Lisa Cooper is relatively new to the art dealing game. However, she’s had great success since opening her New York art gallery www.ElisaContemporaryArt.com even in the midst of the recession. I spoke with her about her life and passion with contemporary art.
MICHAEL: Hi Lisa! I'm trying to recall where we briefly met. I think it was at The Armory Show a few years back. Anyway, I remember that you told me that you started your gallery, Elisa Contemporary Art, in the middle of the recession in 2008-2010. What on earth gave you the BALLS to do that?
LISA: I think we met at Art Hamptons in 2010. I left a career in corporate, at that time at Mercedes-Benz, to start an art dealership in November 2007. I had spent a year researching and developing the concept and then took the plunge. At first, I had thoughts of being a virtual space - online, by appointment at a client’s home or mine, and at art fairs. I participated in my first art fair in March 2008. I opened a gallery space in September 2008. The first day the gallery opened, I sold five small paintings to a Parisian collector who was visiting New York. I felt so passionate when I started and still do today, that art has the power to positively impact our lives. I know how I feel when I walk into my home and see the artwork that my husband and I have bought over the years. They take me to a wonderful place without ever leaving the room. My mission is to share that experience. It has been extremely challenging in this economic environment, but I'm still seeing the business build and grow each year.
MICHAEL: Was it not scary leaving the corporate world for the relatively unknown? Many, if not most people, like security, comfort and routine even if they don't like their profession.
LISA: It was scary and exciting. I had expected myself to have a career in the "corporate world" and not to start of a business on my own. The death of my father and organizational changes at Mercedes-Benz (where I worked at the time) made me reconsider that. Starting my own "art business" has been extremely difficult and challenging, especially because I did not come into it with a client base. However, I have persevered through a very tough economic time - building up my business, roster of artists, relationships with collectors, design professionals and the press, one step at a time. It has definitely not been easy, but I find it extremely rewarding.
MICHAEL: Has being a female entrepreneur in the art world helped do you think? Or does it matter anymore?
LISA: I don't think gender has a big impact in this industry at this time. There are many successful, strong female dealers at this time. Throughout my career, I've been in industries (such as automotive) where you clearly felt in the minority, but that's not the case in the art world. I do have to say however that I think women, especially the young ones, are portrayed in a very superficial and often catty way. That seems to be reflected in the new Bravo TV series (“Gallery Girls”).
MICHAEL: I think when those particular women evolve, women will truly rule the world ... if that's what they want. It seems to me that ruling the world is over-rated. It also seems that art itself is almost always misrepresented by the media in one way or another. Thoughts?
LISA: To me, it's much more important to connect with people than to try to rule them or overpower them or intimidate them. I think for years the art world has built a sense of elitism - a protective wall for those in it and around it. For me however, the true power of art is that it is something we can all connect with and I've enjoyed creating a space where all people are welcomed and acknowledged.
MICHAEL: Do you recall your first meaningful experience with art? What was that like?
LISA: I grew up with a mother who is an artist and jewelry designer, so I spent many days when I was young in museums, galleries and outdoor art shows. But I think one of my most memorable experiences was in 1986 at an Alex Katz exhibit at New York's Whitney Museum of Art. I was there with my dear friend (today an uber-editor with lots of titles on the NYT bestseller lists). We were young, New Yorkers and just starting out in our professional lives. We stood and carefully analyzed one of the first paintings in the show when we overheard "Look, those two girls look like they just walked out of one of his paintings!" We laughed and we loved it! Years later, my friend gave me a wonderful coffee table book about Alex Katz and I bought myself an Alex Katz aquatint as a birthday present. It is numbered and signed (38/75)! I love the fact that whenever I look at my Alex Katz in my home, or see any of his work, I am brought back to that moment. I am forever connected to that moment and to that joyfulness. And we forever will be those girls! To me, that's one of the great powers of art - to bring us to another time and place without ever leaving the room.
MICHAEL: Absolutely. I love Alex Katz's work too. It always makes me smile. It'll always be refreshing and contemporary. Speaking of artists, how do you decide whether or not to represent an artist and/or show them in your gallery?
LISA: I look for artists who have a strong and unique creative vision and interesting use of materials. Most of all however, my criteria is "does it make me feel something when I stand in front of it." That feeling can be happiness, joyfulness or sadness, wonder, amazement, tranquility or anything in between. But there has to be an emotional connection. As I've stated before, I look for work that can take me to another world and let me get lost in it without ever leaving the room.
MICHAEL: Finally Lisa, I don't know about you, but I don't think contemporary art could be any more interesting than it is right now. Despite and maybe because of technology, painting remains strong, photography is basically mainstream and I'm seeing a lot of art that's geared toward events and audience participation. What do you think about what's happening right now and how will it inspire and guide you for the future?
LISA: I continue to be excited by the new visions and innovative uses of materials by today's artists. As I review portfolios, go on studio visits and to gallery and museum shows, ideas for future projects continue to percolate in my mind. Some of these will come to fruition in the near future, but it's too soon to share! Stay tuned.
MICHAEL: Excellent. Thanks Lisa. Rock on.
Check out Lisa Cooper’s website at www.ElisaContemporaryArt.com.