Visual Arts
1:49 pm
Fri May 10, 2013

Collector And Gallerist Byron Cohen Dies At 72

Kansas City gallery owner, art consultant and collector Byron C. Cohen died Friday morning. He was 72.

From hobby to family business

Byron Charles Cohen grew up in Kansas City. He graduated from the Pembroke Hill School (known as Pembroke Country Day School) and then Columbia University in New York City in 1963.

It was nearly 20 years ago that Cohen turned what started as a hobby into a business.

After working in real estate development, he retired in the 1980s and soon embarked on a second career: art. Cohen told The Kansas City Star in 2010 that he started collecting art in college, but it was something that ran in his family.

"My mother (Dorothy Cohen) collected Art Institute artists, including Ken Ferguson and other locals. My brother was a major collector. He had a fabulous (Richard) Diebenkorn and a couple of Henry Moores. He also had the best Larry Rivers painting I’ve ever seen," he said.

Cohen credits the late Ted Coe, former Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art director, with teaching Cohen and his wife, Eileen Cohen, the ins and outs of collecting. Over 40 years, the two built a sizable collection of local, national and international artists.

In 1994, Cohen opened a gallery in the fledgling Crossroads Arts District with ceramics dealer Lennie Berkowitz called the Cohen/Berkowitz Gallery. Cohen's first show featured artist Squeak Carnwath; this was the artist's first show in Kansas City.

Berkowitz retired in 1997, but Byron C. Cohen Gallery for Contemporary Art remained a mainstay in the district. Cohen's daughter, Toma Cohen Wolff, came on board as assistant director.

An eye for art

The gallery displayed works by national and internationally known mid-career artists, including Carnwath, Donald Lipski, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Hung Liu, and Petah Coyne, among others. Kansas City artists, such as Peregrine Honig and Barry Anderson, were also represented.

Honig showed with Byron Cohen from 1998 to 2007 and says she was "lucky to share time with him in good health and humor." In an email she wrote: "He gave me my first solo show in Kansas City and this show was reviewed in Art In America. Byron let me curate 'Out of the Nursery' in his gallery and I got to play and think and make choices that helped me become the artist I am today."

In 2004, when the gallery celebrated its 10th anniversary, Cohen's daughter, Toma told The Star, "For us, art is a need, like eating or drinking." Cohen had passed his love of art, and collecting, on to the next generations.

In this 2006 interview with KCUR, Byron Cohen talked about the importance of keeping up with the art market, and having an "eye for art." Recorded by Laura Spencer/KCUR

The Byron C. Cohen Gallery for Contemporary Art closed its location in the Crossroads in late 2010, but continued to host shows online. In November 2010, The Star's Alice Thorson wrote: "Over the last year, Cohen battled some serious medical problems, but he said he is feeling much better now. And with his wife’s fervent blessing, he has no plans to retire."

Byron Cohen is survived by his wife of 45 years, Eileen Cohen; his daughter, Toma Cohen Wolff, son, Mark Cohen, five grandchildren, and extended family members.

Services are scheduled for Monday, May 13, 10:30 am, at the Louis Memorial Chapel, 6830 Troost Ave., Kansas City, Mo. Burial will take place at Mt. Carmel Cemetery, 5529 Ditzler Avenue, Raytown, Mo.