The Matchmaker

Dana Lixenberg

Can art and commerce coexist peacefully? Can they even thrive together? Yes and yes, argues Cary Leitzes, whose company, Leitzes & Co., helps connect the two worlds. Over dinner at her house, she spoke with her friend Dennis Freedman, her old boss at W magazine and the current creative director at Barneys New York.

You were the photo director at Harper’s Bazaar, and you left without a safety net. How did you make that decision?
There were great benefits about Bazaar. But after seven years, I wanted to go back to something that was closer to my training with you [at W] and working with different types of creatives. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I became fascinated with the crossover between different disciplines—particularly the collaborations Marc Jacobs did with Haruki Murakami and Kanye West [for Louis Vuitton]. So then it became about working together with creatives and brands.

How, for example, did you convince Cindy Sherman to take on a project for MAC cosmetics?
Ultimately, she used Mac makeup in her work. She was genuinely a believer in the brand and loved their product, and her work is about transformation, and their work is about transformation. It’s that simple.

How can artists work commercially and maintain their integrity?
I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. Part of our job is putting the needs, the objectives, the passion points from each side into a language that the other side understands. Sometimes somebody might call an artist and say, “We have this opportunity; do you want to do a shoe campaign for it?” And they just hear “Oh it’s this brand,” and they just take the negative connotations. We can give them a more nuanced conception of what the opportunity is. From the artist’s side, [such collaborations allow them to] experiment in a different way, with different tools. For example, artist Rob Pruitt is able to make a pair of shoes—and spray-painted J. Brand jeans [sold at Barneys]—and learn from the experts in those fields.

There is a generation now of younger artists who grew up in a world whose boundaries are blurring. They are very interested in consumer culture and are not afraid of these kinds of collaborations.
[It reminds me of] the Ballet Russe—Diaghilev, Léger—all these people working in different mediums and cross-inspiring one another. We’re living in a time that’s very similar to that example, where this millennial and younger generation is artistically boundaryless, and—with the Internet—geographically boundaryless. And they’re not afraid of working collaboratively. It’s not, like, one person who’s working alone in his room.

There are those artists who never will, never should work commercially. Bruce Nauman, for example, is never going to collaborate with a brand.
But that’s the point: We would never ask him to. The collaboration has to have a reason for being.