Lisa Baker is an art patron in the spirit of Catherine de’ Medici, albeit on a much smaller scale. As the wife of Richard Baker, governor and executive chairman of Hudson’s Bay Co., she throws her considerable influence and resources behind artists she discovers and feels strongly about.
A case in point: Tania Brassesco and Lazlo Passi Norberto, an Italian couple who lived and worked together in Venice, and are now based in New York.
“We were introduced to the Bakers by the director of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice, Philip Rylands,” Brassesco said on Thursday, standing in the middle of the 11th floor of Lord & Taylor’s Fifth Avenue flagship, which was transformed into a gallery for her and Passi Norberto’s new work and was the site of a cocktail reception in their honor.
“They [the Bakers] invited us two years ago to create a new body of work and invited us to stay with them in the U.S.,” Brassesco said.
When Lisa Baker, who is director and chief curator of HBC’s global art collection, met Brassesco and Passi Norberto in Paris, “It was immediate,” she said. “It was love at first sight. I want to mentor and really support them. They have no gallery representation in New York.”
Baker will bring prospective galleries to see the duo’s work by appointment.
“Behind the Visible,” their new series, consists of more than 20 pieces. A selection of eight works were displayed at the retailer’s executive floor.
With a medium that fuses photography, cinema, performance and installation, Brassesco and Passi Norberto start each work with the concept of a story, which they draw. “We stage our work like a movie,” Passi Norberto said. “We work a lot with lighting. We make it a [movie] set.”
Every story has elements of the real, unreal and surreal. “Sometimes dreams and mystery are inside us,” Passi Norberto said. “It’s the subconscious.”
“Call of the Wild” shows a girl standing in front of a large house facing four dogs that are posed like a pack of wolves. “The girl is confronted by the wild part of life,” Passi Norberto said. “We’re really into symbolism.”
In “Endless Void,” a man floating in a vast pool of water carries the burden of his thoughts. “He’s not alone in the sea, but is alone with himself and trying to find himself,” Brassesco said.
Baker, who sits on the photography committee of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the board of directors of the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, cited Alex Prager, a fine art photographer known for her cinematic works, as one of her favorites. “She’s someone who really inspires [Brassesco and Passi Norberto],” she said.
“They’re very meticulous with their work. They make their own costumes and sets,” Baker said, adding that Brassesco looked at thousands of butterflies before choosing the exact ones she wanted for “Wandering Souls,” an image of a woman lying on the forest floor partially covered with butterflies.
Baker enjoyed having Brassesco and Passi Norberto live in her home. “When they were casting, we had all these actresses and models coming through,” she said. “We lived in Greenwich, Conn., for 20 years. Three years ago, we moved to a house around the corner, but we kept the original house for its James Turrell pool. We’re transforming the basement into a gallery.”
Deferring to his wife’s expertise in art, Richard Baker said, “She has an art foundation where she supports and works with artists.” With regard to his area of mastery — retail — Baker explained, “We believe there’s a great collaboration between art and fashion. As department store people we need an appreciation for beauty and art and that’s what fashion is.”