Two art collectors who crossed paths

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Marriage, they say, is negotiation, a prolonged conversation based on trust, shared goals, and endless reserves of tact.

It’s a concept that has not escaped the notice of Yelena Ambartsumian and Miroslav Grajewski, who, long before exchanging their vows on January 19 at the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of St. Illuminator in Manhattan, already mastered the art of tuning. .

Two years ago, Ms Ambartsumian, 30, a lawyer with the law firm Milbank, and Mr Grajewski, 28, an engineer and executive at Zuvic Carr and Associates, embarked on a court event sparked by a mutual passion for the ‘contemporary art. This common appetite led them to invest piece by piece in a common collection.

Their path in the art world first stopped. “We definitely had a good number of times we thought we were crazy,” Grajewski said days before the wedding, describing a romance fueled by strong curiosity and the desire to build a legacy. Were they pushed to compete with other young, perhaps more seasoned trophy hunters?

Not at all, said Grajewski. Yet at Art Basel in Miami, collecting can be like a contest. “” People will greet you with, ‘What have you got? “He said, that question abruptly followed by,” ‘Oh, here’s what we’ve gotten in the few hours since we last saw you. “

On the other hand, he added emphatically: “We made sure to buy a part because we I liked it and not for some other reason.

They made their first purchase, a photographic work of Willa Nasatir, after dating for only six months. “Even after such a short time, we were making more difficult choices than a lot of married couples,” Ms. Ambartsumian said. Their acquisitions were modest at first, growing larger and larger over time, some numbering in the tens of thousands or more for a variety of works, including many from European or Near Eastern artists. Women artists represent half of their collection.

To some, such sums may seem mind-boggling. Indeed, Ms Ambartsumian’s parents – her psychiatrist mother, her father an electrical engineer – may have been taken aback.

“We are not oligarchs,” Ms. Ambartsumian said. The couple shared the cost of each purchase, acquiring about one artwork per month, each a thoughtful decision and a courageous leap of faith. “The more we got together,” she said, “the more we trusted each other and the more we fell in love. “

The couple met in 2016 at a reception for the junior associates of the Museum of Modern Art. “That night I went out on my own, which was unusual for me because I’m introverted,” Ms. Ambartsumian said. “I thought it was something I really wanted to do. I’m gonna go make some new friends. However, I did not expect to meet my husband there.

She was heading for the exit when Mr. Grajewski rushed to introduce himself. They walked to a balcony overlooking the MoMA Sculpture Garden to strike up a conversation that seemed to deepen over the weeks.

“We couldn’t stop talking,” Ms. Ambartsumian said.

Their first official date was a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “We wanted to go together to a place we had been so often alone,” she said. “Visiting something familiar seemed like a safe choice. “

They continued to frequent museums and attend junior associate events and art fairs. “At one point, we realized that the only way to keep learning was to get more involved in the art world,” Grajewski said. “We thought the next step was to see what the collection was all about. “

During their treks they compared notes, often amazed to find that on almost every occasion they were drawn to the same multiple pieces, their interests encompassing canvases that were both abstract and figurative, vividly colored and monochrome, and , in addition, pieces of sculpture and photography.

This shared affinity may well have been cultivated in bone. Growing up, they regularly accompanied their parents – his Chilean and Polish parents, his Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan – on visits to museums and galleries here and abroad. As children, Ms Ambartsumian said, “We have each seen a lot of the same works of art.”

Once the couple had set their sights on a room, they would return to it several times, at different times and in changing moods. When they had agreed on a purchase, Mr. Grajewski, the more outgoing of the couple, began negotiations. The couple, who drew on their savings, had pledged in advance to share the costs.

“Each of us had a veto,” Grajewski said. Sometimes their choices were contradictory. “But from the start, we opposed any form of passive aggression,” he said. “It didn’t mean you couldn’t say things tactfully, just that you didn’t build some resentment. “

The determining factor was, he said, “that we decide together what we want to wake up and see each day”.

Some of their rooms were initially housed in Ms Ambartsumian’s former apartment near Wall Street. They would later find their way to Milford, Connecticut, where the couple now reside.

The works are mostly vivid and generously scaled. Those dominating the living room include an oversized canvas of the German Neo-Expressionist Andre Butzer, a doll-shaped portrait of a saucer-eyed woman in a scarlet dress.

Another, a geometric abstraction of the Austrian Bernhard Buhmann, occupies a large part of a corridor wall.

Other more obviously provocative pieces include a graphic representation of bestiality by the Belgian artist of Iranian descent. Sanam Khatibi, a fantastic landscape in which a beast and a human come together.

Before Ms. Ambartsumian moved to her new home in Connecticut, her mother, Dr. Barbara Sumbatian, visited her. Spy on painting above the dining table, as the bride recalled, Dr Sumbatian made a single ironic comment, asking, “How are you going to explain this to your children?” “

The groom’s mother, Marici Zuvic Grajewski, also raised an eyebrow. But his unorthodox artistic choice did not shake his faith in the game in any way. What could possibly go wrong, after all?

“Yelena and Miroslav, they have so much in common,” she said. Her eyes narrowed in amusement, she added, “Oh, and sure enough, they love each other.”

As guests began to enter the church, Hanna Matevosyan, Ms Ambartsumian’s bridesmaid, picked up the thread. Pinching part of the speech she would give at the reception, she said, “In today’s world, an engineer from Connecticut and a corporate lawyer in Manhattan are not often in the same room and are no longer in the same room. usually don’t have much in common. But their adequacy is surprisingly obvious.

Shortly after, Ms Ambartsumian craned her neck as she slid toward the altar in an Elizabeth Fillmore gown embroidered with ivory flowers, her back sloping down to her waist. Its otherwise majestic appearance was enhanced when the officiant, Reverend Mesrob Lakissian, intoned the familiar verses of the Corinthians, “Love endures all, hopes for all…”, and placed a crown on his head.

At the reception that followed at Eleven Madison Park, Ms Ambartsumian donned the matching cape, a token of modesty that she chose to throw away just before the ceremony but intended to wear it throughout. along the reception and dinner. Why the reversal? Vaguely and a little mischievously, she said, “I just wanted a change.”

His gesture was in accordance with the conventional spirit of the couple. “These are two people who are ahead of their time, behind and in the moment all at the same time,” Ms. Matevosyan told guests at the reception.

But on this occasion, it seemed, the couple were decidedly impatient. “Collecting was part of a journey that Yelena and I took,” said Grajewski.

“Our goal,” added Ms. Ambartsumian, “is to give our children an investment of their parents’ time, learning and exposure to different people, places, thoughts and experiences.”

They plan to continue expanding the collection of around two dozen original works. As the family grows, Mr. Grajewski said, “It will be something that belongs to us.


When January 19, 2019

Or St. Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Cathedral, New York

Courtship for iPhone A few days after meeting her future husband, Mrs. Ambartsumian left with her parents for Spain. But Mr. Grajewski was never far from his mind. “Throughout the trip, we were texting and texting,” she recalls. “I felt like a teenager.

A style all her own Pushing aside the church’s appeal for modesty, the bride removed her cape before navigating down the aisle, revealing a dress that plunged down her back.

Moving moment Abandoning the traditional “Canon in D” wedding march, Solange Merdinian, a mezzo-soprano, made many guests cry with a solo interpretation of “Ave Maria”.

Crowned heads Towards the end of the ceremony, Reverend Mesrob Lakissian placed golden crowns on the heads of the bride and groom, an Armenian tradition anointing the couple as the rulers of their domestic kingdom.

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