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Bonni Benrubi

December 4, 2012
Bonni

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.

Screen shot 2012-12-03 at 6.47.24 PM

Google Image Search for Bonni Benrubi

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.

From → Appreciations

2 Comments
  1. jenni permalink

    Mario…
    this is one of the loveliest, truest tributes I have read yet. In a private message to you, I agreed that she was everything you said she was, and as well, a role model for me. I meant it in the most personal, and even feminist way; she was a successful woman in an industry dominated by men. She is among a handful against whom I measured myself, even as my “apprenticeship” in the field took place under the wings of one of the best photography dealers (IMHO), Edwynn Houk. Benrubi, Saul, Richardson, Borden…tough acts to follow. (Perhaps this explains, in part, why I still haven’t opened my own gallery!) When I left NYC in 2004 to raise my (then) new baby with her father in France, reluctantly leaving behind a job and city I (also) loved, Bonni was among those who assured me that my priorities were not to be questioned. Her commitment to her family was only rivaled by that to her artists. It’s been said before, but never before have I admired so much her ability to balance it all. I am furious at this cancer for taking one of the best – someone who personified the reason why so many of us get into this crazy business at all. Someone who made me think, and see, who helped me collect art, who made me laugh…someone from whom I still had so much to learn. She is gone, but her lessons remain near and dear. I will miss her tremendously, and like you, my heart goes out everyone who will feel her absence even more in the weeks, months, years to come.

    • Holly permalink

      Dear Mario,

      Sorry to hear this sad news and for the loss of your friend. I can’t say I ever had the pleasure of meeting Bonni Benrubi personally, but I do recall getting a glimpse of her one day, over 10 years ago, while I was viewing what if I remember correctly was Paul Fusco’s RFK Funeral Train exhibit at her gallery. I was with a group from N-YHS and recall seeing her surrounded by a stack of books and portfolios. Even at that distance, she made a lasting impression.

      Best Wishes,

      Holly

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