Interview with Terry Dintenfass
Conducted by Paul Cummings
The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Terry Dintenfass on December 2 & 18, 1974. The interview took place in New York City, and was conducted by Paul Cummings for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The full interview is available on the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, you had most of your artists selected for the gallery in the first few years, hadn’t you?
TERRY DINTENFASS: I came with five.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Yes, but they then brought five more.
TERRY DINTENFASS: Five more, and those five more brought five more. And five more I could kill myself. And then every once in a while, like Hyman Bloom came out of the blue. And, I thought Tovish came because of Katzman which I think he did. Hyman Bloom, I always thought, came because of Tovish, but he told me it wasn’t that at all. It was because of a man named Jerry Rubin who is a big collector in Boston, only bought Boston artists. He came down to look at Tovish’s show, and we went out dancing one night with Captain Bull Moose. Then, he went back to Boston and apparently said to Hyman, “Hyman, if Durlacher is closing, then I want you to go with that lady. She’s funny, and she’ll look after you.” And do you remember Kirk Askew?
PAUL CUMMINGS: Right.
TERRY DINTENFASS: Kirk Askew came to visit me. He was very old. He said to me, “Terry, I don’t know you, but I know that Hyman Bloom is coming to your gallery. And I want you to be very gentle to him.” And that was terrific when I went to interview Hyman. I told you about that?
PAUL CUMMINGS: No.
TERRY DINTENFASS: I didn’t?
PAUL CUMMINGS: No.
TERRY DINTENFASS: It’s one of the most terrific stories. Oh, he’s the most beautiful man I know in the whole world except for Ornette Coleman. He’s a very strange man. Tovish had said to me, “Write him a letter.” So I wrote Hyman a letter and said that if he would see me I’d be happy to come to Boston. I got a little letter back written on a tablet. It said, “I’ll be very happy to see you.” and it gave a phone number. I dialed the number and asked, “When would you like me to come, Mr. Bloom?” He said, “Tomorrow.” I didn’t have any idea of what he was like. Bob had painted this picture of this recluse. He lived in a walk through flat in Brookline. He’s been in the gallery seven years, I think, or six years. I rang the bell. And this little, tiny, young face is looking over the bannister from way up high. I said, “Do you know where Hyman Bloom lives?” He said, “I’m Hyman Bloom.” He’s a very tiny man. He had nothing to sit on. In fact, later he bought two chairs so we could sit and talk. He had like his artist’s painting stool, a camp chair. He had oodles of books. There were no canvases showing; everything was turned toward the wall. I said, “I came to see you about being in my gallery. And I want to explain to you . . . .” And he said, “Oh, I am in your gallery.” That was all there was to it. He said, “That’s good enough.” That’s all there was to it. There wasn’t any discussion of terms. There was nothing; just that “I’m in your gallery, and whatever you decide is fine with me.” But there was one string. I must go every six weeks or so and either have lunch with him or go and have dinner with him and reassure him.
PAUL CUMMINGS: So you’ve seen a lot of him then over the years.
TERRY DINTENFASS: Oh, yes. And he changes my whole life. Every time I go there, I feel, you know, that this is really what life is all about. And he always has Nina with him. Nina is his ex-wife — Nina Bohlen. He was married to Chip Bohlen’s daughter. And they’re very friendly. But the last time when I went, he said he had something to show me. I said, “What?” He said, “Don’ you want to see a sample?” I said, “A sample of what?” He said, “Of my work. You’re going to give me a show in April.” I said, “You must be kidding. I’ve come here for seven years and have never seen anything.” And we support him. I give him X dollars a month. But he manages to average out and over every year almost break even. We never see anything — like he’ll send a big drawing, or send drawings. And even if I ask him for drawings, and he gives them to me, they’re always wrapped. I never see anything — never until this last time. And then there was a terrible — do you remember the fight between Jack . . .
PAUL CUMMINGS: You never see anything in the studio?
TERRY DINTENFASS: Never. Always turned to the wall.
PAUL CUMMINGS: I wonder why? That’s fascinating.
TERRY DINTENFASS: He has his ego. He has a special ego trip. He’s a very, very self-contained man.
PAUL CUMMINGS: But you’ve given him only — what? — one show?
TERRY DINTENFASS: Yes. One drawing show. In April. It will be the first painting show in twenty years. I mean, I don’t know what New York will think of those paintings. They’re extraordinary.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Are they related to the drawings? Or are they different again?
TERRY DINTENFASS: They’re highly colored. Oh!
PAUL CUMMINGS: Really!
TERRY DINTENFASS: Tremendously high in color.
PAUL CUMMINGS: From him!
TERRY DINTENFASS: They are. They are. They’re like jewels.
PAUL CUMMINGS: That’s extraordinary.
TERRY DINTENFASS: And very frightening. They’re not cadavers all of the, but they’re pretty frightening. They’re frightening because the more you look at them, the more you see the soul. He really is a man with a soul. And his paintings are . . . . I don’t know what the critics will think. They don’t relate to . . . . They could be related to Grunewald.
PAUL CUMMINGS: But they’re related to what he’s done all the time.
TERRY DINTENFASS: Yes. He meditates. He went to India this year.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Oh, really?
TERRY DINTENFASS: Oh, another thing. One thing he has done for the last three years is to call me up and ask if he could come here. Now, nobody knows he comes to New York. He comes to New York, and he stays here. He’ll go to the Met, or he’ll go out and hear Greek music. Or he loves Indian music. And he stays maybe two or three days. But he’s never here, sort of. And he keeps me up all night. He likes to talk, and he’s interested in everything. He’s not a recluse at all. He’s so special. I can’t tell you. He’s an extraordinary man. Speaking of Charles, I used to rave and carry on about him. (I shouldn’t do this — poor Charles — he’s down there sorting out which souls he can associate with). But when I used to rave so about Hyman — I’d come back and for two or three days I was — really he does something, he turns me into . . . . So one time, Charles had to go to the William Lane Foundation. I wanted to borrow some Doves. And Charles had never met Hyman, and he said, “I’ll like to meet Hyman.” I said, “I’ll arrange that.” So I said to Hyman, “Charles Alan would like to meet you.” “Oh, sure. We’ll have lunch.” When Charles came back he said, “I don’t think he’s so great.” So I said, “Well, he is.” “He didn’t impress me.” I said, “Well, he’s pretty important as a person.” So the next time I went to Boston with Bob, I said to Hyman, “How did you like Charles?” He said, “Oh, he was all right. He’s sort of a cross between a jellyfish and a Marine.”