Arij’s Aerie

Palm Beach Cottages & Gardens April 2007

Written by Steven Stolman

Photographed by Robert & Carmel Brantley

Press Photo Press Photo Press Photo

Even at home, Palm Beach art dealer Arij Gasiunasen lives life in the limelight
While Arij Gasiunasen is an art dealer by trade, to call him strictly that would be an understatement of epic proportions. He is more of a showman - and an enigmatic one at that - whose over-the-top parties, automobiles and celebrity-studded client roster have been the stuff of local legend for decades.

Like his previous two Palm Beach homes, Arij’s current French Normandy villa in midtown, where he has lived for eight years, is not only a showplace for his astounding collection of art - which includes works by Jim Dine, Pablo Picasso, Milton Avery and Edward Hopper, to name a few - but a hotbed of glamorous decor by the likes of Geoffrey Bradfield and William Eubanks. During a two-year renovation, low ceilings and rigidly designated rooms on the first floor were gutted and expanded to create a soaring two-story rotunda with plentiful wall space on each level. A deep sapphire dining room and ruby red library, both designed by Scott Snyder, were transported from a previous residence, and touches of faux marble, zebra stripe and wrought iron add visual interest throughout. Several giltwood fauteuils, all upholstered in simple vanilla, add to the luxe factor.

Yes, it’s glamorous, but the furnishings take second billing to the mind-boggling display of art that Arij constantly rearranges. In the current incarnation, the foyer is presided over by Marc Sijan’s eerily lifelike Security Guard, a polyresin figure so realistic it suggests an embalmer’s touch. In the central living area, Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn” series lines the walls of the upper balcony. Everywhere you look, it’s a Fernando Botero here, a Louise Nevelson there, with a Matisse thrown in for good measure.

The blue dining room, richly appointed with Neoclassical gilt chairs once owned by J. Paul Getty, showcases the custom-made lapis lazuli dining table that Arij commissioned in Brazil 30 years ago, along with his favorite artwork, a Sonia Delaunay oil on canvas. “If the house were on fire, it would be the first piece I’d rescue,” he says.

The private spaces of the house have a more traditional bent, but are not without drama. The family room is warm and inviting, featuring spectacular faux bois paneling by Robert Speed. Silver-framed pictures of the art dealer - clad mostly in black tie and surrounded by celebrities and jet setters - hang on almost every wall, attesting to a life lived in the limelight. As if to provide a respite from his sizzling social life, the master suite is comfortably decorated in a soothing mix of coral and white with touches of cobalt blue.

“The lines between my personal life and professional life are so blurred,” Arij says. “The one constant is that I am always surrounded by exquisite art and fascinating people.”

The soaring living room, intentionally devoid of color to serve as a neutral backdrop to the museum-like display of paintings and sculpture, opens onto a tented loggia suitable for both alfresco lounging and dining for as many as 60 guests. There’s more artwork here, of course - both in the loggia and around the pool area - including an attenuated bronze figure by Wendy Fisher, a pair of day-glo bronze torsos by Jim Dine and Francois-Xavier Lalanne’s epoxy, stone and bronze The Ram, which stands Sphinx-like across from two towering jet-black figures with golden masks by Philip Jackson.

This impassioned life of collecting, entertaining, consulting and dealing is what has skyrocketed Arij to the top of his trade. But it didn’t happen overnight. For more than three decades - and since 1989 in his eponymous gallery on Hibiscus Avenue, just off Worth - the name Gasiunasen as been synonymous with the artists he has represented, beginning with his first purchase in his native Toronto in the ‘70s. “It was a wonderful 10-by-12-foot David Hockney swimming pool,” he recalls. “I’m not embarrassed to admit that I paid for it in installments over a year. But I eventually sold it.” Of course, he did.