Michael Gabellini Wins P/A; Inside Paula Cooper II

On April 13, Architecture magazine announced the 1999 recipients of the esteemed P/A award, given annually to young or undiscovered American and Canadian architects for design excellence in projects that are in the process of being completed. Michael Gabellini, best known for his interior design of Jil Sander stores and the Grant Selwyn Fine Art and Marion Goodman galleries, both on West 57th Street, was the only New York architect among them.

Mr. Gabellini, 40, was honored for a design that will reintegrate a large piazza located on a landfill in the Adige River in Verona, Italy, into the fabric of the city. Mr. Gabellini persuaded the city to open the river’s floodgates, which were closed in 1881. The water will run through channels along the perimeter walls of a two-level underground parking structure; the channels will be lit from above with natural light through pinhole-size openings. The project, which will be completed in 2001, will hopefully turn the piazza on top of the parking garage into an open marketplace and site for future events relating to the annual Verona Music Festival.

Mr. Gabellini is a 1980 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. Before founding Gabellini Associates in 1991, he worked for Kohn Pederson Fox Associates in New York. For the past two years, he has designed the Hugo Boss Awards exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and several art installations for the Council of Fashion Designers of America. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Nancy Spector, a curator at the Guggenheim. Noted for his use of cool, simple materials and luminous lighting, Gabellini Associates’ first commission was for the Jil Sander flagship store on Avenue Montaigne in Paris. Earlier this year, Mr. Gabellini received an American Institute of Architects award for the design of the Jil Sander showroom in Hamburg and the Ultimo boutique in San Francisco.

“Michael’s strategy is both elegant and beautiful,” said Raul Barreneche, a senior editor at Architecture . “But to make the transition into larger-scale architecture and urban design puts him in another league altogether. I think it is a difficult transition to go from a showroom to an urban plaza.”

The P/A award, originated in 1954 by the now defunct Progressive Architecture magazine, is one of the rites of passages in the making of architectural stars: Philip Johnson, Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Michael Graves, Rem Koolhaas and I.M. Pei have been recipients in the past. This year’s other winner were Office dA of Boston, Wendell Burnette Architects of Phoenix, Vincent James Associates of Minneapolis and Willis, Bricker & Cannady, Architects of Houston.

From his office on lower Broadway, Mr. Gabellini said that he is not going to abandon working on boutiques and galleries now that he has been recognized for a design that is more ambitious.

“We will continue with our retail and gallery work, which we have a history with,” said Mr. Gabellini. “As retail gave us design entree, we hope this will give us entree into architecture and urban design work.”

Cooper’s Second Space

Paula Cooper opened the first art gallery in SoHo in 1968. She left SoHo in 1996 for Chelsea, and hired Richard Gluckman to design a lofty barnlike space at 534 West 21st Street that has become a magnet for scores of other galleries. Although she once represented a number of artists, many of them, like Elizabeth Murray, Donald Judd and Jennifer Bartlett, have gone on to other galleries, while leaving her with 30 years’ worth of art inventory. Now, in a space that used to be just a well-kept secret between her and some of her clients, she has opened a second gallery, across the street at 521 West 21st Street. In four weeks, the second gallery has become a main stop in Chelsea.

Open only on Saturdays, the second Paula Cooper Gallery operates more like a museum. Where the main gallery has rotating exhibitions that change completely every five weeks, the new space will have a permanent exhibition with artworks moved and rotated on a regular basis. “I want to make people slow down and look at things,” said Ms. Cooper, 61, a slow-speaking, measured person herself who likes to stand in front of artworks in silent reverie. “I remember one time I had a group show in the summer. I would occasionally change one piece. There was an artist who came in quite frequently. I moved a Jackie Winsor from one side of the gallery to another part of the gallery and he came back and said, ‘Oh, is that a new piece?’ So even someone who is used to looking and sensitive can miss something. It is very interesting to pay attention to different things. One thing will make you see other things.”

Ms. Cooper told The Observer that she originally rented the second gallery–the former Paolo Baldacci Gallery–as a storage space for her extensive inventory. “Everything looked so beautiful here I just couldn’t bring myself to use it as open storage. We originally envisioned it as a very private space where we could bring collectors. Then word got out and so many people wanted to come that we decided to open it to the public.” Ms. Cooper still stores art at Crozier Fine Arts Storage, right down the street from her galleries.

For the present, Ms. Cooper has taken the main room of the new gallery, which has a pair of vaulted skylights, and installed six pieces by a couple of her favorite artists: a black bronze minimalist wall sculpture by Ellsworth Kelly titled Diagonal Curve XVII , a five-unit untitled stainless steel Donald Judd floor piece, a Carl Andre floor sculpture titled Tin Ribbon , an untitled Donald Judd copper and red Plexiglas wall sculpture, a 1962 Pop Art painting of a smoking cigarette with a Plexiglas box protruding from the front by James Rosenquist called Space That Won’t Fall , and a 1997 untitled Rudolf Stingel painting made out of pink styrofoam. She said that each work represents a distinct artistic philosophy.

“It’s kind of a joke,” she said. “A gallery shouldn’t be a museum, but what I intended to do was install works so you could see them individually and there is a dialogue. So your mind can take on a lot of things.… Rudi [Stingel] using styrofoam, which is such a light material compared to the Judd, Andre and Kelly. It is interesting because it gets you thinking.”

Ms. Cooper does not use wall labels to distinguish between the artworks that are on view, which also includes a room of mixed media works on paper by Yayoi Kusama, a room of recent Sol LeWitt gouaches and a tiny room with a Jackie Winsor wire box sculpture and a wall sculpture. Although there is a checklist, it helps if you have Ms. Cooper as a guide. She said that she finds it “distracting” to have to see labels on the walls next to the art.

What does all this have to do with selling art? “Nothing,” said Ms. Cooper with a laugh. “Once in a while, something happens,” said the dealer who originated the SoHo soft sell, a style involving a large number of silent pauses. “Ninety percent of the people who come in are art lovers, not collectors,” said Ms. Cooper, who is married to Jack Macrae, an editor at Henry Holt & Company and publisher of Duchamp: A Biography , by Calvin Tomkins. Ms. Cooper and Mr. Macrae live in a town house a block away from the gallery.

“It is really a neighborhood here–young people, old people–and it is a very community-minded area. They are really attractive and they get together and have meetings. I mean, SoHo became a middle-class ghetto after a while.”