Alexis Johnson, Associate Director at Paula Cooper, a moving force in the cutting-edge art world
PAULA COOPER GALLERY, THE FIRST GALLERY TO VENTURE DOWNTOWN, OPENED IN SOHO WITH A 1968 EXHIBITION TO BENEFIT THE STUDENT MOBILIZATION COMMITTEE TO END THE WAR IN VIETNAM. THE SHOW INCLUDED WORKS BY CARL ANDRE, DAN FLAVIN, DONALD JUDD, ROBERT MANGOLD AND ROBERT RYMAN AS WELL AS SOL LEWITT’S VERY FIRST WALL DRAWING. UNKNOWN IN THE ART WORLD AT THE TIME, THESE ARTISTS ARE NOW THE LUMINARIES WHO DEFINE THE MINIMALIST MOVEMENT AND INFLUENCE A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF ARTISTS TODAY.
IN PAULA COOPER’S DIRECTOR ANTHONY ALLEN’S BEAUTIFUL WRITTEN AND RICHLY INFORMATIVE CONTRIBUTION TO THE LRFA BLOG, WE LEARNED OF THE UNIQUE HISTORY OF THE GALLERY; NOT ONLY ITS SUPPORT OF ARTISTS BUT ALSO ITS ONGOING CONTRIBUTION TO THE ART WORLD, THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE AND TO NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS. http://www.paulacoopergallery.com/
PAULA COOPER GALLERY CONTINUES TO MAINTAIN ITS IMPECCABLE STANDARDS OF QUALITY IN ITS JUDICIOUS ADDITIONS OF NEWER CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS TO ITS ROSTER, ARTISTS AS INNOVATIVE AND INFLUENTIAL IN THE CURRENT ART VERNACULAR AS JUDD, LEWITT AND RYMAN WERE TO THE MINIMALIST MOVEMENT.
TODAY, I AM DELIGHTED TO INTRODUCE ALEXIS JOHNSON, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR AT PAULA COOPER GALLERY, WHO WILL SHARE HER KNOWLEDGE AND ENTHUSIASM FOR THE YOUNGER CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS AND PROJECTS THE GALLERY SUPPORTS.
ALEXIS, SO MANY THANKS FOR TAKING THE TIME TO PARTICIPATE IN THE LRFA BLOG. I KNOW HOW MUCH YOU TRAVEL AND JUGGLE A VERY FULL SCHEDULE!
TO BEGIN, PLEASE TELL US HOW YOU BECAME INTERESTED IN ART? WAS THIS AN AREA OF FOCUS FOR YOUR FAMILY?
My mother instilled in me at an early age an appreciation for the arts. I was an only child, i.e. portable, so she took me everywhere. We went to gallery openings, museum exhibitions and dance performances. I definitely grumbled from time to time about being dragged to all of these places. Of course, now I realize how important that level of exposure was in framing my life experience. I am deeply appreciative that my mother took the time to encourage this in me.
WHAT IS YOUR EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND AND WHAT LED YOU INTO THE BUSINESS SIDE OF THE ART WORLD?
I graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Sociology. I do not have a formal education in art. I often say, “I tripped, landed and fell into the art world.” After graduating college I pursued a career in acting. In 1998, I was waiting tables at a restaurant in Los Angeles called Lucques. The chef-owner of the restaurant would occasionally have her boyfriend at the time, Brian Butler, help out in the kitchen. Brian had recently opened 1301PE gallery on Wilshire. Brian asked if I knew anyone who would want to work part-time in the gallery and I said, “me!” Although I knew very little about contemporary art, Brian was very generous in sharing his knowledge with me. I relished the experience of being introduced to the work of artists such as Martin Kippenberger, Diana Thater, Pae White and Jack Goldstein. I used to say to friends, “I am getting paid to learn.” I continue to learn on the job.
WHEN DID YOU JOIN PAULA COOPER AND WHAT WERE YOUR INITIAL RESPONSIBILITIES?
I worked at 1301PE for two years. In 2000, I decided I wanted to do more theater so I moved to New York. When I arrived in New York, Brian suggested I contact Rirkrit Tiravanija, one of the artists he represents, because Rirkrit needed an assistant. I worked with Rirkrit for about two years. Yet again, I found myself in an extraordinary situation working with an incredibly smart and generous person. My experience with Rirkrit helped to expand my vision of what art can be.
I returned to Los Angeles in 2003 for what I thought would be an extended summer vacation. While there, Brian asked if I could help out in the gallery for a couple of weeks while he was giving a public talk in New Zealand. Two weeks turned into five years and during that time I was promoted to gallery director.
I joined the staff at Paula Cooper Gallery in 2010. My initial responsibility was to oversee the space at 465 W. 23rd Street. Paula encouraged me to propose exhibitions and I organically began working with artists.
IN OUR NEXT POST, ALEXIS WILL SPEAK ABOUT CURRENT ACTIVITIES AT THE GALLERY WITHIN THE MORE CONTEMPORARY SECTOR.
PLEASE DO COMMENT AND POSE ANY QUESTIONS TO THIS EXPERT IN THE CUTTING-EDGE SIDE OF THE CONTEMPORARY ART WORLD.