Two art collectors who got noticed

Marriage, they say, is a negotiation, an extended conversation built on trust, shared goals, and endless reserves of tact.

It’s a concept that didn’t escape Yelena Ambartsumian and Miroslav Grajewski, who, long before exchanging vows on Jan. 19 at St. Illuminator’s Armenian Apostolic Cathedral in Manhattan, had already mastered the art of OK.

Two years ago, Ms. Ambartsumian, 30, a partner at law firm Milbank, and Mr. Grajewski, 28, an engineer and executive at Zuvic Carr and Associates, embarked on a romantic relationship sparked by a shared passion for contemporary art. This common appetite led them to invest piece by piece in a common collection.

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

Not at all, Mr. Grajewski said. Yet at Art Basel in Miami, collecting can feel like a competition. “People will greet you with, ‘What did you get?’,” he said, that question followed abruptly by, “‘Oh, here’s what we got in the next few hours. have passed since we last saw you.'”

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

They make their first purchase, a photographic work by Willa Nasatir, after dating for just six months. “Even after such a short time, we were making tougher choices than many married couples,” Ms Ambartsumian said. Their acquisitions were modest at first, becoming more ambitious over time, with some costing tens of thousands or more for a variety of works, including many by European or Near Eastern artists. Women artists represent half of their collection.

For some, such sums may seem staggering. Indeed, Ms. Ambartsumian’s parents — her psychiatrist mother, her electrical engineer father — may have been surprised.

“We are not oligarchs,” Ms. Ambartsumian said. The couple split the cost of each purchase, acquiring works at the rate of about one a month, each a thoughtful decision and valiant leap of faith. “The more we collected,” she said, “the more we trusted each other and the more we fell in love.”

The couple met in 2016 at a reception for junior associates at the Museum of Modern Art. “That night I went out on my own, which was unusual for me as I’m an introvert,” Ms Ambartsumian said. “I thought it was something I really wanted to do. I’m going to make new friends. Still, I didn’t 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 start a conversation that only seemed to deepen as the weeks passed.

“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 alone so many times,” she said. “Visiting something familiar seemed like a safe bet.”

They continued to visit museums and attend events and art fairs for young associates. “At some point we realized that the only way to keep learning was to get more involved in the art world,” Mr. Grajewski said. “We thought the next step was to see what the collection was.”

On their hikes they would compare notes, often amazed to find that on almost every occasion they were drawn to the same pieces, their interests encompassing canvases both abstract and figurative, vividly colored and monochrome, and, in plus, pieces of sculpture. and photography.

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

Once the couple had set their sights on a room, they returned to it many times, at varying times and in changing moods. When they agreed on a purchase, Mr. Grajewski, the more outgoing of the two, would enter into negotiations. The couple, who dipped into their savings, had agreed in advance to share the costs.

“Each of us had a veto,” Mr. Grajewski said. Sometimes their choices were contradictory. “But from the beginning we were against any form of passive aggression,” he said. “That didn’t mean you couldn’t say things tactfully, only that you didn’t build up some resentment.”

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

Some of their plays were housed early on in Mrs. 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 sized. Those that dominate the living room include an oversized canvas by the German Neo-Expressionist Andre Butzera doll-like portrait of a saucer-eyed woman in a scarlet dress.

Another, a geometric abstraction from the Austrian Bernard Buhmanntakes up a large portion of a hallway wall.

Other obviously more provocative pieces include a graphic depiction of bestiality by the Iranian-born Belgian artist Sanam Khatibia fantastic landscape in which a beast and a human female couple.

Before Ms Ambartsumian moved to her new home in Connecticut, her mother, Dr Barbara Sumbatian, visited her. spy painting above the dining table, as the bride remembered, Dr Sumbatian made a single wry 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 nothing to shake his faith in the game. What could go wrong, after all?

“Yelena and Miroslav, they have so much in common,” she said. Her eyes narrowed in amusement, she added, “Oh, and of course 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 deliver at the reception, she said, “In today’s world, an engineer from Connecticut and a corporate lawyer from Manhattan aren’t often in the same room and n don’t usually have much in common. But their fit with each other is surprisingly obvious.

Shortly after, Ms Ambartsumian cringed as she glided down the aisle in an ivory flower-embroidered Elizabeth Fillmore dress, her back dipping to her waist. Its otherwise majestic appearance was enhanced when the celebrant, Reverend Mesrob Lakissian, intoned the familiar Corinthian verses, “Love endures all, hopes for all…”, and placed a crown on her head.

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

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

But on this occasion, it seems, the couple was determinedly looking forward to it. “The collection was part of a journey that Yelena and I embarked on,” Mr. Grajewski said.

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

They plan to continue to enrich the collection with around twenty original works. As the family grows, Mr. Grajewski said, “It will be something that will be ours.

When January 19, 2019

Or Saint Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Cathedral, New York

An iPhone courtship 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. “The whole trip we texted and texted,” she recalled. “I felt like a teenager.”

A style of its own Pushing back against the church’s call for modesty, the bride removed her cape before walking down the aisle, revealing a dress that plunged down the back.

touching moment Abandoning the traditional “Canon in D” wedding march, Solange Merdinian, a mezzo-soprano, brought many guests to tears with a solo rendition 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 enshrining the couple as rulers of their domestic kingdom.

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