Inside a Brooklyn Apartment Where the Walls Talk

ivy shapiro apartment
Inside Art Adviser Ivy Shapiro's ApartmentFrancesco Lagnese

If Peggy Guggenheim’s motto was “Buy a picture a day,” then Ivy Shapiro’s version might be “A picture for every day.” Her brightly appointed and boisterous home, spread across the fifth floor of a prewar building on one of the leafiest streets in ­Brooklyn Heights, is a picture palace that showcases works by some of the greatest American artists of the 20th century. It’s also an intimate and beautifully haphazard scrapbook of Sha­piro’s singular life.

Rare is the item in her collection that wasn’t made by somebody she knows, and the pieces function as stand-ins for their makers. “Even when I’m alone, these people are keeping me company,” says Shapiro, 52, as she sweeps through the front entryway, looking spritelike in her day dress and Gucci slides. “Everything here has a story. They’re all by friends or family members, so it’s more than beautiful art. It gives texture to my space.”

It’s a texture that’s never stagnant, thanks to Shapiro’s incessant urge to reconsider and rearrange. “It’s like when you’re at a party and people have to circulate or else things start to feel static,” says Shapiro, who returned from the Venice Biennale just last night and seems simultaneously sleepy and keyed up. She pauses in front of a painting on wood by Carroll Dunham. “Isn’t it fun? He didn’t make a lot of them.” She and the artist became friends in the 1990s, when Sha­piro was working as a gallery girl. On the same level hangs a haunting image by the artist Ellen Phelan, who is married to Shapiro’s father. “This is my dad and stepmother fighting,” she says, her tone turning more amused.

ivy shapiro apartment
Many of the pieces in Shapiro’s private collection are by family and friends, including, at left, Untitled (1987-8), by her father, Joel Shapiro, and Ivy (2005-13), by Peter Bradley.Francesco Lagnese

When you’re the only child of Joel Shapiro, the legendary sculptor, and Amy Snider, the late lightning rod of the downtown feminist art scene, it stands to reason that there will be overlaps between your life and art. In Shapiro’s case it’s impossible to discern where one realm ends and the other begins. As long as she can remember, artists were her house­guests (Julian Schnabel) and godparents (Jennifer Bartlett), babysitters (Jessica Craig-Martin) and bar companions (gallerist Paula Cooper).

“When you walk around a gallery with Ivy, you get the feeling you’re with art world royalty, but people aren’t just sucking up to her—there’s a genuine fondness and friendliness,” says Cecily Brown, the British painter who has been Shapiro’s best friend since the late ’90s. “I know it’s hard to imagine, but it wasn’t so long ago that the art world was a real community. She continues that spirit.”

ivy and joel shapiro
Shapiro with her father Joel, in the Adirondacks.Courtesy of Ivy Shapiro

As a child Shapiro ran with a group of art brats who tagged along with their parents at the bar below the Hotel Chelsea (where her father lived for a year) or camped out at one another’s lofts when their parents had international shows to install. “It was fun and nutty and a little scary,” she says. “My father brought me to the Palladium [nightclub] when I was 14. I always felt like he was the cool one between the two of us.”

ivy shapiro apartment
A sculpture, Tethered Underground (2022) by Lilianna Crewdson, on a Martino Gamper table.Francesco Lagnese

By age eight Shapiro was riding the subway solo to Saint Ann’s School, the legendary Brooklyn institution down the block from her current home whose students have included Lena Dunham, Zac Posen, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Her classmate Noah Baumbach would go on to make the 2017 film The Meyerowitz Stories, which features a highly successful artist named L.J. Shapiro and his doting, slightly insecure daughter Loretta. The pair serve as foils to the overlooked artist Harold Meyerowitz and his son Danny. In a scene at a Museum of Modern Art opening for the elder Shapiro’s show, Loretta reminds her fellow art brat, “We were raised like animals.” Before the recently separated Danny can get her phone number, he has to track down his father, who has run away from the party to roam the streets of New York spouting off about the “talented, pretentious enigma,” a long-ago friend who has become his nemesis. “There’s no question that was us,” Shapiro says. “I was always flattered that Rebecca Miller played Loretta.”

joel shapiro sculpture
A sculpture by Joel Shapiro, Untitled (1976-7), is one of many of the artist’s works in his daughter’s apartment. Francesco Lagnese

The real life Loretta found her own footing in the art world, after graduating from NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts with a degree in art history, via an entry level job at the gallery of Barbara Gladstone, an art world eminence who has become something of a mother figure to her. In her late thirties Shapiro worked for Allan Schwartzman, an art adviser whose flexible attitude about her hours and whereabouts jibed with her needs as a single mother of two—Shapiro split from her ex-husband, the photographer Gregory Crewdson, when their youngest, Walker, was two years old. Walker is now in high school, and his 17-year-old sister Lily is applying to colleges. But Shapiro’s gorgeous nest isn’t anywhere near empty; there is constant chaos partly thanks to a recent acquisition: Earl, an energetic puppy the family recently rescued.

ivy shapiro brooklyn apartment
The painting Untitled (2015), by Shapiro’s friend Cecily Brown above the home’s latest addition, Earl.Francesco Lagnese

Another factor behind the energy level is the boutique art advisory that Shapiro recently launched. She runs it out of her home, alongside a small staff that includes Aubrey Saget, a painter whose father was Bob Saget and who used to be Lily and ­Walker’s babysitter. No longer working for a boss, Shapiro is in direct contact with artists and the people who support them.

“There’s a direct intimacy now,” she says of the key relationships in her new venture. “It’s second nature to me, working with the artists and the people who want to invest in and live with their works.”

new york, ny   april 27 cecily brown and ivy shapiro attend bomb magazines 29th anniversary gala and silent auction at the national arts club on april 27, 2010 in new york city photo by patrick mcmullanpatrick mcmullan via getty images
Shapiro with artist and friend Cecily Brown, 2010.Patrick McMullan

Shapiro’s predilection for comfort and discretion guide her working style. She’s less interested in jumping on bubble market bandwagons than in guiding clients toward discoveries—or, more likely, rediscoveries. “I’d rather spend $20,000 than half a million dollars on a work that isn’t a sound investment,” she says. And don’t ask her about NFTs. “I think I’m better at curating collections for a longer term,” she says. For Shapiro art isn’t meant to be scary. It’s part of a bigger picture.

new york, ny   april 30 barbara gladstone, billy sullivan and ivy shapiro attend bombs 37th anniversary gala  art auction at capitale on april 30, 2018 in new york city  photo by patrick mcmullanpatrick mcmullan via getty images
Shapiro (right) with gallerist Barbara Gladstone and artist Billy Sullivan, in 2018.Patrick McMullan
peter bradley
Artist Peter Bradley with Shapiro’s son Walker.Courtesy of Ivy Shapiro

“I love decorating, obviously,” she says, gesturing around her clubhouse, a cacophony of pillows and velvet. “And it’s respectful to the art to consider the context. To some it doesn’t seem serious to say, ‘That painting would look wonderful above your couch,’ but I think the way a home feels is really important.”

Passing a Philip Guston print that sits near a cache of exercise equipment and the dry erase board that is a fixture of all startups, and pointing out a new acquisition (a Dindga McCannon painting whose sides are embellished with shells), she heads into the next room, where her partner Craig Markus is working. The two met on Raya, and Shapiro invited him to come to a dinner she was hosting at home. Markus, who works in advertising, survived the scrutiny of Shapiro’s friends at the party and a subsequent meeting with Gladstone. He moved into the apartment a few months before Shapiro launched her business.

Shapiro continues her circuit through the apartment, accompanied by Earl and the contrail of energy that seems to follow her wherever she goes. She walks by an Ellsworth Kelly, sculptures by her father, and a wedding gift created by John Currin and Rachel Feinstein. The phone in her hand rings nonstop—first it’s the dog people, then the rug people, then Shapiro’s father, who has just tested positive for Covid but isn’t too worried about it.

Shapiro stops in front of a work by Elizabeth Murray, another mother figure, who helped raise her. “She and my mom left their husbands at the same time,” she says. “I would spend two nights at her house, and when she taught at Princeton her son Dakota would spend two nights at my mom’s house.”

ivy shapiro apartment
On the walls of Shapiro’s dining space, from left: Untitled (7/19/84) (1984) by Caroll Dunham and Untitled (2021) by Craig Markus. Francesco Lagnese

More recently Murray’s work appeared in the group show of female artists that Shapiro put together at Karma, the downtown Manhattan gallery run by her neighbor and regular dinner guest Brendan Dugan. Featuring so many old family friends, the exhibition was a way to revisit the past, but it was also a step into the future, as it wasn’t until this year that Shapiro tried her hand at “organizing” a show (her allergy to pretension makes it hard for her to say “curating”). Earlier this summer, she and her friend David Kennedy Cutler put on one of the first solo shows ever of the work of Lois Lane, a painter who was born in 1948 (and babysat Shapiro in 1976).

ivy shapiro apartment
Most of the artworks in Shapiro’s apartment are by friends and family, including these in a powder room: from left, Ocean Surface Woodcut (1992) by Vija Celmins, Untitled (2018) by David Salle, and Ozzy Osbourne Flower Collage (21013) by Jim Lambia. Francesco Lagnese

Shapiro finally settles onto the sage velvet sofa in her den and glances around her kooky patch of Brooklyn. “My childhood was wild and all over the place. I wanted to give my kids the thing I always wanted for myself,” she says. “Home is important to me. And this one feels like a hug.”

Photographs by Francesco Lagnese
Produced by William Li

This story appears in the November 2022 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW

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