Art World Innovators
If Gertrude Stein were alive today, would she be on reality TV? Serving as an art consultant to celebrities? Opening galleries across Manhattan? Like Gertrude Stein, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn treats art as a participatory experience, best observed and understood through dialogue with a passionate community. From Stein’s famed salon at 27 Rue de Fleurus to Greenberg Rohatyn’s modern-day incarnation at her Salon 94, these brilliant women made their living rooms home to the avant-garde.
What must it have been like, living as an American in Paris in 1903? Moving in circles with young modernist artists and writers, shaking off centuries of European tradition, and bursting forth into the world with Henri Matisse, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway? What could it have felt like to sit before a young Picasso, all nerves and darting eyes, for days on end as he painted your portrait? It can be difficult to remember that Gertrude Stein was a person—not a myth, not the fever dream of an infatuated art historian. She was a Jewish girl from Pennsylvania who went to Paris and changed the world.
Gertrude Stein was an avant-garde writer who likened her work to Cubism. She was also a queer woman, and lived happily for many years with her love Alice B. Toklas, who served as her assistant, champion, and “wife.” But perhaps Stein’s greatest legacy is her salons—the meetings she held in her Paris apartment, which served as a sort of personal museum for decades. Gertrude, along with her brother Leo, had the foresight to buy a collection of paintings by Cézanne, then moved on to works by Renoir, Manet, Gauguin, and Toulouse-Lautrec. Artists, writers, and intellectuals would gather at the Steins’ on Saturday nights, eager to see and discuss these paintings.
Stein possessed a keen, visionary eye and the confidence to believe in her own taste. As a host and conversationalist, she had the kind of personality that drew others into her orbit. During her more than 40 years in France, artists came to Stein’s salons for guidance, patronage, and friendship (Hemingway would ask Stein to be his child’s godmother) but above all they came for the conversation and camaraderie. To sit in an apartment in Paris, debating dazzlingly inventive art with the brightest minds and greatest talents of their generation, guided by the gregarious, sure-sighted Stein . . . a fever dream, indeed.
Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn is an art world superstar: a gallerist, art advisor, independent curator, and collector whose taste influences celebrities including hip-hop mogul Jay-Z and recently retired Yankee Alex Rodriguez. She is known for her talent for discovering young artists and reviving the reputations of mid-career artists. Just as Stein transcended boundaries and brought people from different walks of life together in her salons, Greenberg Rohatyn has also become a successful gallerist by being atypical. Throughout her career, she has placed emphasis on representing women and artists of color, an often glaring absence in New York’s blue chip galleries.
As the daughter of an art dealer and an arts writer, Greenberg Rohatyn grew up in a home full of art—and, crucially, full of artists. She learned to look at and talk about art in a domestic space, a sensibility that has shaped her career. One of her three Manhattan galleries, aptly named Salon 94, is located in her Upper East Side townhouse: the first floor consists of an exhibition space, and the second floor serves as both a gallery and living quarters. Her space is filled with provocative pieces by artists like Rick Owens, Lorna Simpson, and Huma Bhabha. By opening a gallery space in her home, Greenberg Rohatyn created an opportunity for visitors to experience art in a furnished, lived-in space: a modern realization of salons like Stein’s.
Greenberg Rohatyn’s knack for fostering community around contemporary art goes beyond opening her home to clients and spectators. Defying elitist, art-world stereotypes, she appeared as a judge on Bravo’s reality show Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, giving many their first glimpse of the New York gallery scene. Also of note is her active presence on Instagram and the blog maintained by Salon 94. Greenberg Rohatyn encourages discussion among those who may never have otherwise known names like Laurie Simmons and Marilyn Minter, giving the public access to the world of contemporary art and inviting them into the conversation.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Art World Innovators." (Viewed on January 18, 2019) <https://jwa.org/powercouples/stein-greenberg-rohatyn>.