I interviewed Stanley Moss in the fall of 2005 at his sprawling Riverdale mansion for "The Last Bohemians" exhibit that was held at Westbeth. Stanley went from living a fist-to-mouth existence as a poet in the 1940s to being a very wealthy man from his work as a dealer in Old Masters.
At first, Stanley was charming and quite witty with his bawdy stories. Later, he revealed a level of nastiness and rage that was rather appalling. I think his anger may have been related to his failure to achieve renown as a poet.
Stanley Moss was raised in Queens. After he served in the Navy, Moss came back to New York City to become a poet. Moss also developed a very successful career as an Old Masters art dealer, where many of his discoveries wound up in the finest museums in Europe and America. His poetry books include “A History of Color” and “The Wrong Angel.” He is the publisher of Sheep Meadow Press. Moss lives in Riverdale.
I went to Europe. A girlfriend of mine had painted two paintings of me and I sold them, which paid for the trip. I came back, working my way over on a boat. I thought, what job would I like to have most? I thought, I’d like to work at New Directions. New Directions owner James Laughlin gave me a job as an editor and glorified office boy. It was 1949 and I was 24.
I had some money from the Veterans Administration because I’d been hurt during the war. I was living in a converted coal bin with the poet Jean Garrigue. The place cost 44 dollars a month. The Navy gave me 25 dollars a months, so I knew my rent was covered.
The Village was amazing back in the late 40s. Djuna Barnes was walking around, Eleanor Roosevelt was walking around. You’d pass the poet John Ashbery and artist Larry Rivers on the street.
We were all freaks then. To get published put you in the real world. We had essentially different values than the rest of society. When I wore a suit to try to sell a painting, I felt like I was in costume. We’d all been through a world war. We were so glad to be alive.
When I started selling art, I had no money or training. I did it by discovering pictures that were in the public eye, but people did no know the value of. I had some social advantages. People liked my jokes. I had personal skills and insights into people. I see certain things that other people don’t see.
I started selling 25-dollar prints. The first print was by Renoir of two girls playing piano. I took it to a public school to sell it. The principal said, “It has a red shawl on the piano. I don’t like red. Do you have one with a blue shawl?” I said yes. I went home and painted the shawl blue. “25 dollars, please.” I’d love to find that painting. That moron of a principal thought Renoir made paintings with different colored shawls.
I have a gift for finding Old Masters. I have discovered pictures that now hang in the Louvre that I bought for nothing. It takes taste and brains.
How do I balance my careers as a poet and a dealer? I have the advantage of not having to sleep much.