It was with tremendous sadness that I heard this weekend of the passing of a dear friend of mine, dealer and gallerist Bonni Benrubi. The New York art world has lost a passionate voice. Legions of collectors have lost quixotic counsel. Several of us have lost a loyal friend. The void she leaves won’t easily, if ever, be filled.
Bonni’s unapologetic nature was her calling card. She didn’t suffer fools easily. There was no ingratiating charm hurled at some loafer wearing whale at an art fair. Not to say that she didn’t have charm. Quite the opposite. She had it in spades. But when she smiled, she meant it. If she gave you a hug, you knew you earned it.
In the Nineties, I loved going to her space on the upper east side in a brownstone a block or so away from the Whitney Museum. There, I saw excellent shows, was introduced to artists I had never heard of and always had a chance to kibitz either about the art world in general or art in specific. She was always generous with her time, perhaps because she loved the art of the art and not only the art of the deal. I felt the same way. Her manner was honest, funny and forthright. If she didn’t like something, she’d say so but she’d tell you why as well. The back room was always cacophonous. Portfolios staked high. A salon style sampling on the wall. Her environment, like her taste, omnivorous.
My love for photography may have been planted by my parents who in their infinite wisdom or naïveté would gamely hand me their camera to snap a picture or two. My acumen about the history of photography was nurtured at college and later by endless volumes of magazines and books. But my appreciation for curatorial authorship in the professional world of photo galleries I lay at Bonni’s door. For a taste of her curatorial eye one need only Google Image search her name. There, on the first page, you will only find one image of her and the rest are images of the artists and prints that she championed over the years. Matthew Pillsbury, Abe Morrell, and Massimo Vitali are here. Karine Laval, Linda McCartney and Gillian Laub are also here. Diverse to be sure but the red thread seems to be an empathic intelligence, with not a small trace of humor. And there you have it, that was Bonni Benrubi in a nutshell.
Countless denizens of the New York and International art worlds will miss her. My heart goes out to her husband and two kids whom she loved very much and to the artists who were always an extended family as well.
-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, December 3rd, 2012
Here’s a link to a lovely and stiring piece in the NYT Blog
If you have memories of Bonni, I’d love to hear them. Please share them with a comment.