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Art and Soul in Arizona: Gallery Owner Lisa Sette's Life Mission

Gallery owner Lisa Sette makes showcasing meaningful art her life’s mission.

From a young age, Lisa Sette felt a connection to art in her bones—though that didn’t necessarily mean she would spend hours dabbing at an easel or muddying her hands throwing on a potter’s wheel.

Rather, her passion is to shepherd others’ work. So instead of creating her own mediocre art, more than 30 years ago she blazed a trail by establishing Lisa Sette Gallery. The gallery showcases pioneering contemporary art.

“I’ve been lucky. I’m an intuitive person and doors would open where they were meant to open,” she said. “So, you keep moving forward toward the things that open up for you. And if you hit any roadblocks, you heed those too, and you go in a different direction.”

Lisa Sette Gallery
The minimalist interior of the gallery provides a perfect backdrop for the artwork. (©Isaac Aronjilla)

Sette’s clientele is exclusive and international. She provides contemporary artwork to museums, private collectors ranging from millennials to octogenarians, and art curators for corporate collections. 

She has a unique eye for art, and her selection depends on how she reacts to a particular piece. 

“It has to have a certain elegance to it, a certain craftsmanship … it’s so beautifully done that you almost don’t notice it,” she explains.

Of course, the underlying draw is the concept behind the work. 

“I like messages that show us something about the world now and make you feel something—an empathy or an excitement. There’s a lot of tough stuff going [on] right now and artists are always at the forefront of those feelings. So, they are there to teach us to be empathetic if we’re not naturally,” she said.

Lisa Sette Gallery
“Cannibull’s Condensed Soup” by Enrique Chagoya. (©Isaac Aronjilla)

Over the years Sette has highlighted diverse artists who are working on the leading edge of aesthetic, social and conceptual investigation. Among them are Cuban artist Reynier Leyva Novo, whose work reflects the futility of heroism and the loss of meaning in any country in which people are manipulated by patriotic catchphrases that are a substitute for an evolving truth, and Indian artist Siri Devi Khandavilli, whose bronze deity-like figures explore political ideas and her personal reaction to recent religious violence. 

Sette typically holds six to eight shows each year, sometimes simultaneously exhibiting the work of two artists during the same show. 

But her biggest showpiece just may be the distinctive building that houses her gallery. After 28 years of renting a suite in the heart of Scottsdale’s gallery row, she purchased a building on East Catalina Drive, under the shadow of high-rises in midtown Phoenix.

There is not another art gallery in sight there. Yet, the structure of the building itself commands attention with its low-slung, box-like shape and part subterranean placement.  Another building, its mirror image, sits on the other end of the parking lot; it’s occupied by Sette’s husband, who operates his graphic design and advertising firm from within. Modernist architect Al Beadle’s “Beadle Boxes” glow and assume an ethereal look, thanks to a thoughtful renovation by local architectural company StarkJames.

“Al Beadle was ahead of his time because he understood the climate we live in,” Sette said. “We sort of built upon that idea.”

Architect West James added a protective fabric scrim around the building, as well as trees and vegetation such as palo brea, with its green trunk, and agave, with its distinctive long leaves.

“First we have trees, then we have a fabric scrim, and then we have a building that’s partially underground,” Sette said, explaining that all of those factors combine to mellow the harsh environment. 

The eco-conscious design enables the space to function without guzzling energy, and the sparse internal rearrangement forms the ideal backdrop for the artwork.

Lisa Sette Gallery
“Antidote,” 2015, oil on panel by Rachel Bess. (©Isaac Aronjilla)

This year Sette plans to showcase the work of artists such as Xawery Wolski and Maximo Gonzalez, both of whom live and practice their craft in the vibrant aesthetic community of Mexico City, in addition to young American artists Rachel Bess and Charlotte Potter, who provide social commentary on the communication methods of the new generation.

“A lot of Gonzalez’s work is made out of circulation currency, so he’s talking about the ebb and flow of money and how it’s moved a society both for the good and bad,” Sette noted.

Art is ever-relevant, and even though trends may come and go, Sette doesn’t veer.

“I just try to stay on my path,” she said. “It’s just easier on your soul.”