Oysters, But No Antiquities: How Gagosian Liaison and Mega-Collector Scion Sophia Cohen Plans to Tackle TEFAF New York

In a new series, “Fair Game,” we ask art experts to lay out their plan of attack for one of the world's top art fairs.

Courtesy of Sophie Cohen.
Courtesy of Sophie Cohen.

It is no exaggeration to say that Sophia Cohen grew up living and breathing art; after all, she is the daughter of the preeminent U.S. collector Steve Cohen. Now a sales and artist liaison at Gagosian in New York, the younger Cohen’s personal collection is decidedly contemporary, including works by Anna Weyant, Jonas Wood, and Anna Park.

Her tastes are eclectic, however; the 28-year-old, who studied archeology at Brown University, loves antiquities and a good jewel. So it’s no surprise that she never misses an opening day at TEFAF New York (May 6–10, 2022), which opens tomorrow at the Park Avenue Armory—the European Fine Art Foundation’s first in-person event in the city since 2019.

What’s more: Cohen, who works at Gagosian’s Madison Avenue flagship, is something of an expert on the area. As we enter the busy art season, she told Artnet News about her approach to collecting while giving us the rundown on all things TEFAF-related, from the fair’s mix of splendors on offer to its famous oysters and champagne—as well as where she goes for froyo on the Upper East Side.

On how to buy art:

“I take the Clement Greenberg approach of just experiencing art for exactly what it is in a moment rather than needing a ton of context to feel something. I buy things that inspire me without the notion of one thing being worth more than another.”

On her TEFAF New York game plan:

“I always come on the opening day for my first walkthrough of the whole fair. First I beeline for Gagosian to see how the booth is looking, and I hang around there a bit. Then I start wandering and try to just go where my eye draws me.

“I love the mix between antiquities, contemporary art, and jewelry. I was an archaeology major at Brown, so I find myself making my way over to those booths to relive the glory days.

“After that, I definitely grab as many oysters as allowed and sneak in a little champagne with a client.”

TEFAF at the Park Avenue Armory.

TEFAF at the Park Avenue Armory.

On keeping an open mind:

“I generally don’t go into fairs with any one artist in mind; Instagram and [my job] allow me to stay in the loop with artists I’m interested in. I try and use fairs to find artists I am not familiar with, or in some cases, work that looked completely different in the jpeg and now interests me in person.”

On the value of a good night’s sleep:

“Although a great way to see and absorb a ton of information, I find art fairs really draining. The first day I am overloaded and excited of course, so what I try to do is see everything, sleep on it, and then come back the next day to relook at the things that are lingering in my mind.”

On what she won’t buy:

“I vowed to my [college] archaeology professor John Cherry that I would refrain from buying antiquities—collecting [them] is complicated, and if you’ve worked in the nonprofit space, [as I have,] it becomes even more complicated, knowing the questions and complexities surrounding the ownership of cultural objects. So far I have stuck to my word—although I have almost cracked: multiple heads and busts, Roman and classical, have caught my eye.”

The interior of Bemelmans Bar. Courtesy of Bemelmans Bar, the Carlyle Hotel.

The interior of Bemelmans Bar. Courtesy of Bemelmans Bar, the Carlyle Hotel.

On eating and drinking on the Upper East Side:

“I head to Kappo Masa for a lunch special at the sushi bar or grab a seat at [Milanese restaurant and coffee bar] Sant Ambroeus—there are usually tables past the 2 p.m. lunch slot. Another [Madison Avenue] coffee spot I love is Ralph’s—they have outdoor seating. And you have to make it to Butterfield Market for frozen yogurt, to enjoy in the park next to the Alice in Wonderland statue or on the pond.

“A great spot for a drink is the bar at the Mark hotel, or Bemelmans with live music.”

Installation view, "Charles Ray: Figure Ground." Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen. © Charles Ray.

Installation view, “Charles Ray: Figure Ground.” Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen. © Charles Ray.

On other shows she’s seeing in New York City:

“The Met has a great Charles Ray show up right now [until June 5, 2022] and Faith Ringgold at the New Museum [through June 5, 2022] can’t be missed. And, of course, the Whitney Biennial [until September 5, 2022].

“In terms of galleries, I’m seeing Hilary Pecis at Rachel Uffner [until May 14, 2022] and Peter Uka at the Flag Art Foundation [until June 4, 2022]. I’m also looking forward to Gagosian’s coming exhibition of Takashi Murakami’s work [May 11–June 25, 2022].”


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