Two Artists Make a Home for Their Family, and Their Collection

WHEN THE ARTISTS Rashid Johnson and Sheree Hovsepian bought their home near Gramercy Park in 2020, it was a longstanding shrine to rock ’n’ roll glory. On a gracious Manhattan block shielded by a canopy of Bradford pear trees, the five-story, almost 24-foot-wide townhouse, built in 1910 and reimagined by the architect Rosario Candela in 1919, had been owned for three decades by Ric Ocasek, the late co-founder and lead singer of the Cars, and his wife, the model Paulina Porizkova. There was cheetah-print carpeting, tall potted palms and bathrooms with mirrored walls and black lacquer. Four years in, Johnson, 46, and Hovsepian, 49, who live with their 12-year-old son, Julius, and a dog named Bruno, have transformed the 5,800-square-foot space — with its vast 20-foot-tall living room and wall of casement windows that open onto a back garden — into a radically different sort of sanctuary. “Art is the center of our approach to everything,” says Johnson. “That’s where we put our energy.”

In the main floor’s living area, a Jorge Zalszupin Cubo lounge chair, a Bronzeforms cocktail table by Silas Seandel and a circa 1850 Bakhshayesh Persian rug. Johnson’s collection of African statuettes and masks line the mantel of a late 18th-century French limestone fireplace.Credit…Stefan Ruiz
In the studio on the top floor of the house, an Isamu Noguchi pendant, a Campana brothers Racket table and a 2021 artwork from Johnson’s “Bruise Paintings” series.Credit…Stefan Ruiz. Artwork: Rashid Johnson, “Bruise Painting ‘For Sam’” (2021) © Rashid Johnson

Hovsepian, who was born in Isfahan, Iran, and grew up in Toledo, Ohio, makes allusive, shadowy photographs and assemblages that are in the permanent collections of New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. Johnson, who was born in Evanston, Ill., and raised between there and Chicago, has been a dominant force in visual culture since the turn of the millennium, when, at 23, he was included in the seminal 2001 “Freestyle” show at the Studio Museum in Harlem. His multidisciplinary body of work ranges from large, looping abstract paintings thrumming with existential anxiety to room-size steel scaffolding enclosures stacked with tropical plants, shea butter sculptures, patterned rugs and, for a 2016 show at one of Hauser & Wirth’s New York galleries, an upright piano played daily by a classically trained musician. His recent fractured and frenzied giant mosaics — composed of ceramic, mirror shards, wood and other materials — can be seen at the Metropolitan Opera and La Guardia Airport.

In the oak-paneled library, paintings by Wifredo Lam (left) and Philip Guston (right), a Flexform leather sofa, a vintage Beni Ourain rug from Mustapha Chouquir in Marrakesh, Morocco, antique Italian mohair stools from Gallery A.R.E. in Los Angeles, B&B Italia marble-and-steel coffee tables and a pair of Vivi armchairs by Sergio Rodrigues from Espasso.Credit…Stefan Ruiz. Artwork, from left: Wifredo Lam, “Los Amantes” (1942) © Wifredo Lam Estate, ADAGP, Paris/ARS, NY; Philip Guston, “Untitled” (1969) © The Estate of Philip Guston, courtesy of Hauser & Wirth; John Mason, “Small Triangular Torque, Red” (1997) © Estate of John Mason

But the couple’s commitment to art extends beyond their own practices. They’re known for supporting emerging talents and bringing attention to older Black artists who’ve not gotten their due. And their taste in design moves fluidly through cultures and eras — from the polished flair of Brazilian Modernism to the epic proportions of Venice’s art-filled palazzos. With the help of the designer Ariel Ashe and the architect Reinaldo Leandro, a duo known for their bold, graphic aesthetic, they’ve created interiors that are equal parts provocation and celebration. Collecting, Johnson says, is “my way to unpack my relationship with history through objects.”

In the media room off of the primary bedroom, a Serge Mouille Snail ceiling lamp, a photograph by Deana Lawson, a sofa upholstered in Zak & Fox mohair velvet, a Milo Baughman rosewood coffee table and a Rogan Gregory wool rug from R & Company.Credit…Stefan Ruiz. Artwork: Deana Lawson, “Soweto Queen” (2017) © Deana Lawson, courtesy of Gagosian
In the powder room, the multidisciplinary artist Michael Langlois painted the walls to match the Portoro marble sink. The photograph is by Justine Kurland.Credit…Stefan Ruiz. Artwork: Justine Kurland, “Wahclella Falls” (2006/2022) © Justine Kurland, courtesy of Elizabeth Leach Gallery
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