Aby J. Rosen
New York; Southampton, New York
New York real-estate developer Aby J. Rosen has been collecting art since he was 11 years old—when he borrowed $200 from his father to buy a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph from a gallery in his hometown of Frankfurt, Germany. Since then, his collection has grown to include works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Alexander Calder, Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, and Jeff Koons, as well as more than 100 works by Andy Warhol. Two untitled woodcuts by Donald Judd have been known to hang on the wall of his David Mann–designed apartment in Midtown Manhattan.
“I would love to be recognized as a developer who creates spaces that are really geared for an art collector,” Rosen told the New York Times in March 2019. “I’m a big advocate. Art does something to you. It connects you with history. It connects you with the desire for culture.”
His art collecting habits have also been the subject of legal issues. In 2016, the New York attorney general at the time, Eric T. Schneiderman, said his office had reached a settlement with Rosen, to the tune of $7 million, because Rosen had failed to pay taxes on $80 million worth of art that he had acquired since 2002. (The point of contention came from the fact that Rosen said he planned to resell the artwork, like an art dealer would, and therefore shouldn’t have to pay taxes; Schneiderman’s findings disagreed.)
Rosen’s interest in modern art extends to architecture, such that his company RFR Holdings owns two decorated (in terms of adulation more than adornment) icons of modernist design: Philip Johnson’s Seagram Building and Gordon Bunshaft’s Lever House. In 2003, with art dealer Alberto Mugrabi, Rosen founded the Lever House Art Collection, an initiative that invites contemporary artists to design works specifically for the building’s lobby.
In June 2020, despite the ongoing pandemic and that most companies are having staff work remotely, Rosen announced that he would build a 35,000-square-foot enclosed area underneath the Seagram Building’s plaza, called Seagram Playground, as a way to attract companies with younger workers. Among the planned amenities are a climbing wall, basketball courts, yoga and spinning studios, an indoor track, and a boxing ring.
Rosen has been known to snap up other kinds of revered architectural landmarks too, including the iconic Chrysler Building, for $151 million, in March 2019. That’s far less than the reported $800 million the Abu Dhabi Investment Council paid for 90 percent of the building in 2008, but Rosen will face steep rising costs to lease the land on which the building sits, which is owned by the arts and architecture school, the Cooper Union.