Charles Benenson, Developer and Philanthropist, Dies at 91
||Mr. Benenson was also an active philanthropist and an enthusiastic art collector who had a wing of African Art dedicated to him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
By LANDON THOMAS Jr.
read also the text below the page by Susan Vogel it
focuses more on Charles Benenson African art activities.
Found at: http://www.nytimes.com/
Published: February 24, 2004
Charles B. Benenson, a commercial real estate executive who oversaw the development of some of New York's most prestigious properties, died Sunday, according to his brother Lawrence. He was 91.
Mr. Benenson worked in partnership with some of New York's oldest real estate families, including the
Tisches, the Roses and the Helmsleys. He helped develop a wide range of New York's most prominent commercial buildings, including the Sotheby's building on 72nd street and York Avenue. He was the chairman of the Benenson Capital Company.
While Mr. Benenson bought and sold properties that once belonged to some of Manhattan's wealthiest families, including the Vanderbilts and the
Astors, his roots in real estate development were more pedestrian. His father, Benjamin
Benenson, was a developer who concentrated his activities in the Bronx, building the high-rises of that time: five-story buildings now known as tenements.
In 1937, four years after graduating from Yale, Mr. Benenson joined his father's real estate company, then known as Benenson Properties. By the 1940's and 1950's, Mr. Benenson had branched out from the Bronx, buying a number of high-profile properties in Times Square, the Upper East Side and Midtown.
In 1960 what would become a long association with the Tisch family was formalized when he became a board member of Loews Theaters, which later became the Loews Corporation.
Mr. Benenson was a bridge partner of Laurence A. Tisch, the eventual chairman of Loews. Mr. Benenson developed a number of properties in partnership with the Tisches and stayed on the Loews board for 41 years. With the
Tisches, Mr. Benenson extended his reach, developing an office complex in White Plains.
Mr. Benenson's love of art was known to be impulsive.
One day in the early 1960's, while having lunch at the Four Seasons, Mr. Benenson spotted an 18 1/2-inch bronze cast of Rodin's "Mighty Hand," which was on display there.
One phone call later, the sculpture was his, for $4,500.
"It's a lot of money for just one hand," he said in an article in The New York Times in 1964. "But then, too, it's quite a hand."
Mr. Benenson's philanthropic work was multifaceted.
He was the founder of the I Have a Dream Foundation with Eugene Lang and was a supporter of inner-city schools through charities like the Inner City Scholarship Fund. He was a longtime member of the American Jewish Committee as well as United Cerebral Palsy.
He is survived by his wife, Jane; his sons William, Frederick and Lawrence; and two brothers, Lawrence and Raymond.
Benenson real estates and African Art
Benenson, Charles B. & Jane
Coll. New York City, N.Y. Supporter Museum of African Art in New York.
Started collecting African art in 1971. Objects in cat.: Closeup: The Art of
Seeing African Art. The Center for African Art, New York, 1990. (c) Who's Who in African art
Tue, 24 Feb 2004
From: Susan Vogel
Charles Benenson passed away peacefully at his home February 22, 2004 at the age of 91. He was a prominent figure in many circles, but for the readers of this list, he was significant for his love of African art. He was a founding board member and long time supporter of the Center for African Art (now Museum for African Art); as a generous supporter of African exhibition space at the Metropolitan Museum; and as a donor to the Yale University Art Gallery. But it is certainly as a collector that he made his most personal contribution to the field.
Charles Benenson, with a fearless and often unconventional taste, quietly formed one of the great, distinctive, African art collections of the late twentieth century. Modest and self-deprecating, he guarded the strictest anonymity even when fifty major objects from his collection were published and exhibited.*
As a collector, he broke all the rules. Collectors are supposed to flag after a decade of buying one kind of art, but his love of African art, awakened over thirty years ago, never waned. I would guess he bought at least one sculpture every month from the time I met him sometime in 1971 through the mid 1990's. In the midst of a hectic business life, he could never resist someone who wanted to show him a work of African art - he would look at anything. The most elegant art dealers from Europe and the newly arrived Africans with minimal English - all alike were cordially treated to his quick eye, fierce bargaining, and easy access. He loved to buy - and he loved to have and live with every single individual piece. No one was a more reluctant lender to exhibitions, and no one missed each specific presence in his life as much as he did when they left the house.
The many hundreds of sculptures he has left to the Yale University Art Gallery are evidence of his singular eye. He chose those works one by one with appalling speed; in seconds, literally, he could understand a piece and see its quality. He also chose them with what might have been reckless disregard for what was fashionable or rare, or published and famous, or admired by other people. His only regard was for great sculpture, and that he could spot wherever it lay - in great classical Yoruba altars with their serene wide eyes, in funky recent masks with plastic flowers on them, and above all in the powerful, aggressive, demanding pieces from Nigeria and Cameroon that dominate the collection. This collection is a curator's nightmare and a curator's dream because so many of the works are completely unlike anything in other collections. They can be impossible to classify, impossible to write about - other than that they are breathtakingly wonderful. He didn't care very
much about documentation or where something came from, and never bothered much with the anthropology. For those details and for authenticity he relied on someone else. He had one of the most insignificant shelves of African art books that I have ever seen. Judging from the results, no one ever needed them less.
Susan Vogel, Director
Prince Street Pictures, Inc.
* as "An American Collection" in Closeup: Lessons in Seeing African Art by J. L. Thompson and S. Vogel (1990, the Center for African Art and Prestel
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