In her first present at Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea, the painter Cecily Brown confirmed a big triptych, “A Day! Help! Help! Another Day!” (2016). The 33-foot-wide work, which pulls its title from an Emily Dickinson poem, was an lively area of colourful marks typical of Brown’s expressionistic fashion.
According to her common desire, it was positioned comparatively excessive up on the wall. But the method was redirected by Cooper herself, an artwork world veteran who has had her personal gallery for 53 years.
“Paula walked in and said, ‘No, no, it’s got to go lower. One has to be immersed in the painting,’” Brown recalled. “She was so right. Now I hang them lower, so you can step into them.”
Cooper’s eye — and her capacity to persuade others that she’s proper, firmly herding artists alongside the best way — are among the many causes that Brown, after a stint at Gagosian after which a short interval with no seller, signed as much as work with Cooper, whom she known as a “female legend.”
The legend turned 83 in March, and this month Cooper is saying 4 new companions in her gallery: Steve Henry, its director, tapped as senior accomplice; her son Lucas Cooper, a former document government who will probably be a managing accomplice; and two longtime workers, Alexis Johnson and Anthony Allen.
At the identical time, the gallery intends to show a Palm Beach, Fla., seasonal pop-up right into a year-round department, which might be its first exterior New York at a time when some galleries have many shops. The enlargement exhibits the affect of Henry, who has been spearheading the mission.
Last month, Cooper was relaxed and candid as she talked about these selections in a again room of her non permanent gallery on West 26th Street. She has two everlasting areas on West 21st Street: her flagship, established in 1996, at the moment shuttered for development, and one other that has reopened after a hearth.
“I’m tired, and I’ve never loved the social part,” Cooper stated, whereas emphasizing that she is stepping again however not retiring. “I gradually stopped doing certain things.” She added that the evolution of the partnerships was “organic,” a pure growth from the best way she has been working with these 4 folks for years.
Though she had a light bout of Covid in December, which she stated she largely “slept through,” Cooper added that she’s in good well being now and has acquired a vaccine; so has her husband, the editor and writer Jack Macrae. (The couple opened a bookstore, 192 Books, on 10th Avenue in Chelsea, in 2003.)
Her pursuits are twofold from right here: “Working with artists and installing.” She added, “Installing shows is my great love.” She favors letting the works have some air round them — no crowding on the partitions.
Few sellers have been at it as lengthy. Cooper opened the primary gallery in SoHo in 1968, serving to make it the legendary artwork neighborhood of the 1970s and ’80s; then she did the identical factor to Chelsea within the mid-90s.
Now Cooper has chosen to make a fastidiously thought of handoff as a substitute of simply calling it quits. The route of her gallery, not mega-sized however giant in stature, is a telling information level for the state-of-the-art world, particularly given the latest announcement by Metro Pictures, on West 24th Street, that it would close after more than 40 years.
“I’m very sorry that Metro is closing,” Cooper stated. “They have been such a fine, strong, straight gallery — no fooling around. It’s the end of an era.”
Cooper has a repute of not struggling fools. “I’m so judgmental,” she stated, laughing. Her son Lucas, who joined the gallery in 2013, put it this manner: “I don’t know if she’s tough.” He paused. “But I wouldn’t mess with her.”
The Metro Pictures’ closing raises questions, Cooper stated, about the way forward for “the midsize gallery that has been able to flourish.”
From the start, “I didn’t want to be a big business,” she stated. “The long-term strategy was to remain ‘a gentleman art dealer.’” The mega gallery was by no means her mannequin. “If I wanted to be a mega-something, I would not choose art,” she stated, noting that she toyed with opening a Paris department round 1980, however determined in opposition to it due to the difficult logistics.
Cooper made her identify displaying, and likewise promoting, Minimalist and Conceptual artwork, when these actions have been simply getting going; she was one of many pioneers who taught collectors that the concept for a piece — like a set of Sol LeWitt’s directions for his wall drawings, with the execution carried out by another person — had worth, not simply the bodily object. It revolutionized artwork within the 1960s and ’70s.
Her now extra diverse roster nonetheless has a robust Conceptual pressure. Adam D. Weinberg, the director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, stated that Ms. Cooper’s lineup has a “cerebral cast of mind, but not aridly so.”
It consists of Christian Marclay, famed for his 24-hour-long movie montage “The Clock,” in addition to the sculptor Carl Andre, and the estates of LeWitt and the photographers Hilla and Bernd Becher, recognized for his or her austere water tower photos.
“I think we show tough stuff,” Cooper stated. “That means people have to take time and think about it.” The present opening April 24, “No More Than Three Other Times,” options three generations of conceptual artists: Douglas Huebler, Sherrie Levine and Walid Raad.
Weinberg recalled going to her gallery in SoHo in his 1970s school days. “It was through her that I fell in love with Minimal and Conceptual work,” the director stated. “It was the first time I ever saw Sol LeWitt’s work.”
As Weinberg put it, “She has curated her successors as carefully as she has curated her shows.”
Henry has been a director since 1998, after attending to know Cooper when he labored for the Los Angeles gallerist Margo Leavin, with whom Cooper shared artists. He stated that the truth that he and Johnson, two of the 4 new companions, are Black, was “quite significant,” on condition that “there were, like, five Black people in the art world when I started.”
He added, “I think it’s changed remarkably since then. There’s a much more powerful presence of people of color in the art world now.”
Henry stated he was completely happy Cooper “took a chance on a fresh young Black kid”; they bonded from the beginning over their appreciation of the artists Marclay and Rudolf Stingel. He has put his personal stamp on the gallery by suggesting the addition of the filmmaker Ja’Tovia Gary, amongst others.
“The idea of the radical is in our DNA,” Henry stated.
Cooper, born Paula Johnson and raised in Massachusetts, acquired her first New York gallery job in 1959. In 1964, she opened her personal area briefly, but it surely was short-lived. So, too, was a primary marriage. “My first husband didn’t allow me to work, so I stopped being married,” she informed the Times in 2016. (She married once more, to Neil Cooper, a music producer and document label founder, and so they divorced within the ’80s).
From 1965 to 1967, she had a job that epitomized the unfastened spirit of the period, directing Park Place Gallery, a cooperative. Her bosses have been 10 artists together with the sculptors Robert Grosvenor and Mark di Suvero, each of whom she now exhibits.
“They call it ‘taste,’ di Suvero said. “But it’s responding to work, and Paula has a great capacity for that.”
The hardheaded high quality wanted to achieve enterprise was in proof, too. Di Suvero stated, “She was able to keep this crazy group of artists together, which wasn’t easy.” In explicit, she discovered some monetary backers, which helped, on condition that di Suvero stated there have been “practically no sales.”
Finally in 1968, Cooper opened the gallery that also bears her identify on Prince Street (later it moved to Wooster Street). In that period, a lady seller wasn’t a unicorn — Bertha Schaefer, Martha Jackson, Betty Parsons and Joan Washburn have been energetic — however “people treated you so condescendingly,” she stated. “A woman couldn’t be a major dealer, she was second tier.” The dealer Dick Bellamy, she recalled, “used to pat me on the head.” This, even if she was 30 with two kids when she opened her doorways.
And to these exterior the artwork world, gallerist was a socially acceptable occupation for a lady. “The arts were ‘clean hands,’” she stated. “Ladies could concern themselves with such things.”
Cooper’s political solid of thoughts rapidly put to relaxation the concept she’d present demure artwork. Her preliminary exhibition was explicitly anti-Vietnam.
“I had friends who wouldn’t talk to me, I was so against the war,” she recalled. She additionally didn’t take any of the proceeds for herself, splitting them between the artists and antiwar causes. She has given first or early exhibits to Jennifer Bartlett, Lynda Benglis, Jonathan Borofsky, Elizabeth Murray, Joel Shapiro and Robert Gober. Other sellers have picked off her successes. Cooper misplaced Gober and Tony Smith’s property to Matthew Marks; and she or he misplaced Murray and Donald Judd to Pace (which then subsequently watched them go elsewhere).
“Artists only get stolen when they’re doing well,” she stated.
Cooper’s lack of curiosity in increasing the gallery might have been a consider some departures, although she “never, ever” had regrets about her path.
And the losses harm: Gober’s transfer left “my heart broken,” she stated, noting that she “doesn’t hold it against” the artists or the opposite sellers. “Sometimes, they just want a different experience,” Cooper stated. She added that “sometimes they come back, too.”
Rachel Uffner, a youthful seller who opened her gallery in 2008, stated that she noticed one thing vital in the truth that Cecily Brown and the multimedia maker Tauba Auerbach have joined Paula Cooper prior to now decade.
“These are strong female artists who seem to have sought this relationship as a kind of refuge from the market,” stated Uffner.
Arne Glimcher, Pace’s founder, additionally 83, is probably the one individual with comparable longevity within the artwork enterprise. A well-known 1970 group photograph in Vogue, meant to showcase New York’s up-and-coming sellers, included him and Cooper, the one girl within the bunch. (Other longtime girls gallerists of her technology who opened some years later, like Marian Goodman, Barbara Gladstone and Angela Westwater, are nonetheless dealing.)
Taking the lengthy view, Glimcher praised Cooper’s adaptability, after having made her identify with Minimal and Conceptual works. “She has been much more open to other styles in the later half of her career,” he stated.
Musing on her personal monitor document within the enterprise, Cooper stated, “I can’t think of any artists I’ve stolen.”
But she smiled when she added, “Maybe that will change.”