People & Art: Iconic Nostalgia

French-born Gilbert Benhamou gravitates toward Americana

By Aaron Glickman
Photography by Manny Hernandez

Upon entering the Golden Beach home of real estate developer Gilbert Benhamou, CEO of Aventura-based Shefaor Development, the pop art displayed throughout the residence is difficult to ignore. On almost every piece of available wall space from the foyer through the living room hangs the works of Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana and Russell Young; and on most of the remaining wall space hangs the animated, French street art of Speedy Graphito.

French-born Benhamou’s taste in art has progressed from contemporary to pop with the help of gallery owner Bernard Markowicz, (Markowicz Fine Art in the Miami Design District) also from France.

“Bernard brings you things that you cannot find anywhere else,” Benhamou said. “My collection is a part of my everyday life and I enjoy pop art because I believe that it allows people from different parts of life to speak the same language.”

Benhamou clearly identifies with Americana, be they paintings or photography. Brando and Elvis hang in his foyer, while Mick Jagger and Marilyn Monroe are in the living room. The Warhol lithograph of Jagger is signed by both Warhol and Jagger.

Clearly Marilyn Monroe is his favorite. Her image is displayed throughout his home, including nudes in the master bedroom. One portrait that stands out is a photograph taken by Bert Stern toward the end of Monroe’s life. She was intoxicated during the shoot and the photo in Benhamou’s living room shows a scar on the icon’s torso, a flaw that was always hidden.

“Marilyn is an American icon,” said Benhamou. “What’s amazing is how successful she became after passing away.”

Included in the collection are Indiana’s “Love” and “Hope”, yet Benhamou takes it a step further and has duplicated the works with Hebrew letters.

Another Indiana collectable is an oversized book (The American Dream) that he keeps under glass and handles with white gloves. The book has a collection of six original prints.

“Some people bought this book just for the prints,” he explained, “but I kept the entire book. What’s nice is that I can change the page and have a different image anytime I want.”

Mixed with the pop art is the street art of Speedy Graphito; though the genre changes, the consistency of iconic figures remains. Graphito’s animation contains images of Mickey Mouse, as well as other well-known animated characters. Graphito’s work is displayed in the

living room and in his children’s bedrooms. Benhamou has six children ranging in age from one to 18 years.

“Animation brings me closer to my kids,” he said.

The dining room contains a rectangular mixed-media piece that houses several video displays within the painted area. The piece is by Israeli artist Dganit Blechner and is of the New York skyline. The video displays show the process of creating the image of the skyline.

In the same milieu, placed above the front door is another image of the New York skyline in which Benhamou adds his own creative touch by hanging in front of the painting a sculpture that replicates the 1932 iconic photo “Lunch atop a Skyscraper.” The creative choice gives shape to an otherwise lifeless display.

Benhamou’s collection stretches beyond his home. He has a warehouse where he keeps additional works and he changes them out when the feeling comes.

His latest acquisition, not yet on display in his home, is an amazing Enamel edition of Mel Ramos’ (Tea at 5PM). This very rare edition is an homage by Mel Ramos to two other important artists, Tom Wesselmann and Mondrian.

His is a collection that does not take itself too seriously. The works he gravitates toward are fun, modern and unique – a stylized collection with a slant toward nostalgia and an appreciation of Americana.

People and their Art is sponsored by Markowicz Fine Art, a contemporary art gallery that opened its doors in the Miami Design District at the initiative of Bernard Markowicz, ex-partner of Opera Gallery. While providing the perfect showcase for the works of the famous artists such as Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann, Picasso, Buffet, Miro, Braque and Chagall, Markowicz Fine Art also devotes itself, early on, to promoting new artistic French talent Alain Godon, Alexandra Gestin, Clara Poupel as well as Claude Charlier. Markowicz Fine Art also represents in Florida the Mourlot estate (original lithographs and lithographic posters from the great Masters).

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