Anthony Allen of Paula Cooper Gallery on his initial art world experiences
PAULA COOPER IS A LEGENDARY PIONEER IN THE CONTEMPORARY ART WORLD WHO LAUNCHED THE FIRST GALLERY IN SOHO IN 1968. THE OPENING EXHIBITION WAS A BENEFIT FOR THE STUDENT MOBILIZATION COMMITTEE TO END THE WAR IN VIETNAM. IT INCLUDED WORKS BY CARL ANDRE, DAN FLAVIN, DONALD JUDD, ROBERT RYMAN AND ROBERT MANGOLD—ALL NOW ESTABLISHED AND GREATLY SOUGHT AFTER ARTISTS BUT EXTREMELY CEREBRAL AND INNOVATIVE CHOICES AT THE TIME. THAT WAS JUST THE BEGINNING! THE GALLERY’S DEDICATION TO CONCEPTUAL AND MINIMAL ART AND ITS THOUGHTFUL EXPANSION, OVER FORTY YEARS, TO EXHIBIT AND SUPPORT CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS SUCH AS SOPHIE CALLE AND KELLEY WALKER, DIVERSE IN AESTHETIC AND CHOICE OF MEDIUM, IS GREATLY ADMIRED.
THE HISTORY OF PAULA COOPER GALLERY TRACES THE HISTORY OF THE CONTEMPORARY NEW YORK ART WORLD. AS WELL AS FEATURING SOLO AND GROUP EXHIBITIONS THROUGHOUT THE YEAR, THE GALLERY HOSTS CONCERTS, MUSIC SYMPOSIA, BOOK RECEPTIONS AND, FOR EXAMPLE, STAYED OPEN 24-HOURS A DAY TO SHOW CHRISTIAN MARCLAY’S EXTRAORDINARY FILM, THE CLOCK.
I AM VERY PLEASED TO INTRODUCE ONE OF THE GALLERY’S DIRECTORS, ANTHONY ALLEN, AND APPRECIATE THAT HE HAS TAKEN THE TIME TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE LRFA BLOG.
ANTHONY, WELCOME! PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR OWN PROFESSIONAL HISTORY BEFORE WE EXPLORE THAT OF THE GALLERY’S. WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND IN THE ARTS AND WHAT LED YOU TO JOIN THE ART GALLERY WORLD?
My background is in literature and not in the visual arts. I studied French and English literature in Geneva, where I grew up, continued my studies in Paris, then moved to the US and got a doctorate in French Literature. My specialty was the medieval period. But I was also very interested in contemporary art, so when I started teaching French literature, I also started taking art history classes. One class, in particular, was a kind of epiphany (it was a class on Bataille and the “formless”), and it made me want to switch careers. Eventually I moved to New York and looked for a job in the art world.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST PROFESSIONAL JOB IN THE ART WORLD AND HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE THIS CAREER? WHEN DID YOU JOIN PAULA COOPER GALLERY AND WHAT PROMPTED YOUR DECISION?
I happened to start at Paula Cooper Gallery as a summer intern, while I was still in teaching. It was a great way to learn more about the gallery world. Just as I was finishing my internship, a position at the gallery became available. I left my teaching job and started as a full-time employee in October 2000.
HOW WOULD YOU ADVISE SOMEONE INTERESTED IN THE BUSINESS ASPECT OF ART TO GET A PROFESSIONAL FOOTING IN THE GALLERY WORLD?
I think internships are a great way to start if you can afford an unpaid position for a while. As an intern you interact with the entire staff at the gallery and get a better understanding of everyone’s roles and responsibilities. You meet the artists and have a first-hand experience of their work. You participate in the gallery’s life. You get to learn a lot if you pay attention.
IN THE NEXT LRFA BLOG, WE HAVE THE PLEASURE OF LEARNING ABOUT AN EXTREMELY INNOVATIVE AND TRANSFORMATIVE TIME IN THE WORLD IN GENERAL AND THE ART WORLD IN PARTICULAR. AS ANTHONY SHARES THE HISTORY OF A GALLERY OF GREAT RESPECT AND INTEGRETY, WE TRACE AS WELL THE CLIMATE OF THE TIMES IN WHICH SOHO WAS AN OUTPOST FOR A SMALL, DEDICATED GROUP OF GALLERISTS AND COLLECTORS.
ANTHONY IS A GENEROUS AND KNOWLEDGEABLE EXPERT AND I AM SURE WOULD ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS WITH GREAT THOUGHTFULNESS AND INFORMATION. DO ASK!