpieces of the post-war era. The National Gallery of Australia in Canberra houses not just one, but two of the most important Abstract Expressionist paintings ever created – Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles (1952), widely regarded as one of the artist’s most impressive works, and Willem de Kooning’s Woman V (1952-53), one of a cycle of only six paintings which reside in some of the world’s most prestigious museum collections. But the depth and quality of international contemporary art in Australian institutional collections goes much further than these two famous, and at one point controversial, acquisitions. In fact, although the continent might be geographically remote from the traditional art world capitals of Paris, New York and London, the exceptional collections that have accumulated in Australia allow for much of the history of international post-war and contemporary art to be told through the art that’s already here. This website is dedicated to narrating and documenting this history, which sometimes appears to be overshadowed by the extremely lively local art scene in Australia. Every week I will post an article on an artist’s body of work in Australia or a related topic that I’m interested in, which will hopefully broaden the understanding and appreciation of the fantastic collections of post-war and contemporary art on the continent.

My name is Boris Cornelissen. I studied art history in the Netherlands, Paris and London, after which I joined the auction house Sotheby’s where I spent the following 6,5 years as a specialist in the contemporary art department in London and Hong Kong. Having recently moved to Australia, I wanted to further explore the history of international contemporary art here, and decided to share the findings of my research into the public and private art collections through a series of articles on this website.

I named this project ILEANA after the legendary art dealer Ileana Sonnabend, who was not only a driving factor behind many of Leo Castelli’s early discoveries (Robert Rauschenberg amongst many others), but equally importantly, the first real bridge between the American and European contemporary art markets. Sonnabend was the first gallerist to exhibit the Pop artists in Europe, and later when she moved back to New York, responsible for bringing European artists to the attention of the American public. Moreover, she was the first international art dealer to sell a work to John Kaldor, who would become one of the most important contemporary art collectors in Australia, back in 1963 (a Roy Lichtenstein painting for which he paid US$ 50). Her contributions to the development of an inter-continental art market are to an extent also the ambitions  of ILEANA, with the aim of helping to bridge the continental divide.

ILEANA is featured in the Feedspot Top 30 Australia Art Blogs and Websites in 2020