A Tribute by Michael and David Diamond

By Sotheby's

G rowing up, we were surrounded by museum quality art in all forms all the time in our home. But the forms never stayed the same. They were always changing. Nothing stagnated. When our parents were active art dealers, everything was for sale. A large, stunning Rothko would appear only to be replaced a week later by a major Barnett Newman and then maybe an Ad Reinhardt. We never knew what chair we would be sitting on. We mean that literally. The temperamental antique dining chairs that our mother loved were beautiful but not quite stable. (We all have had someone in our lives like that.) In our home, everything was loved, but most things wouldn’t stick around for too long.

Our parents firmly believed that you should live with the art you love. Even as toddlers we were allowed to commingle with all of it. No barriers, no stanchions, no separation, period. We were equally integrated into the art community at large and would eat dinner, play with, and talk to visual artists, art historians, strongly opinionated people of all colors and persuasions. One of us might knock over an ornate salt shaker, another might decide to eat a napkin for attention, but it was all cool. In hindsight, we can see that our Upper West Side home was a salon of sorts, but it never felt that formal to us. The paintings on the walls, the sculptures on their pedestals, and all the people who circulated among them—it was all very much alive.

As our father’s success and reach grew, their collection expanded as well. Amazing works by Leger, Miro, Braque, Severini, Kandinsky, Picasso, and, maybe most profoundly, Mondrian and Brancusi were the focus. They loved these particular pieces so passionately that they had a hard time letting them go, but eventually it was time even for this group to move on too.

Many years later, our mom transitioned from contemporary art to old master painting and sculpture, and the furniture in her home did a similar 180: fragile antiques transformed into very bold, very unafraid modern pieces. Now older, we’d ask her about the contemporary art world that she and our dad had immersed themselves in. We wondered how, as young City College graduates who’d grown up in the South Bronx, the children of immigrants, of humble means, they came to rub shoulders with artists and dealers. Our mom laughed and said, “Sweetie, your father and I would go to the Museum of Modern Art. And then we would start getting invited to every opening. There were always the same 35 people at each one, so it was not exactly exclusive.” Now we can see that they became so knowledgeable about contemporary art, antique furniture, old master paintings, sculpture, and gemstones simply by immersing themselves in it completely, wholeheartedly, by seeing all there was to see. There were no boundaries. They did this continuously, with total fearlessness. That same lack of self-consciousness and freedom from intimidation served them well throughout their careers as they collected and traded. They were always searching for something they loved more, were more passionate about. This was a continuous practice, a never-ending quest that went on practically up until our mother’s death. She’d held firm to the belief that one not only had to love what one was collecting, but this passion had to drive the collector to keep refining, changing, curating. And did Mom care what others thought of her sometimes radical changes? We know that she valued discussing her choices with a trusted few. As for the rest, she would just smile and move on, secure in her own convictions.