Printed Editions: Exclusive Interview with Michael Lisi


Michael Lisi specialises in master prints by many of the most recognised modern and contemporary artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. As a private art dealer with more than 30 years of experience working with private art collectors, art dealers and arts institutions around the world, Michael Lisi/Contemporary Art has developed an unusually rich and diverse collection of fine art as well as an impeccable professional reputation.

1. Where are you based and how long has the gallery been dealing in fine prints?

ML: As a private dealer with a gallery in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood, we have the privilege of providing contemporary prints and works on paper to art dealers worldwide as well as to private collectors we are fortunate enough to talk with and assist.

2. How did you start in the art business?

ML: To admit that this is the only business I have ever been in – and I have engaged in the presentation and exhibition of artwork worldwide – and that this is my 33rd year suggests that I am a very old man, but I encourage collectors to visit the gallery to learn that this is only a myth! In truth, I have been doing this a very long time – from representing artists directly, to printing and publishing, to sponsoring art exhibitions internationally, to running a national group of high profile galleries, to private dealing – and as a result, have a tremendous network of trusted dealers and galleries, as well as artists, printers and publishers that I count as friends and very valuable sources of some of the very best Post-War Contemporary prints and works on paper in the world. As a direct answer to this question, I began working in a gallery in New York City during my college days with an effort to learn everything I could about the art world and industry. I then ran several galleries in San Francisco, returned to the east coast to manage 100 gallery personnel in 12 national galleries, then directed one of the most recognized galleries in the world specializing in works by Picasso and eventually, began dealing exclusively in contemporary artwork as a private dealer/gallerist.

3. Which artists / art movements do you specialise in?

ML: While we offer Modern work given my love and knowledge of it, we specialize in highly recognized Post-War European and American Contemporary Prints.

4. What were some of the first prints you bought and sold?

ML: I recall being asked to bid on a Picasso at a Los Angeles auction in 1985 at a time when I was there and having to hand-carry it back with me on the airplane to the New York gallery I represented at the time. The print was from Picasso’s earliest and most highly regarded print portfolio – the Vollard Suite – and every time I come across the print since, I can’t help but recall the fascination, awe and wonder I felt as a young man, not only being charged with bidding and transporting this very special work of art, but in holding a print from 1936 that was once in an atelier being hand-worked by one of art history’s greatest masters.

5. Who is your personal favourite artist and why?

ML: My tastes are eclectic and range from primitive art, primarily African objects which I collect, to a love and appreciation for aberrant work including Outsider Art and the strangest forms of Street Art, to an absolute adoration of contemporary artists who were masters at their craft and expert printmakers.

6. Which artists do you regard as some of the finest printmakers?

ML: The printed works of Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra, Sean Scully and Richard Diebenkorn endlessly fascinate me. I am also deeply drawn to highly graphic work such as that by Alex Katz, Tom Wesselmann, Frank Stella and others.

7. If you could own just one print, which would it be?

ML: I could never narrow the field to one choice. While many artworks stay with me for decades and the thought of them are treasures, I look to remain open minded, always looking and learning, always seeking the very next best work I can learn about and enjoy.

8. Which artists do you have in your personal collection?

ML: Again, I am eclectic in my choices. Having visited Morocco several times, I own and prominently hang a stunning painting by a young Moroccan artist, as well as works by Picasso, Cindy Sherman, Robert Rauschenberg, Rebecca Horn, Shepard Fairey and others.

9. What are some of your latest acquisitions?

ML: At present, we are struggling under the weight of a very active buying season with nearly 100 unannounced artworks to present. These include prints by Rauschenberg, Warhol, Dine, Frankenthaler, Diebenkorn, Longo, Kelly, Francis, Ruscha and many others including photography and sculpture.

10. What advice do you offer collectors when acquiring fine prints?

ML: I often suggest to all I have the pleasure of working with that they always employee the Zen credo – first thought, best thought – which simply means, art is meant to first act on your emotions, not your intellect. Find artwork that truly appeals to you and never allow anyone, regardless of their stature or expertise, talk you out of owning that which you love. And, if after learning more about the art, artist and process, you are even more enamored, you have likely found an artwork you will treasure for life. If so, make every attempt to acquire it. Having it to show, view and share will impact your life in ways you cannot dream of.