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Art of the Dealer: Paula Cooper Shores Up Her Legacy

  • April 16, 2021

“I’m very sorry that Metro is closing,” Cooper said. “They have been such a fine, strong, straight gallery — no fooling around. It’s the end of an era.”

Cooper has a reputation of not suffering fools. “I’m so judgmental,” she said, laughing. Her son Lucas, who joined the gallery in 2013, put it this way: “I don’t know if she’s tough.” He paused. “But I wouldn’t mess with her.”

The Metro Pictures’ closing raises questions, Cooper said, about the future of “the midsize gallery that has been able to flourish.”

From the beginning, “I didn’t want to be a big business,” she said. “The long-term strategy was to remain ‘a gentleman art dealer.’” The mega gallery was never her model. “If I wanted to be a mega-something, I would not choose art,” she said, noting that she toyed with opening a Paris branch around 1980, but decided against it because of the challenging logistics.

Cooper made her name showing, and also selling, Minimalist and Conceptual art, when those movements were just getting going; she was one of the pioneers who taught collectors that the idea for a work — like a set of Sol LeWitt’s instructions for his wall drawings, with the execution carried out by someone else — had value, not just the physical object. It revolutionized art in the 1960s and ’70s.

Her now more varied roster still has a strong Conceptual strain. Adam D. Weinberg, the director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, said that Ms. Cooper’s lineup has a “cerebral cast of mind, but not aridly so.”

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