Paula Cooper: In the past two years, the shift is unbelievable.
Steven Henry: Seismic, yes.
Paula Cooper: It’s this huge international money world.
Steven Henry: It is this sort of shutting down of a dialogue that is, to me, the most frightening part of the conversation.
Paula Cooper: The gallery will be forgotten. It’s the artists who survive.
Charlotte Burns: Hello and welcome to In Other Words, where we cover everything you ever wanted to know about the art world but didn’t know who to ask.
I’m your host, Charlotte Burns and today I’m joined by the legendary gallerist Paula Cooper, who has survived and thrived in a mercurial art world for more than five decades. We are also joined by Steve Henry, who has been the director of the gallery for more than two decades; and Allan Schwartzman, the co-founder of Art Agency, Partners and a chairman at Sotheby’s.
Before we begin today’s show, just a reminder to subscribe to our In Other Words newsletter at artagencypartners.com. And now, onto the episode.
Thank you all for being here.
Steven Henry: Thank you.
Paula Cooper: Thank you.
Charlotte Burns: The gallery began in the 1960s with an exhibition benefitting the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, when Lyndon Johnson was president. There have been, to my calculation, nine further presidents since then and the country’s changed immeasurably.
The 50th anniversary of the gallery was similarly dedicated to activism in support of March for Our Lives. Steve, you said in an interview that, “The gallery has continued to advocate for radical, idea-driven work. It’s this notion of the radical that we choose to define and redefine, which unifies the program,” adding that “political engagement in the public sphere is immensely important to the gallery.”
Allan Schwarzman: The scene was artist-centric. Artists drove what was done. Critics were the people in the 1970s who had the greatest influence. The notion of being radical was central to the notion of being new.
My mentor who I trained under, Marcia Tucker, always used the world “radical”. It was central of half the sentences she spoke. It was part of the parlance. The idea of the radical was able to cohabit with a more traditional or conventional. I don’t know that the word “radical” has much of a meaning today, except more in the realm of politics than in art.
Steven Henry: I think when you say radical you’re also talking about the idea of challenging, as you say, challenging conventions. Interestingly, I worked for Marcia Tucker as well, after you.
Paula Cooper: We were the same generation.
Steven Henry: Same generation. And, you know, Ellen Stewart at La MaMa and Alanna Heiss. I mean, really a courageous group of arts advocates, women, who were really pushing and asking all of us to question conventions. What Paula’s got—what I’ve seen as a kind of link among many of the artists—is that they do question, challenge and ask us to redefine how we look at art. Paula’s gallery has championed that position since the beginning and still does, obviously.
Allan Schwarzman: This leads to a question for Paula about how it is that you came to want to open a gallery to begin with, because I suspect that that’s part of the story of the engagement with the new that was more curatorially driven than commercially driven at the time.
Paula Cooper: Still is!
It’s a long story, it goes back to my childhood. Essentially, art—I realized very young that it was the most important thing in my life. When I was a student, I was in Paris for a year and it was a quite lonely year. And I just lived in galleries, I lived in the museums and art became even more important. I decided then and there at the age of 18 that I would work with artists. That’s what I wanted to do.
Charlotte Burns: You made the decision to work with living artists specifically, which is quite interesting. I’m sure that a lot of museums weren’t showing living artists in Paris when you were there.
Paula Cooper: But most of the galleries were. I didn’t dream of working with people older than I was. I mean, a lot older. Everything seemed with me to be very organic. It wasn’t plotted out. I didn’t decide “I’m going to work with radical artists.”
Or this kind of artist, or that kind of artist. It would be people of my generation or maybe a bit older.
Charlotte Burns: So, you were in Paris and you came back to America. Why did you want to open in Soho? When you made the decision to open, you did it with a small budget. You said you didn’t want external investment. You wanted to be where the artists were.
Paula Cooper: I had worked at Park Place, which was an artist-owned gallery, a cooperative gallery. All the artists I knew lived downtown. It was just a natural place to be. It was very inexpensive. I didn’t want to be uptown. I wanted to work with artists.
Steven Henry: Where they lived.
Paula Cooper: Yes.
Charlotte Burns: You also said, Paula, in an interview that we did together a few years ago that you didn’t want to work in a museum because you couldn’t touch the art. You spoke a little bit about the freedom and fun of running a gallery.
Steven Henry: We do have a lot of fun in the gallery.
Paula Cooper: People think we’re just deranged, they hear laughter a lot there.
Steven Henry: We do. We really do enjoy it.
Charlotte Burns: How did you two come to work together?
Paula Cooper: Steve was working with a gallery, Margo Leavin, in LA. We had mutual ventures and we did cooperative shows or—
Steven Henry: We shared a lot of artists at that time.
Paula Cooper: We worked with some of the same artists. My people loved Steve, so that when he decided to leave California and come back to New York, we embraced him.
Charlotte Burns: How has your role changed in that time at the gallery, Steve?
Paula Cooper: He runs everything!
Steven Henry: From the beginning Paula has been, was incredibly supportive. Also, she allowed me to contribute in a fundamental and significant way in terms of ideas and working with artists, and even ideas about bringing artists into the gallery.
Paula encourages us, all the staff, to bring new ideas into the gallery in terms of exhibitions, artists, projects. We are encouraged and nurtured in a way that I don’t know is common.
Allan Schwartzman: Was there a sense early on in the formation of the gallery of establishing a staple of artists or a group of artists? Certainly, the ecosystem of galleries is, especially now, going through pretty dramatic change. Your work was so core to forming the primary market as we know it. So, what was it like early on? Are you thinking about what these pieces are as they add up, or does it just naturally accumulate?
Paula Cooper: It accumulates, really. It’s artist by artist. It’s just like when you make a collection, or you look at someone’s collection. There is an intelligence running through it. It’s the same thing.
Charlotte Burns: I wanted to ask you how you work with artists in the gallery. The last time I asked you this you said you “didn’t believe you should tell artists what to do, though I always let them know what I think through silence more than vocalizing”, which I thought was a really interesting way of articulating that.
Paula Cooper: It’s very subtle and it depends on the artist. Someone like Rudolf Stingel, who we worked with for years and still do. He just knows what I will accept or what I will appreciate; what I will value. And I always think he gives us the best work, because he just knows.
Charlotte Burns: How did it feel when you walked into the gallery and Rudolf Stingel had—
Paula Cooper: Oh, I was mortified.
Charlotte Burns: Because I know that you didn’t know about that, you just knew you needed some white paint from Italy—
Paula Cooper: Well, I did know a little bit but—
Charlotte Burns: And then walked into the gallery into a huge image of yourself!
Paula Cooper: And then people say to you, “Oh, you used to be so beautiful.”
Steven Henry: I think it’s true, though, that artists do get a sense of what Paula likes, responds to and values because I do, also, think that they very often they will generally give her the best shows, the best work. For so many artists one can say that. For instance, Mark di Suvero always says, “I know what a Paula piece is.” It’s true. It’s something that we encounter with artists across the board, actually.
Allan Schwartzman: I see Mark di Suvero’s work—I wouldn’t say differently, but I see it for all of its greatness when I see it at the gallery. And that’s about the precision of what’s shown.
Steven Henry: Yes, it’s true.
Allan Schwartzman: Some of it’s another kind of timing, like the Cecily Brown show. This is a very consistent painter who has made a huge leap in her work over the last few years, and your first show with her was indeed the moment where all of that has coalesced on the grandest scale. You can see everything cooking.
Steven Henry: It was a profound change in the work. She talks about that. Cecily’s talked about that and how the show that she had at the gallery changed her notions of scale, the image-making, the abstraction, the figuration, the boundary there. Again, another situation where an artist rises up and wants to do his or her best.
Charlotte Burns: Is that to do with the trust that the artists have in you?
Steven Henry: Absolutely.
Charlotte Burns: And vice versa? Do you think that they feel that freedom?
Paula Cooper: I must say that Steve is probably one of the kindest, most-liked, genuine people in the art world. The artists love him and trust him, too. You’re kind of the public face now.
Steven Henry: But the ethos is really established from Paula’s character and history. We all rise to the occasion.
Charlotte Burns: How would you define that ethos?
Steven Henry: Well, you know—great integrity, a focus, a clear kind of vision and purposeful dedication to the artist. One of the ways that Paula has been able to differentiate herself is with this clarity. There is a true program. There’s a real sense of an aesthetic and it is idea-based work you know that there’s a serious vision and it’s about the artist.
Allan Schwarzman: If you don’t even know to think about these issues of ethos and identity, there’s a character to how a Paula Cooper show is installed that’s always consistent, that somehow is both flawless and representative of a kind of exquisite clarity of looking, while at the same time it never feels, quote “curated”. It always feels like it is the artist at his or her best in the simplest, most direct way. So, to have that much intentionality and experience without it looking like anything went into it other than respecting the artist to do what they do, I know it’s not as easy as it looks, let’s put it that way.
Charlotte Burns: Are there any tips you could give people for thinking about installation? Ways to look at art when hanging and installing and displaying it? What are the tricks?
Paula Cooper: I think each work needs its own space and it kind of tells you that, you know? “Move me an inch!”
One point I want to make about the gallery is that it is the artists who have made this gallery. We wouldn’t be sitting here if it weren’t for all of the artists who have been shown. So, you can do what you will but if the artists—I guess, in this day of PR and all that, what I’m saying isn’t true.
Charlotte Burns: Talking of PRs, you said in an interview, “I have a PR now!” And a very nice one too. In an interview with Art Basel last year, you were talking about the changes in the art world and said, “There are too many distortions and manipulations at play. The art world is so different, even from ten years ago, that any connection with the past seems dislocated.” You also said, Paula, that your own behavior had changed. You used to think it wasn’t your job to advertise, so you wouldn’t publish books or place ads in a magazine, nor have booths at a fair, saying: “The first time I visited Art Basel was right after documenta in 1972. I was horrified. It was like an automobile show!”
So, let’s talk a little bit about the changes in the art world.
Paula Cooper: Since we spoke or since that was said, in the past two years, the shift is unbelievable.
Allan Schwartzman: Totally. Two years.
Paula Cooper: The shift is unbelievable.
Steven Henry: Seismic, yes.
Paula Cooper: It’s this huge international money world. People are, I don’t know. It’s just like all the rest of the world. It’s a mess.
Charlotte Burns: Let’s go into that a little bit. What do we mean by mess?
Paula Cooper: In my opinion, it’s kind of a mess. But it’s interesting looking at these people. They’re so voracious for, what? Power, money? Some of them have so much money and they’re using that money… for what? What Allan?
Allan Schwartzman: I’ve got two points.
The first is that over the last number of decades, a new collector collected new art. It was kind of natural that you would start with the emerging generation and, as that generation evolved, you would continue with them, and then you’d move on to the next generation and occasionally you’d go back a little bit.
Today’s new collector doesn’t collect in that way. They are not developing relationships with artists, for the most part: they’re buying artworks. That’s a fundamental shift, which on the one hand expresses a higher level of connoisseurship from the beginning. On the other hand, it loses track of where art comes from. And if you lose track of that, then you lose track of where it can go. Things end up getting very narrow and people look for certainty. We just started this conversation talking about art being rooted in the radical and now we’re in a moment where it’s all rooted in certainty and safety. So, that’s huge, dramatic difference.
If I can make my second point, which is one I was emailing you about, Charlotte—and I was hesitant to communicate it. I do think we are on the precipice of the potential collapse of the primary market as we have known it, which has been the driver of the contemporary art world—both the making and the distribution and collecting of it—for the last five or so decades. By that, what I mean is that the secondary market certainly is playing a more and more critical role. By the nature of the behavior of the art market, there are more and more artists who are more oriented toward the deals than the long-term relationship.
Steven Henry: The deals between…?
Allan Schwartzman: There’s a lot of let’s just say, high-scale business that happens through collecting. A younger generation of dealers seems challenged in its ability to evolve, mature and sustain. There’s been a rush of promising and overlooked artists into a very narrow grouping of galleries, whereas in the past it was much more diversified and there was a lot more room for range and personality.
Most importantly, there’s a lot more consciousness—both on the part of a new style collector, some of them, “collector investors” and historical old-style collectors—that the price of art, even emerging art, has gone up substantially. There’s more and more collecting that’s focused on value more than desire. That kind of cautiousness—which I understand comes out of some very rational and appropriate reasons—it can also have a lot of victims.
I do think that the last two years really has begun to define this kind of a shift. If you have a younger gallery that represents a generation of artists, they’re usually depending upon one or two of their artists to carry the cost of the gallery.
Paula Cooper: Galleries have always done that.
Steven Henry: I think that’s—
Paula Cooper: It’s always several who support—
Allan Schwartzman: But now if you have one or both of those artists wooed away by a bigger business with a greater corporate structure to it, then the threat to those galleries and to the rest of the artists who are within those galleries is really great.
Charlotte Burns: What do you think, Paula and Steve?
Paula Cooper: It’s always been that way, where artists who have become successful with smaller galleries leave and they’re taken away. That’s always been.
What about the whole international—you haven’t approached that at all. What about the United States, American artists becoming weaker and weaker and weaker. And artists in Asia becoming stronger and stronger, or a shift?
Or what happens to this hegemony. In that way, it’s totally different though. It’s huge. The largeness of it is a factor.
As far as these two years, is it because of Trump? They’re just behaving exactly as Trump has set an example? I mean, isn’t it strange? Everything’s kind of fallen to pieces in terms of any kind of honor or—
Steven Henry: Integrity?
Paula Cooper: Yes.
Steven Henry: No, not just Trump either.
Allan Schwartzman: I think all of these are symptomatic of something.
Steven Henry: I think there’s something planetary.
Allan Schwartzman: Something shifting.
Steven Henry: Yes, there is.
Charlotte Burns: When you say that there’s less honor and integrity, do you mean the collecting or do you mean the artists, or—
Paula Cooper: Everything. Everybody. I think the artists are really misguided.
Charlotte Burns: When you say, “the American artists are getting weaker and weaker, Asian artists are getting stronger”, do you mean—
Paula Cooper: I didn’t say that. I said that American artists were getting weaker, maybe, and what if?
Charlotte Burns: Right. In what ways do you think American artists are getting weaker in terms of what they’re creating?
Paula Cooper: I think a lot of them aren’t evolving at all. They’re just making a lot of money, they have a name, and I think—
Steven Henry: They become a brand, almost.
Paula Cooper: Yes.
Allan Schwartzman: Their markets evolve.
Paula Cooper: Right.
Steven Henry: Their markets evolve.
Charlotte Burns: Their markets evolve, but their creative progression is stunted, perhaps.
Paula Cooper: Right.
Steven Henry: It’s a chicken and egg thing. Even when I started in the gallery world in the 1990s, you had collectors who would buy an artist out of every exhibition. They would really support that artist’s work and career for years.
Certainly, you do see that with some people, but it feels like the distant past now. It is about this singular artwork that one must have. The galleries do shows because they want people to see the artist’s work in those shows. They want to give the artist an opportunity to grow and evolve and develop through an exhibition. But if that’s not being appreciated, it brings it into question.
Allan Schwartzman: So, to what extent has the actual audience shrunk for gallery shows, or is it as its always been?
Steven Henry: I don’t know if that’s—
Paula Cooper: It’s probably increased.
Allan Schwartzman: It’s increased? That’s interesting.
Steven Henry: Yes, in terms of visitors, people seeing the shows.
Charlotte Burns: Interesting.
Allan Schwartzman: One prominent dealer mentioned to me a while back that they did a calculation, and that 50%—and this is a serious, major gallery—of the art they sold was to people who never came to the gallery to see it.
Paula Cooper: They must have a very good website.
Steven Henry: I was talking to another gallery person just the other day who said that 70% of their sales, and this is a big gallery, came through art fairs and not through gallery shows. We’ve not—I don’t think we’ve ever really done a similar calculation, but—
Paula Cooper: Yes, we don’t. Art fairs are good, they’re fine, but that’s certainly not the basis—
Steven Henry: No, it’s not the majority of our business at all. People really do buy from the gallery. In terms of visitors, yes. We see a lot of visitors. Do we see the collectors in the same way we used to on a Saturday? Maybe not as much.
Paula Cooper: What about institutional collecting, which is of interest to me particularly.
Allan Schwartzman: Well, there are ways in which the market has been functioning in recent years which has made it pretty difficult for museums to collect. Oftentimes, this is done on a case-by-case basis and it’s very few museums that have the privileged breadth of support of let’s say, a Museum of Modern Art, where they have a number of different people they call and say, “We would love this in the collection, would you consider buying this for us?”
So, I think a lot of museums have been sidelined, or at least very highly challenged in terms of their ability to collect. There are more and more private museums being formed. There are new kinds of museums that are just beginning to be formed in new areas of wealth in the world. In that sense, institutional collecting is going through change as well.
On top of that, institutions and museums are becoming much more mindful of the cost of shipping, storing, conserving. And so, their nature of accepting gifts has changed, and certainly the support system for those institutions is being challenged through the great increase in value of a lot of art where all of a sudden, a collection becomes a major part of one’s wealth. That ends up shifting things in terms of estate planning and so on. The good news of this is that there are new kinds of paradigms for how collectors can be engaged with institutions and hopefully institutions become as innovative and resourceful.
Charlotte Burns: One thing you said when you were talking about this idea of people buying from every show. I wanted to ask you how that relates to institutional buying, because we had a podcast recently with Sir Nicholas Serota who was talking about the ways in which the market had hindered museums’ ability to collect, and that you’d like to buy, ideally, from every stage of an artist’s career to support them and show their development. But that increasingly, that was difficult. Or maybe not even an option when work became so expensive that museums just couldn’t get in on that anymore. So, the works weren’t really making it to institutions. Obviously, there’s a different culture of philanthropy and legacy planning in England than there is in America, so that’s a different situation too—
Paula Cooper: But he was very smart to start his friends group here.
Allan Schwartzman: That was a gamechanger.
Paula Cooper: Yes. So, he has a leg up on France or other countries.
Charlotte Burns: Paula, you asked the question about institutional collecting. In what ways do you think that’s changing?
Paula Cooper: It’s a terrible thing. Even some of the collectors will—because they have exposure to works of art—they’ll buy the best ones for themselves and give the lesser to the institution, which is, you know. That’s just one little thing that popped into my mind.
I think it’s very important that institutions have works of art that are the best.
Steven Henry: But they are beholden to the largesse of collectors. They always have, I guess, but even more so now because of the financial—
Paula Cooper: Yes, they’re dependent on people to buy works for them.
Charlotte Burns: Which changes the power balance, of course, too.
Paula Cooper: And poor curators are so busy holding hands that they’re just worn out.
Steven Henry: And raising money.
Paula Cooper: Right. And raising money.
Allan Schwartzman: What a dramatic shift, that curators—who were never put in the position of… they were the idea people. Now have to raise the money for their shows, or they won’t—
Steven Henry: And their acquisitions.
Allan Schwartzman: That’s really shocking. That turns them into kind of “curator-dealers”, in a sense. That’s not what they signed on for, but that’s essential for it. And now, also museum directors. There’s never been a training ground for that and as we’re learning very recently, there’s also many current and potential future museum directors saying it’s not such interesting work for them to get into. So, what will that next generation be?
Charlotte Burns: Yes, a museum director that I bumped into in Hong Kong said nobody wants to be a museum director anymore. It’s too politically intense. It’s too complicated, there’s too much fundraising—
Steven Henry: It’s so much fundraising.
Charlotte Burns: He likened it to politics and said, you know, nobody really smart wants to go into politics anymore, either, for all the same reasons—which means that you have unreasonable people running countries. He was referring to Brexit, particularly, but you could apply that to lots of different countries of course. That’s kind of interesting. If you don’t have ideas people leading at the top, then I guess that changes what we see and what we value.
Paula Cooper: When you mention politics though, that’s another area of huge change.
Charlotte Burns: In what way?
Paula Cooper: Well, look at Dana Schutz.
Allan Schwartzman: I think the question of a voice—who gets or who has the right to speak for whom. This is something that’s changed in a short period of time. I think its directly related to the politics.
Steven Henry: In a really profound way.
Charlotte Burns: Because the thing with the politics is that, actually that the perception of change is more acute than the reality of change when we looked at the figures of the representation of African American artists in US museums and the market, they were much, much smaller than the headlines might lead you to believe.
Steven Henry: Right.
Charlotte Burns: Only 2.3% of all the work acquired had been made by African American artists—
Paula Cooper: Well, how else. I mean, all of a sudden, you’re going to have—
Steven Henry: Right, you can’t rectify that—
Paula Cooper: You can’t rectify that in one year.
Charlotte Burns: We looked at it over ten years. Even over ten years there’d been a big acceleration, but by big acceleration you mean from not much to a little bit more.
Steven Henry: Right, there’s such a catch-up.
Paula Cooper: No, I mean just in the past year, it’s the focus. It is—
Steven Henry: Well, more than last year but even so.
Paula Cooper: Well, last couple of years, but it’s not been ten years, really.
Charlotte Burns: No, but I think the point I’m trying to make is that it’s more the focus, but when you actually isolate the extent to which it is the reality of change, it’s still—
Steven Henry: The numbers are still small.
Charlotte Burns: It’s still small.
Paula Cooper: Oh, tiny.
Charlotte Burns: But that idea of what you can show and who gets to decide that—you mentioned Dana Schutz—that’s really to Allan’s point of who has a voice. Do you grapple with that ever in the shows you put on in the gallery?
Paula Cooper: It was the scaffold, but it included, what, 38 different gallows. One of them happened to be from—
Steven Henry: The Lakota tribe in Minnesota, actually.
Paula Cooper: They demanded that the piece be—
Steven Henry: Removed.
Paula Cooper: They wanted to burn it, but then they thought a little better of that, so they’ve just buried it.
Charlotte Burns: Who’s the other artist?
Paula Cooper: Kelley Walker in St. Louis.
Allan Schwartzman: Here’s what I do understand, is that this imbalance in terms of exhibiting, collecting or acknowledging the significance of the work of African American artists—you go back 40 years, the knowledge base is no different. It’s kind of like with the women’s movement. You think that we’ve really evolved, and then you’ve been hearing about so much sexual abuse in the workplace in the last few years. I think populations get to a point of saying, “We’re not going to take it anymore. This is ridiculous. This really should have changed.” So, I understand the urges behind it. What challenges me is where the right or the comfort to express another viewpoint, or to see it from another perspective is silenced.
Steven Henry: And with Kelley, too. I mean the community, particularly in St. Louis which is one of the most segregated cities in the country. The community of artists of color, the community of black people in St. Louis, I think, were so frustrated, so angry. It had only been two years since Ferguson when Kelly had his show. It became a lightning rod for many other kinds of frustrations. And with Sam, too, I think the Walker had not been very aware or supportive of local artists and particularly Native American artists. I think Sam became a kind of signboard for that.
Paula Cooper: Pawn. He was a pawn.
Steven Henry: Yes. But those frustrations are real, they’re valid. They have to be considered.
Allan Schwartzman: I was saddened that it didn’t seem to be the space in which to look at it from a different viewpoint, which is indeed his perspective as an artist and where he’s coming from in relation to this—
Steven Henry: Because it was reduced to just this one point.
Paula Cooper: I mean, he did a whole huge piece which is in the collection of LACMA and which we showed. Ten years ago, where he transposed monuments in Washington, D.C., with indigenous American monuments. It’s a huge piece. Enormous amount of work.
Steven Henry: Highlighting the discrepancy of how history has framed—
Paula Cooper: Putting Native American monuments right smack in the center of Washington, and displacing those.
Charlotte Burns: Essentially, this comes down to a challenged discourse in which people aren’t willing to communicate in an open way on different sides. Things become more polarized. How do you deal with that as a gallery, supporting your artists? How do you help broker a better dialogue?
Steven Henry: Well, looking at Sam and Kelley, they’re very different kinds of responses. But the first one, of course, is you have to stand behind the artist and their work, and their right to present their work and have a point of view. Because it is this sort of shutting down of a dialogue that is, to me, the most frightening part of a conversation. I think in both cases, it was magnified by the times and the political environment, and there’s not much you can do about that. But being stalwart behind the artist is, of course, essential. We did try and work with both institutions in terms of how they were handling the situations and it was frustrating. In the end, it’s the artist, too. They have to stand up, too.
Paula Cooper: Where are we going from here?
Allan Schwartzman: These are symptoms of much bigger or broader social unrest—
Paula Cooper: Ills.
Allan Schwartzman: The removal of promise or evolution, of change—these are the signs of devolution. These are not good signs.
Charlotte Burns: Or of friction around change.
Steven Henry: Of friction, yes.
Allan Schwartzman: Friction I usually would associate with dialogue, and I think dialogue’s been silenced in this.
Paula Cooper: It just shows you that the art world, too, is really a very important part of this whole dynamic of—
Steven Henry: Of larger discourse.
Paula Cooper: Yes.
Charlotte Burns: Paula, I wanted to ask you how the art world has changed in the way women were treated. You once said famously that your first husband didn’t allow you to work, so you stopped being married. You also refused to learn to type in case it led to the temptation to fall back on a skill and become someone else’s secretary. Do you think the art world is more accommodating of women nowadays, or not?
Paula Cooper: I don’t think they’re more accommodating, I think women are just going to be much stronger and behave differently.
Charlotte Burns: In what ways?
Paula Cooper: Well, they’re going to be more forceful. They’re going to act more, they’re not going to take a lot of the kind of behavior that they accepted before. I think that’s happening across the board, I guess. But I do think that some of the ways that it’s being done, I don’t agree with. But it’s like a time of revolution. And revolutions always have some—
Charlotte Burns: Bayonets.
Paula Cooper: Yes.
Charlotte Burns: Paula Cooper Gallery has always remained Paula Cooper Gallery in the sense that you haven’t tried to expand into an empire.
Paula Cooper: Well, I wouldn’t want to do that unless I wanted to be a big business person. I’m not—
Steven Henry: The scale of the gallery has been successful. We do what we do very well, and I think part of that’s because we have been aware of our capacity and ability to do the job that we do at that particular scale. Does it get more interesting if you have more galleries? I don’t necessarily think so.
Allan Schwartzman: There’s something very liberating about not chasing someone else’s path.
Charlotte Burns: What are the future plans for the gallery? What do you have coming up, where do you see the gallery going and growing?
Steven Henry: Well, we’re certainly always looking and thinking about new projects and working with different artists. You want to keep… you want to be curious, to keep looking. You don’t want to get—not lazy, is the word, but I guess lazy is the word.
Charlotte Burns: Complacent.
Paula Cooper: Tired.
Steven Henry It is one of the great pleasures, what we do
Paula Cooper: And of course, I really have to think about not being here, now at this point. So, when I’m gone it’s up to Steve and my son and Anthony, and whatever they want to do they can do. They can change the name, they can go to Chicago—
They can show whoever they want.
Steven Henry: I don’t think they’ll be any radical change in that way.
Paula Cooper: No Chicago?
Steven Henry: No Chicago.
Charlotte Burns: When you think about the legacy of the gallery the past 50 years, I know that you donated the gallery’s early archives from 1968 to 1973 to the Smithsonian, around a decade ago in 2007. You kept the rest of the archives—
Paula Cooper: I’m going to give them, though, to them.
Charlotte Burns: You are?
Paula Cooper: Yes. I’ve just been hanging on.
But they’ll get them, yes.
Charlotte Burns: How would you want the legacy of the gallery to be considered, in terms of its effect and impact on the art world and artists?
Paula Cooper: Well, I hope that the artists will—their work will be relevant for a very very long time. The gallery will be forgotten. It’s like Leo [Castelli] is forgotten. It’s the artists who survive.
Charlotte Burns: Do you have collections of your own? Have you kept back a lot of work over the years?
Paula Cooper: Not really. I have a lot of works, gifts that people have given me. Some works that I’ve acquired. But used to happen is I would say, oh I’m keeping that Lynda Benglis wax painting, or I’m keeping that [Robert] Gober sink. And someone would come along, a big collector or a museum, and want it and so, of course, it was more important. I don’t have a big collection. I have things that are dear to me, mean something to me. I guess it’s quite a bit.
Steven Henry: It is quite a bit.
Paula Cooper: I mean, it adds up.
Charlotte Burns: It accumulates.
Charlotte Burns: As we round out, I wanted to ask the three of you: from your combined experiences over the years, are there other words of wisdom that you would give either to collectors or artists who are listening to the show?
Paula Cooper: Look. Look more. Just look. And be patient and look.
Steven Henry: Trust your eye and—
Paula Cooper: And relax! Jesus, people get very uptight sometimes and nervous like it’s a test or something.
Charlotte Burns: That’s true.
Paula Cooper: I bumped into a curator yesterday in works on paper and he said, “Years ago, I was looking at a Robert Gober drawing, and I just didn’t get it.” So, I made a copy of it for him and I said, “Take it home, hang it up and keep looking at it.”
And he did.
Charlotte Burns: Well, thank you so much for being our guests, Paula Cooper and Steve Henry. Thank you for taking part in today’s show.