SculptureCenter Honors Paula Cooper, Will Expand in 2014

Cooper with Marclay. (Courtesy Patrick McMullan)

SculptureCenter in Long Island City has started a $5 million campaign toward a major building expansion. The news comes from Mary Ceruti, SculptureCenter’s executive director, who made the announcement at the organization’s benefit gala last night at the Edison Ballroom. The center plans to break ground next year on a one-story addition in the front of the building’s courtyard that will serve as a new lobby entrance and provide additional exhibition space. The renovations will tentatively be complete in 2014, and SculptureCenter will, for the most part, remain open during construction.

Last night’s benefit honored dealer Paula Cooper, a pioneer in the contemporary art world, who essentially turned Soho into an art district by opening a gallery there before anyone else, then, when Soho got boring, moved to an old taxi garage in Chelsea. To start things off, Sascha Bauer, the chair of SculptureCenter’s board of trustees, told a story about when he first began collecting.

“It was kind of like that scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts comes in with a wad of cash and all the salespeople say, ‘We don’t have any clothes that fit you,’” he said. “Everyone at the other galleries, including some 20-year-old interns, were treating me like shit. And here was Paula Cooper, the only gallerist other than Castelli that I had even heard of before I started collecting. It’s the only person I would have understood, and maybe even been honored, to be treated like shit by. That wasn’t Paula at all. She’s genuinely interested in people who love and care about art, and when she’s talking to you, she’s talking to you.”

He introduced the artist John Baldessari, who always seems much taller in person than you’d expect. He hunched over a podium in front of the audience and said he divides the art world into two time zones: before money and after money.

“I knew Paula before money,” he said. “I think I have four people in the art world who are my role models, and she’s certainly one of them. I must say, even when I couldn’t reach her on the phone, I’d think, ‘Well, what would Paula do?’”

When Ms. Cooper got up to speak, she covered her eyes with her hands to obscure the spotlight that was on her.

“As you can see, I’ve been in this world for a very long time,” she said. “And I mean the art world, too. And it has changed enormously. But ultimately, it’s always the art. No matter what changes. I have been very fortunate to do what I do. I love what I do. I still love what I do. It excites me and keeps me alive.”

Later, the artist Christian Marclay, who currently shows with Ms. Cooper, stood on a stage behind two turn tables and a mixing board. He was playing records that were chosen by Mr. Baldessari and remixing them live, something he used to do in performances at the gallery when it was still in Soho, all those years back.

SculptureCenter Honors Paula Cooper, Will Expand in 2014