Gordon Washburn, Director of Asia House, Art Exhibitions


Gordon Washburn's Belief

Novak knew of Washburn while still being a shepherd in the kibbutz. The man’s reputation as the head of Carnegie International Contemporary Art Show in Pittsburgh was truly of world wide fame. By 1966 when Novak met Washburn, he was no longer in his Carnegie position, but the director of Asia House, off Park Ave., New York City, putting on the most exquisitely produced ancient Asian art shows.

By fall of 1967, as Novak unpacked the “La Coupole” sculpture group in his New York show room, Washburn was his very first guest to view this latest work. The combined parts of Washburn’s actions a few hours before his visit and a few more into the following day, gave inspirational hope to both Novak and Washburn that Novak’s career is about to be launched.

The evening before Washburn’s visit at an art gathering, chatting with his friend, Leo Casteli, the most powerful art market figure of the day, Washburn learned of a schedule disruption in Leo’s gallery shows, which gave Gordon an idea as he saw the “La Coupole” group. A sculptor about to open a show at Casteli was not going to fulfill his commitment. Realizing the opportunity, and in great belief in Novak’s unique art quality, Washburn invited Casteli to see Novak’s latest work. In his certainty of helping both Novak and Casteli , he made a further move by inviting the art editor of Life Magazine to join in the visit.

Group Title La Coupol

Novak received his three most anticipated guests, dressed in his usual denim pants and jacket, most excited and relaxed , confident about his work. As Leo entered the room, his nervous behavior was evident, and his mumbling illogical meaningless words of response to Washburn’s showing the work which he believed so worthy. Leo’s irrational behavior, even avoiding eye contact with everyone present, included suddenly leaving the studio, with everyone dumbfounded and at a loss to continue the visit. Life Magazine’s editor, in obvious embarrassment for Washburn, and recognizing no opportunity for a story, left immediately. While Washburn in deepening disbelief, stalled a while, numbed in his obvious personal hurt, to comprehend why or what happened.

Novak was cordial to the two who departed early, while in deepest sympathy and gratitude to Washburn, expressed by the words: “I shall never forget your kindness”. The following morning, Novak delivered a framed drawing to Washburn’s home, with appropriate words of thanks.


(Picture of drawing)

Five years on, Gordon Washburn, as Asia House director, circumventing the rules of his position to ancient Asian art, gave Novak the opportunity by invitation, to create his “Room at Asia House”. In Novak’s mind, the most advanced art show of his, it was also the last one.

(Picture of the room)

While the show was on, Novak took Washburn to lunch one day, through which Novak reiterated his everlasting gratitude to Gordon for his belief in the “La Coupole” group five years earlier. This most elegant, gentle, scholarly man, came instantly to the edge of a rage, saying: “that man was so full of it, his eyes were solid brown”, obviously in reference to Leo Casteli.




About Novak's Artwork

Hans Van Werengrick for The Jewish Museum | Paul Jenkins, Artist | Tiffany Bell for The Empire State Collection

Gordon Washburn, Director of Asia House, Art Exhibitions | Dorothy Miller, Curator of Modern Art, The Museum of Modern Art, NYC
Arthur Drexler, Director Dept. of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art, NYC
Barnett Glimpsher, The Pace Gallery | Barnett Newman, Artist


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