Distinguished by his acute sensibility for bygone times, charging the day’s flotsam and jetsam with an elevated poignancy, Barry Cohen was an unorthodox master of Assemblage. Combining American Folk Art with utilitarian objects and ephemera, Cohen produced box assemblages that recall a time in the past, when bespoke clothing was common and less than forty stars were shown on the American flag. With a similar methodology to Joseph Cornell, Cohen eschewed his elements of fantasy and decoration for works that wish to engage in a social commentary. Like Rauschenberg and his Combines as well as Pop Art of the 1960s, Cohen utilized household wares - wooden trays or boxes, metal racks, instrument cases, toy soldiers, baking molds, bells, pincushions - as grist for art that relishes in an earlier and more folkloric culture.
Barry Cohen lived and worked in Greenwich Village. He received his BFA from Syracuse University in 1956 and his MFA from Yale University in 1960. He held teaching positions at Yale University from 1958-61; Silvermine College of Fine Arts, New Canaan, Connecticut from 1961 to 1964; and the School of Visual Arts, New York, from 1963 - 1971. Cohen was honored with a placement in the prestigious Yale Norfolk Summer Art School, as well as fellowships at the Pine Brook School of Fine Arts and Colorado Springs Fine Art Center. He also was the recipient of teaching fellowships at the Art Students League and Yale University, and the Augusta Hazard Traveling Fellowship from Syracuse University. Cohen had six solo exhibitions with Allan Stone Gallery, and his work is in numerous prestigious collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the American Folk Art Museum, New York; the New York Public Library; the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut. The artist died in New York in 1990, at the age of 55.