Collector Lisa Fayne Cohen on Acquiring Her Cecily Brown and the Joan Mitchell That Got Away

She began her collection with a Fernand Léger in 2009 and hasn't looked back since.

Collector Lisa Fayne Cohen with Cecily Brown's Fond Phantom (2014).

Lisa Fayne Cohen began her adventures in collecting with the purchase of a Fernand Léger in 2009 and took to her new passion with zeal. Along with her husband James Cohen, Chairman of Hudson Capital, she bought a corner pied-à-terre in the Park Plaza, both for its views of Central Park and her nascent art collection. (The couple also maintains homes in East Hampton, Palm Beach, and New Jersey.)

Since then she’s incorporated additional blue-chip works by the likes of Willem de Kooning, Roy Liechtenstein, Jean Dubuffet, Hans Hofmann, and Joan Mitchell into the fold. And she’s taken a contemporary turn, scooping up pieces by Cecily Brown, George Condo, Mark Grotjahn, Jennifer Bartlett, Rob Wynne, and Keith Haring.

That auspicious Léger purchase also set Cohen on a path around the world to learn the ways of collecting. She began regularly attending Art Basel, Frieze London, FIAC in Paris, and the Armory Show in New York. Zona Maco in Mexico City is the most recent addition to her globetrotting; Christie’s and Sotheby’s, too, have become favorite haunts. Cohen also launched Galerie magazine, assuming the role of editorial director and heading up special events like the fifth annual Creative Minds Awards taking place May 17.

We spoke with Fayne Cohen about her penchant for collecting.

Fernand Léger, <em>La-Danseuse</em> (1931). Courtesy of Lisa Fayne Cohen.

Fernand Léger, La Danseuse (1931). Courtesy of Lisa Fayne Cohen.

What was your first purchase?

One of the first pieces I bought was a beautiful drawing by Fernand Léger called La Danseuse, from 1931. I have always been attracted to the modern period, and it’s what I fell in love with first before I began to also collect contemporary art. I love how Léger depicted the woman, capturing her form with such mastery of line.

What was a recent purchase?

A major work by George Condo, which really kicked off my shift towards contemporary. I came across the piece at Frieze in London, and it was an immediate feeling. The colors are extraordinary. I am drawn to his so-called ‘psychological cubism,’ and I like how he is inspired by elements of modern art. It is displayed in the entryway to my pied-à-terre at the Plaza Residences in New York. You need to look closely to see the body parts, and there’s a discovery every time you see it. A mashup of yellows and pinks, I love looking at it.

The George Condo (center) in the entrance of the Plaza Hotel pied-à-terre. Courtesy of Lisa Fayne Cohen.

George Condo, Transparent Forms (center) in the entryway of the collector’s Plaza Hotel pied-à-terre. Courtesy of Lisa Fayne Cohen.

Tell us about a favorite work in your collection.

I’m feeling a lot of love at the moment for a striking Cecily Brown painting called Fond Phantom I acquired in 2014. I had followed her work for some years before I bought this, and it always stopped me in my tracks. Her paintings intrigue me. I love how you see something else within the depths of the whirling colors and lines, like a woman with long legs sticking out, and there is always that feeling of the soul. It’s so wonderful to see her important exhibition at the Met right now.

Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?

My wish list includes a work by Mary Weatherford and a sculpture by Jaume Plensa. Some artists also on my radar currently are Julia Jo, Claire Tabouret, Jadé Fadojutimi, Amoako Boafo, Doron Langberg, Clotilde Jiménez, Nicole Wittenberg, and Petra Cortright. Since its inception in 2016, my mission at Galerie has been to shine a light on some of the most promising emerging artists today. I’m drawn to boundary-pushing talents from around the world who can be commended for their fresh takes. I gravitate towards painting, but I always look at artists who are experimenting with different mediums in clever new ways. 

Mark Grotjahn, <em>Untitled (Full Color Butterfly)</em> (2006). Colored pencil on paper. Courtesy of Lisa Fayne Cohen.

Mark Grotjahn, Untitled (Full Color Butterfly) (2006). Colored pencil on paper. Courtesy of Lisa Fayne Cohen.

What is the most valuable work of art that you own?

I can’t put a price on it, because the joy and happiness that art brings me is infinite. The value is so much more than I paid. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to know that the value of quite a few have appreciated many times over!

Where do you buy art most frequently?

I buy a lot from auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, because the provenance and high standard of vetting is important to me. Of course, it all depends on the day and if you get lucky with your bid, and that’s part of the thrill. I really enjoy working with the specialists there, but I also have an external appraiser help with valuations, too. One of my favorite ways to find new talent is art fairs, and I travel the globe in search of the next best thing. From the major fairs like Frieze and Art Basel to smaller, boutique editions, I find art fairs are one of the best ways to find new talent.

Is there a work you regret purchasing?

I am pleased to say that I do not regret anything that I have bought. I am guided by my intuition, and the work must speak loudly to me before acquiring it. I believe that artists leave a bit of their soul inside the work, and it feels like you have a soul or a presence with you. If the works weren’t there one day, I would feel quite empty, like something was missing. They become part of your narrative and the story of your life. They become part of your world, and I couldn’t part with any of them.

What work do you have hanging above your sofa?

At my home in Palm Beach, I have the Cecily Brown painting Fond Phantom, which hangs in the living room. I have a keen sense of spatial awareness, so when I see a work at a fair or in a gallery, I can picture how it’s going to look in a space. Once I bought the Cecily Brown painting and took it home, it was just perfect, and seemed as though it always belonged there. It also somehow reminds me of the work of Willem de Kooning, which I also collect. I love how the works in my collection have links between them, even though they were created in different time periods.

A Willem de Kooning painting in the living room. Courtesy of Lisa Fayne Cohen.

Willem de Kooning, Woman in Landscape V, hangs above an Aldo Tura bar cabinet. Courtesy of Lisa Fayne Cohen.

What about in your bathroom?

In the powder room of my East Hampton home, I have a vibrant work by Roy Lichtenstein titled Sunrise, which incorporates bold lines and passages of color together with his signature dots to capture the essence of the warm sun rising.

What is the most impractical work of art you own?

Over a decade ago, I bought a monumental painting by Sam Francis titled Japan Line, from the artist’s famous “Japan” series. It measures over 14 feet, and I knew that I just didn’t have the wall space for it. I had to have it, so I ended up having a special new wall built in my East Hampton home to display it. It covers almost every square inch of the wall, but in a way, it’s become part of the very architecture and the character of the house. It’s an incredible piece.  

What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?

Some years ago, I came across a Joan Mitchell painting that I fell in love with, but I passed on it. It was filled with deep blues and magentas, and I can picture it so clearly. I still think about it all the time.

If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?

A Monet water lily painting of Giverny!

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