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The Art and the Deal

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A rendering of 980 Madison.  

Once again, his timing would appear to be impeccable in this era when art has turned out to be a better investment than stocks and a ticket to New York’s grooviest party. “It’s like having a Rolls in the garage,” explains a friend of several years. “I don’t think it’s necessarily sophistication about art with Aby. I think it’s sophistication about understanding what gives you the status.” He’s now on the board of the New Museum, and his parties—at the Lever clubhouse and its chic downstairs restaurant, the tented dinners in the Seagram plaza for museums and artists like John Chamberlain (or Richard Chamberlain, as Aby tends to slip and call him)—buy a lot of goodwill. The artists enjoy him. After dinner one night at Lever House, George Condo and Tom Friedman got to doodling on a Con Ed barrier outside the restaurant; the next day Rosen called and asked that it be removed for his collection. Says Condo, “Someday, he’ll probably be the mayor.”

Rosen is essentially that at the Core Club, a members-only hangout of estimable design downstairs in a building he developed on East 55th Street. The idea was to do a strictly meritocratic “urban country club.” Moneymen around town remember the gorgeous babe with a tattooed tailbone who turned up at their offices to give an elaborate easel presentation to potential members (mainly bankers in the final tally, say those who go there, instead of the Michael’s crowd Rosen had hoped for). Gallery owners were eventually offered a discount off the $50,000 initiation fee and $12,000 annual dues.

“With Aby, there’s no sense of timidity,” says Tony Shafrazi. “He wants to blast it to completion—and take it beyond.”

Panels on art-buying educate members aspiring to a certain statusphere. Rosen and his chief art adviser (and wingman) Alberto “Tico” Mugrabi are said to park art at the club they are considering selling; members laugh about the turnover after every auction season.

Rosen is a guy who made a lot of money, and now he’s playing very hard. He likes to say that he belongs on the Forbes 400 list. The same week he won the Seagram Building, he bought 90 Fifth Avenue and leased it to the Forbes corporation, installing a flashy RFR Realty sign in the lobby.

Rosen was leading his wife, Samantha, by the hand through the roil of the Guggenheim International Gala at Pier 40. Her auburn hair loosed upon her shoulders, she was eight months pregnant with their second child, Vivian (their son, Alexander, is now 2). She looked to be in storybook love.

“People say, how could she end up with Aby?” reports Agnes Gund, president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art. Somehow, they imagine she would have gone for a character out of a John P. Marquand novel, Gund explains, before praising Rosen as “a diamond in the rough, ebullient and outgoing.” Before Aby, Samantha dated Aon-insurance heir Todd Meister, Condé Nast editorial director James Truman, and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter (whom for a long time Rosen would only refer to as “that editor”).

It was in 2000—the year he turned 40—that Aby asked for a divorce from his first wife, which finally went through in 2004. “Between wives, Aby was a bit wild,” says one social acquaintance, remembering late parties at the Southampton house, where he was now wearing long, Chinese-y tunics.

Rosen was apparently out to date a Certain Type of Girl. He started appearing at Cipriani uptown and down. He dated Gina Gershon. He made a play for Lulu de Kwiatkowski. Samantha’s sister Serena has told friends she turned Aby down. But now Aby calls Samantha—brainy, shy, prim and proper—his soul mate. A graduate of Harvard and Cornell medical school, Samantha worked 24-hour shifts in her residency, considered taking over for Dr. Atkins until his sudden death after a fall, before deciding on psychiatry. “There’s an awkwardness to her that’s almost endearing,” says a friend. “She’s not slick and not a traditional socialite party girl.”

“He seems very egoless with her,” says artist Christopher Brooks, whose wife, Amanda, knows Samantha from Palm Beach. “When they are together, he seems quite happy to play the supporting role.” Some of her friends find him a bit slow to engage. “It’s like bringing a lion into a living room; it’s not going to make him act like a dog,” says one. But at least he doesn’t pander. He did get her to convert. He did escort Samantha to the International Antiques Show at the Armory, wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

It’s said that Samantha’s parents, Pauline, a banking heiress, and D. Dixon, a hedge-fund manager raised in Philadelphia, were less than enthusiastic about her choice. Pauline was heard wondering aloud how she would give Samantha a wedding. Aby took care of that with a small, midweek ceremony in June 2005 under a flowery chuppah on the rooftop terrace of the limestone townhouse on East 80th Street that he fixed up as part of his rental agreement with the consulate of Niger. Rosen likes to tell people Imelda Marcos once lived there; like the Castro shirts he sometimes wears and the shark tank he used to keep in his kitchen, it fits his rogue image of himself.


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