Ivan Karp, Castelli Director Who Founded Soho’s O. K. Harris Gallery, Dies at 86

Mr. Karp in 2006. (Courtesy Patrick McMullan)

Ivan Karp, who was co-director of the Leo Castelli Gallery during its most storied period in the 1960s, before leaving to start the O. K. Harris gallery in Soho, died today. He was 86. A representative at O. K. Harris confirmed his death this morning. No cause has been released though a spokeswoman at the gallery said he “died peacefully in his sleep.”

Mr. Karp worked at Castelli from 1959 through 1969, during a hugely influential period that saw the gallery launch the career of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselmann and John Chamberlain. Before joining Castelli he had worked for Richard Bellamy’s Hansa Gallery and the Martha Jackson Gallery.

Over its 43 years on West Broadway (first at 383, then 485), O. K. Harris has been known for its staunch support of representational (particularly Photo Realist) painting. It also presented early shows of a wide variety of artists, including Bill Bollinger. One of the largest spaces in Soho, it sometimes hosted up to five one-person shows at a time.

Mr. Karp was born in 1926 and raised in Brooklyn. He served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, spending time in the Pacific. After attending the New School and the New Institute for Film, he became the first art critic for the Village Voice, according to O. K. Harris. The dealer also started the O. K. Harris Cigars next to his gallery, which billed itself as “a smoker’s sanctuary.”

He is survived by his wife Marilynn and three children, Amie, Jesse and Ethan.
O. K. Harris says that a memorial service will take place in the fall.

Ivan Karp, Castelli Director Who Founded Soho’s O. K. Harris Gallery, Dies at 86