Articles

Articles

A SELECTION OF ARTICLES BY CHRISTOPHER MASON in the NEW YORK TIMES, NEW YORK MAGAZINE, ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST, DEPARTURES, and TOWN & COUNTRY

Toddler Proof and Party-Perfect

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 The home of Dominique Lévy and Dorothy Berwin. Photo: John Lei for the New York Times

The home of Dominique Lévy and Dorothy Berwin. Photo: John Lei for the New York Times

 

By CHRISTOPHER MASON

LAST Saturday the TriBeCa loft of Dominique Lévy and Dorothy Berwin was the scene of a rollicking dinner party capping off a week of art shows in New York. The guests -- artists, visiting Europeans and collectors-- caroused late into the night amid artworks by Cindy Sherman, Tom Sachs, and Tim Noble and Sue Webster, whose wall-mounted light sculpture in the front hall flashed the word "Forever" all night. Cheers erupted when the artist Lisa Yuskavage demonstrated her skill at fireman's lifts by hoisting Ms. Berwin over her shoulder not once but twice.

The following morning Ms. Lévy, an art consultant who is the former international director of private sales of 20th-century and contemporary art at Christie's, was nursing a hangover and wearing dark glasses as she greeted guests at a brunch for the opening of a show of Polaroids by Andy Warhol, the first exhibition at her sleek new gallery, Dominique Lévy Fine Art, on East 74th Street.

"It's been a long week," Ms. Lévy said wearily. Ms. Berwin kept everyone amused by recalling the exploits of an artist who had sat on the lap of a married financier the night before, asking him if he was rich enough to buy her paintings.

 Dominique Lévy and Dorothy Berwin at home. Photo: John Lei for the New York Times

Dominique Lévy and Dorothy Berwin at home. Photo: John Lei for the New York Times

Ms. Berwin is an independent producer whose latest film, "On a Clear Day," was selected for opening night at Sundance in January. As significant players in the overlapping worlds of contemporary art and film, Ms. Lévy and Ms. Berwin have emerged as one of Downtown's new power couples.

They entertain frequently in their 6,300-square-foot apartment, which is filled with contemporary art and designer furniture and suggests a stage set for heroines in an updated Noel Coward comedy of manners. Gertrude Lawrence would feel right at home.

The women met in 1998 at the London premiere of a film co-produced by Ms. Berwin. Ms. Lévy had recently moved from London to New York, and they began a transatlantic courtship by e-mail. When they started living together in 2001, they found that they shared remarkably similar tastes in furniture, art and even flowers. Both were already passionate collectors of furniture by Modern and contemporary designers.

 Photo: John Lei for the New York Times

Photo: John Lei for the New York Times

"Looking around, you couldn't say which was hers or mine before," Ms. Lévy said. "And we both only like white flowers," she added, gesturing to a lavish arrangement of parrot tulips and lilies in their favorite noncolor.

Ms. Lévy and Ms. Berwin are known for their high style and strong character. As daughters of powerful European businessmen -- a Swiss financier and a British lawyer, respectively -- both have inherited the acumen and steely resolve of their fathers. And both are highly gregarious. "I was so intimidated by Dominique's high profile at Christie's," said Yvonne Force, an art consultant. "Then I realized that these two black-haired power ladies are girls who want to have fun."

They are also doting parents. Ms. Berman, who was divorced a few years before she met Ms. Lévy, brought her son, Caleb, now 10, to New York. Ms. Lévy gave birth to a son, Samuel, two years ago.

"Life is very full," Ms. Berwin said.

 Photo: John Lei for the New York Times

Photo: John Lei for the New York Times

Ms. Lévy found the apartment in 2000, a year after Fran-->ois Pinault, the French billionaire who owns Christie's, invited her to move to New York to run the private sales division, which generated more than $100 million a year on her watch.

The apartment was a warren of small office cubicles. "No one wanted this space," she said. "But I loved the high ceilings and huge windows, and I decided to go for it."

In 2003, when Ms. Lévy was pregnant with Sam, Ms. Berwin bought the apartment next door, which gave the couple a nursery wing and substantial office space. That year Ms. Lévy decided to leave Christie's and go out on her own. "I wanted my business to be more haute couture, so I can work with artists I'm passionate about," she said.

 Photo: John Lei for the New York Times

Photo: John Lei for the New York Times

The conjoined apartments are bridged by a futuristic-looking egg-shaped screening room with curved banquettes and walls upholstered in dark purple soundproofing material, which contribute to a sense of being inside a plush cocoon. The room also serves a symbolic nexus between the domestic and professional zones of the expanded apartment. By day it functions as a screening room for InFilm Productions, Ms. Berwin's boutique movie company; by night it serves as the family's media room.

Much of the furniture in the apartment comes from Galerie Kreo, Ms. Lévy's favorite design store in Paris (www.galeriekreo.com), including a powder-blue chaise by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, an oak desk from the 1950's by Jean Prouv, and a contoured aluminum commode by Marc Newson.

The chandelier over the dining table, composed of trumpetlike tubes of blown glass, was commissioned from Jeff Zimmerman, a glass artist, through the R 20th Century gallery on Franklin Street (www.r20thcentury.com).

 Photo: John Lei for the New York Times

Photo: John Lei for the New York Times

The couple decorated the mauve and yellow kitchen with a fairy-light train strung between two columns. "Everyone has been asking the name of the artist," Ms. Lévy said. "They think it's a piece by Tim and Sue," she added, referring to Mr. Noble and Ms. Webster, London artists whose work has fetched $300,000 at auction. Actually the train is an $80 Christmas decoration from a costume shop on Lower Broadway.

There is plenty of bona fide art of course. A mushroom sculpture by Takashi Murakami springs up from the carpet of the media room. On the wall at the end of the table where the family eats supper each night is a self-portrait of Cindy Sherman as a clown, a picture that has particular resonance for Ms. Lévy, whose first job was working as a clown at children's parties. Nearby a life-size orange rat by the renegade sculptor Tom Sachs, fashioned out of torn-up Hermés gift bags and with a matching syringe clenched in its teeth, adorns a side table.

The 45-foot-long living room is dominated by a wildly colorful painting by Franz Ackerman, a Berlin artist. "All the colors leapt out at me when I bought it," Ms. Lévy said. "It's really the heart of the apartment."

 Photo: John Lei for the New York Times

Photo: John Lei for the New York Times

The couple do not seem concerned about the potentially combustive proximity of children and expensive artwork. "Strangely enough, Samuel has learned not to touch," Ms. Lévy said. "And Caleb was always very sensitive to it. Everywhere they go, they look at the art."

A budding artist, Caleb has tried copying the Ackerman, and recently finished a charcoal drawing of the Sherman clown, which he gave to Ms. Yuskavage.

The other day Ms. Berwin's persona seemed to change abruptly as she walked from the living room to her office, a large room she shares with four assistants. With a brisk, no-nonsense manner she began peppering one of them with questions about faxes and budgets, dictating letters and fielding calls from Gaby Dellal, the director of "On a Clear Day." (The film, starring Peter Mullin and Brenda Blethyn, is about an unemployed Scot who decides to swim the English Channel.)

"Working at home is wonderful," Ms. Berwin said between calls. "Not only do I save travel time, I get to spend more time with the children. It's extremely practical and efficient."

Meanwhile Ms. Lévy was in the living room, trying to relax in a tangerine armchair designed by Jean Prouv. She looked mildly exasperated as her 2-year-old son scampered across the room and turned on the vacuum.

"Sam loves everything to do with cleaning," Ms. Lévy said. "We were in Central Park this afternoon having an ice cream and all he wanted to do was come home to play with the vacuum cleaner."

Unlike Ms. Berwin, who shares Sam's zeal for cleanliness, Ms. Lévy is cheerfully undomesticated. "Dorothy is quite obsessed with order," Ms. Lévy said, as if identifying a troubling character flaw. Ms. Berwin is also an adventurous cook; Ms. Lévy prefers to make reservations. "When Dorothy's not here, I order in," Ms. Lvy admitted.

Sam is already bilingual. "He speaks French to me and English to Dorothy," Ms. Lvy said. His favorite word of late is "ridiculous," which he applies liberally to every situation. Sam's antics make his mother erupt with giggles and hugs. "I'm a little bit silly gaga with my son," she said.

Sam's father is Fermin Vilanova, a Spanish advertising executive who lives in Barcelona. "He's an extraordinary father with a very warm heart," Ms. Lévy said. "He comes to see him every month, and they speak twice a week."

"I think a child needs a daddy and a mummy," she added. "There was no way I was going to have a child without a present father."

After a marathon of art fairs and complex deals Ms. Lévy seemed to be unwinding as she sipped a cup of chamomile tea. Until, that is, the calm was disturbed by the loud drone of the vacuum cleaner.

"Darling boy!" Ms. Lévy said plaintively. "No more cleaning."

Published in the New York Times on March 17, 2005

 
Christopher Mason