A Woman Scorned by Leo Castelli? Joyce Baronio Wants $1.5 Million

Art photographer Joyce Baronio recalled the last time she saw art dealer Leo Castelli: It was about a year ago, at a function at the National Arts Club. “I had to go up to him a couple of times,” she said, but when Mr. Castelli, who is 91, recognized her, “It was very poignant and moving.”

Along with those affectionate feelings, Ms. Baronio must have been harboring a measure of anger. Shortly after the sentimental encounter, The Transom has learned, Ms. Baronio’s lawyer filed a summons in State Supreme Court in Manhattan against the diminutive art dealer, his thirtysomething wife Barbara Bertozzi, and the Leo Castelli Gallery. Although her May 1998 court filing gives only a few hints, Ms. Baronio told The Transom that after a 15-year professional and personal relationship with Mr. Castelli (for a time, she said, they were lovers), she was cast out of Mr. Castelli’s life as he took up with Ms. Bertozzi. She said that a $6,000 monthly stipend that Mr. Castelli was paying her was halted.

“For whatever reasons, he absolutely assured me that I would always be able to do my work, even after he was gone,” Ms. Baronio, who is in her fifties, told The Transom. “I was in his will before Barbara took everything over.”

The arrival of Ms. Bertozzi, an Italian art writer, in Mr. Castelli’s life in 1994 and the couple’s subsequent marriage in September 1995 preceded a huge upheaval in the comfortable world that Mr. Castelli had carved out of the art marketplace via his representation of such artists as Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning and Robert Rauschenberg. Longtime friends and employees of Mr. Castelli, including Susan and Patty Brundage, who had helped him run his gallery for, respectively, 25 and 20 years, abruptly found themselves exiled from his empire–which, by the way, is moving from its longtime SoHo berth on West Broadway to the Upper East Side. On April 17, Mr. Castelli is holding an opening of his new gallery at 59 East 79th Street. Meanwhile, a source close to the dealer said that the Leo Castelli Gallery at 420 West Broadway will close by summer.

Ms. Baronio, who is perhaps best known for 42nd Street Studio , a book of portraits of erotic entertainers such as former porn star Vanessa Del Rio (the book won the American Institute of Graphic Arts Award for Excellence in 1980) said that the $6,000 stipend that she allegedly got from Mr. Castelli’s gallery enabled her to practice her art in a Spring Street loft near Mr. Castelli’s SoHo gallery. “He wanted me to be close to him,” she said. One person familiar with Mr. Castelli’s past, however, had a different take: The art dealer “had many female relationships. She was just one of them.”

Ms. Baronio’s page-and-a-half, bare-bones document charged Mr. Castelli and his wife with “breach of agreement to provide a monthly stipend … and/or to financially provide for plaintiff … breach of agreement to promote the artistic works of” Ms. Baronio, and “tortious interference in” Ms. Baronio’s “contractual relations” with Mr. Castelli. The document sought $1.5 million in damages.

But Ms. Baronio’s case took an odd turn when, she said, her attorney, at the time, Bruce Karp, never served the summons on Mr. and Mrs. Castelli. “He thought I had a good case,” said Ms. Baronio. Then, she claimed, Mr. Karp “suddenly did an about-face.” Not long after the summons was filed, she said, Mr. Karp stopped taking her phone calls, then told her that he was no longer interested in the case. She said that Mr. Karp has yet to return all of her papers pertaining to the case and that she has filed a complaint against him with the State Supreme Court Appellate Division’s Departmental Disciplinary Committee.

Reached by The Transom, Mr. Karp said, “I voluntarily withdrew of my own accord from representing her.” He then faxed a letter: “I am no longer representing Ms. Baronio in her matter with Leo Castelli et al.,” Mr. Karp wrote. “While I did represent her for a short time and filed a summons on her behalf in this matter, the summons was never served, and I ceased my representation of her.” A spokesman for Mr. and Mrs. Castelli said the couple was unaware of the summons.

When Mr. Karp was told about Ms. Baronio’s charges that he had not returned her case papers “They have been returned.”

Now that Ms. Baronio has focused her anger on her attorney, she seems to be unsure about the future of her action against Mr. Castelli and his wife. She has since moved to an area north of Westchester County, where she said she is supporting herself via photography and by teaching tai chi. Asked if she intends to pursue her complaint against the Castellis, Ms. Baronio replied: “I’m not sure. I’ve just gone on with my life. It’s an interesting story, but as for making it a case, a legal case, I hate to do that.” Besides, she added, “People said it’s not him, it’s her.”

But then Ms. Baronio made a prediction: “There will be contesting of Leo’s will,” she said.

Me Jane, Him Jerk!

Just after midnight on April 9, Jane magazine editrix Jane Pratt stood in a corner downstairs at Veruka, helping the restaurant celebrate its first anniversary. Blond and angular, Ms. Pratt was sipping champagne and cluster-kvetching with a group that included actress Tristine Skyler and Renee Kaplan, an assistant editor at Gear magazine. Topic A was Bill Maher, host of ABC’s Politically Incorrect .

A short time before, Mr. Maher had also been downstairs. He had sidled up to the bar and bought his entourage a round of drinks (Evian for himself). A partygoer had accidentally bumped into Mr. Maher’s back. Mr. Maher swiveled his blow-dried head, looked the taller man in the eyes and flicked his hands in the air menacingly. “Hey! Hey!” Mr. Maher shouted, jutting his chin out. The man walked away.

Ms. Pratt had her own unrelated beef with Mr. Maher. “He’s an asshole,” she said. Ms. Pratt, who has appeared a handful of times as a panelist on Politically Incorrect , told The Transom that she had once consented to appear as a celebrity guest on a video birthday card that was being shot for Mr. Maher. Later, Ms. Pratt heard from a friend that Mr. Maher had watched the tape and rated all of female cameos according to their sex appeal. Ms. Pratt added that she “almost threw up” earlier in the night when she was dragged into a photo opportunity with Mr. Maher.

A fuming Mr. Maher told The Transom, “There never was any video birthday card! I never saw Jane Pratt in one! It’s completely made up! She was just going off at the mouth.” He said Ms. Pratt must have made the comments “minutes after she was laughing and smiling with me as if we were old friends.”

Ms. Pratt had other grievances on her mind. On April 5, she had attended the launch party at Bowery Bar for Nylon , a new magazine for young women. There, Ms. Pratt had heard Nylon editorial director Mark Blackwell suggest to R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe that he shoot some photos for his magazine. Ms. Pratt saw it as a case of poaching, and was incensed. “I mean, how long have I been friends with Michael?” she huffed. Mr. Stipe has taken a picture of his kitchen for Jane , and Ms. Pratt and Mr. Stipe were romantically linked, somewhat dubiously, by the press in the days before Mr. Stipe started wearing sarongs on a full-time basis. Ms. Pratt added that the Nylon editors were “trying to steal my writers.”

Ms. Pratt said she was especially indignant because last summer she had lunched a few times with Nylon editor in chief Marvin Scott Jarrett and Mr. Blackwell while they were developing their new magazine. Ms. Pratt said that the pair quizzed her about Jane, neglecting to mention that Nylon would target twentysomething women, just like her own Fairchild-owned publication. Reached for comment, Mr. Blackwell said he did not recall having “quizzed” Ms. Pratt about Jane at a lunch with her and Mr. Jarrett. “I’m not challenging her,” said Mr. Blackwell, “but if she is upset or mad, she should have mentioned that to me a long time ago, because we’ve been friends forever.”

As for Mr. Stipe, Ms. Pratt expressed confidence that there wouldn’t be any contest for her famous friend’s work. “If Michael is going to do a shoot, he’s going to do it for me ,” she said, and then drained her flute.

–Andrew Goldman

The Transom Also Hears

… Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y Nursery School has been called the toughest preschool to get into in the city, and Madonna might now agree. In February, the press reported that the pop star and her ex-beau Carlos Leon took their 3-year-old daughter Lourdes for an interview at the Upper East Side institution. And now The Transom hears that Lourdes was not among the chosen few when acceptance letters went out in March. School officials referred us to Gary Lipman, the associate executive director of finance and business affairs, but he did not return phone calls. Madonna’s spokesman Liz Rosenberg told us that she spoke to Madonna’s manager, Caresse Norman, who told her, “She didn’t know anything about it.” Ms. Rosenberg added that Ms. Norman “didn’t even know if Madonna’s daughter was going to go to school in New York. They thought that maybe she was going to go to school in London.”

… Designer Nino Cerruti’s last film role was as himself, in the 1998 stinker Holy Man , starring Eddie Murphy and Jeff Goldblum. But at an April 12 dinner at La Goulue in honor of the opening of Mr. Cerruti’s new Madison Avenue boutique, he admitted that he’s angling for a much darker celluloid persona. Mr. Cerruti told a group of revelers–who included the model-turned-cosmetics-mogul Iman, socialite Samantha Boardman and her beau, leveraged buyout specialist Todd Meister–that he told one film producer that because “in this life I could not kill someone,” he would love to murder somebody on the silver screen. Holding out his well-manicured hands in front of him, the designer said in his Italian-inflected voice: “I would like to strangle .” When The Transom asked him why he is so attracted to this particular form of mayhem, Mr. Cerruti thought for a minute and said, “Because it is so final!” This is what fashion does to people.

… Celebrity hairdresser Kevin Mancuso has his favorites–including Claire Danes, Lena Olin and Annabella Sciorra–but don’t get him started on supermodel Linda Evangelista. “Linda Evangelista, now she’s just not a pleasant experience,” Mr. Mancuso told The Transom on April 7 at a party for his new book, The Mane Thing , at Whiskey Blue on Lexington Avenue between 49th and 50th streets. Asked to elaborate, Mr. Mancuso said: “She’s just condescending. She has her clique of friends, and if you’re not in it, she has no respect for you.” Mr. Mancuso declined to identify the clique’s other members. “But,” he added, “I think maybe she’s eliminated herself from them now as well.”

–Julie Lipper