Paula Cooper Gallery, a pioneer in contemporary art, first SoHo, now Chelsea

by leslierankowfinearts

Carte Blanche to Paula Cooper Gallery Exhibition view, Patrick Seguin, Paris 2012

Carte Blanche to Paula Cooper Gallery
Exhibition view, Patrick Seguin, Paris 2012

PAULA COOPER IS AN EXTRAORDINARILY INNOVATIVE FORCE IN THE GALLERY WORLD, FIRST OPENING IN SOHO IN 1968 AND THEN, IN 1996, COMMISSIONING ART WORLD ARCHITECT RICHARD GLUCKMAN, A LEADING EXPERT IN ART GALLERY DESIGN,  TO CREATE AN ELEGANT EXHIBITION SPACE ON WEST 21st, THE CURRENT PRIMARY LOCATION OF PAULA COOPER GALLERY. http://www.paulacoopergallery.com/

WHEN THE GALLERY FIRST OPENED, SOHO WAS A HAVEN FOR ARTISTS’ LIVING LOFTS AND STUDIOS. ALMOST ALL OF SOHO  (SOuth of HOuston) WAS DESIGNATED AS A LANDMARK DISTRICT BY NEW YORK CITY’S LANDMARKS PRESERVATION COMMISSION IN 1973, AND IS AN ARCHETYPAL EXAMPLE OF NEW YORK CITY’S REGENERATION AND GENTRIFICATION. NOW A HAVEN FOR COMMERCE, DESIGNER BOUTIQUES AND RESTAURANTS,  IN THE SIXTIES, THE LARGE CAST IRON WAREHOUSE SCALED BUILDINGS, ORIGINALLY USED FOR MANUFACTURING, WERE IDEAL FOR ACCOMMODATING THE LARGE-SCALED PAINTINGS, SCULPTURE AND INSTALLATION WHICH ENERGIZED POST-WORLD WAR II AMERICAN ART.

IN TODAY’S BLOG, ANTHONY ALLEN, A DEDICATED DIRECTOR AT THE GALLERY,  WILL PROVIDE AN OVERVIEW OF THE GALLERY’S ILLUSTRIOUS HISTORY AND UNIQUECONTRIBUTIONS TO CONTEMPORARY ART.

ANTHONY, THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOUR CONTRIBUTION.

WHAT PROMPTED PAULA TO OPEN THE FIRST GALLERY IN SOHO? I IMAGINE THAT MOST GALLERIES WERE IN MORE CONVENTIONAL “UPTOWN” SPACES WITH VERY FEW, IF ANY, SUPPORTING CONCEPTUAL AND MINIMAL ART.

Many artists lived in Soho at the time.  I wish I had been there to experience it firsthand. I love talking to people who did –  there was such an exciting atmosphere of experimentation, a tighter community of artists, group allegiances and independent spirits, all participating in connected conversations about art – and all of this was taking place in a heightened political and social climate.  Paula had always been close to the artists she worked with, she had been the director of Park Place (an artist collective that included Mark di Suvero, Bob Grosvenor, Forrest Myers and others).  So I think it was both a natural decision and a very gutsy one at the same time.  The gallery quickly became a kind of cultural hub.

WHAT WERE THE FIRST EXHIBITIONS AT THE GALLERY AND HOW RESPONSIVE WERE COLLECTORS AND MUSEUMS TO CONCEPTUAL AND MINIMAL ART? AT THIS POINT, THESE ARE SUCH HIGHLY REGARDED AND REVERED ART FORMS WITH ENORMOUS SECONDARY MARKET VALUE, BUT AT ITS INCEPTION, I AM CERTAIN THERE WAS RESISTANCE AND LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF THESE MORE CEREBRAL EXPRESSIONS.

As you mentioned earlier, the first exhibition was a benefit for the student mobilization committee against the war in Vietnam. It has become one of these legendary, ground-breaking shows.  There were many significant shows over the years, including Jennifer Bartlett’s Rhapsody, now in MoMA’s collection (it was recently installed in the museum’s atrium), Gober’s exhibitions on gender and sexuality in the 1990s.  A couple of years ago we were invited by the Parisian gallery Patrick Seguin to present works by our artists in Paris during the FIAC art fair. It gave us an occasion to revisit the gallery’s history. We presented a “Monument to Tatlin” by Flavin, a beautiful LeWitt wall drawing, a monumental Carl Andre, early works by Jennifer Bartlett, Hans Haacke, Walter de Maria, Joel Shapiro, Jackie Winsor, and more – all from the 1960s and 1970s. At the same time, with a 1976 film by Bruce Conner titled CROSSROADS, we were able to extend and modulate this historical overview with the work of an artist we’ve started working with recently.

 

Mark di Suvero,  Little Dancer Exhibition view "Mark di Suvero", 2013

Mark di Suvero,
Little Dancer
Exhibition view “Mark di Suvero”, 2013

IN 1996, THE GALLERY MOVED TO CHELSEA TO A LANDMARK 20th CENTURY BUILDING REDESIGNED BY ARCHITECT RICHARD GLUCKMAN.  WHAT PROMPTED THE MOVE AND WHAT WERE SOME OF THE REQUISITES OF THE NEW, AND BEAUTIFULLY DESIGNED CURRENT SPACE?

By the mid-1990s, Soho was well on its way to becoming what it is now, with its throngs of shoppers and tourists.  Chelsea, on the other hand, had a plethora of large industrial spaces.  Our space had been a warehouse and a taxi repair shop, among other things.  It is almost perfectly square in shape, roughly 48 x 48 feet, a soaring space with beautiful wooden rafters.  It is obviously very well suited to large sculpture, but also very adaptable.  And artists have contended with the space in very interesting ways.  Mark di Suvero’s work always looks amazing.  I can also think of several groundbreaking Rudolf Stingel exhibitions, one in particular, in 2009, consisting of 16 x 13” photorealistic portraits of medieval saints, a single one on each wall, each commanding the space as if challenging it, in a really powerful way.

 

Rudolf Stingel Exhibition view, 2009 Paula Cooper Gallery

Rudolf Stingel
Exhibition view, 2009
Paula Cooper Gallery

IN OUR NEXT POST, ANTHONY ALLEN WILL SHARE HIS EXPERTISE AND INSIGHT ON THE ECONOMIC AND AESTHETIC WAYS IN WHICH THE GALLERY HAS RESPONDED TO THE ART WORLD’S CHANGING CLIMATE. BY TRACKING THE HISTORY OF THIS PIONEER GALLERY AND ITS THOUGHTFUL AND METICULOUS EVOLUTION, WE CAN TRACE THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CONTEMPORARY ART WORLD FROM ITS NASCENT STAGES TO ITS CURRENTLY COMPLEX AND INTERNATIONAL  PRESENCE.

I WELCOME ALL COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS AND APPRECIATE YOUR CONTINUED READERSHIP AND SUPPORT.