In 1980, art dealer Rosi Levai and her husband Pierre, bought a 3,500-square-foot raw space on Fifth Avenue near Madison Square Park, gazes from one of her 27 windows at the towers rising around her. “Do you see that glint” she asked, pointing north. “That’s the Chrysler Building.” Six months ago it was visible, and then, bit by bit, it began to disappear. Levai, a blonde woman who wears her elegance effortlessly, even while dressed in jeans at 9:30 a.m., sounded sad, but also philosophical—and even a bit bewitched by the changes. Even now, more than 35 years after she moved into her co-op, and long before the neighborhood became known as “NoMad,” New York remains a tapestry spread under her feet. “When I grew up, I was constantly moving around,” she said in her calm voice with its British inflections. Her father had been in the British Army and foreign office. She attended 13 schools. In 46 years of marriage, she added, she has lived in just two apartments, “one for ten years, and now this.”
Bolstering her sense of stability is her artwork, which may stop you in your tracks even before you reach the windows. Radiant against the neutral backdrop of her decor are a densely painted Manolo Valdés’ clever abstraction of a youth in a red hat, and Fernando Botero’s Still Life in Front of a Window—a not-unexpectedly voluptuous rendering of ceramics and fruit. A jubilant canvas by Rufino Tamayo called Man Playing With His Son reminds her of trips to Mexico to visit the artist, who died in 1991, at the age of 92. Pierre played canasta with him by the hour, which was all the artist wanted to do, apart from painting. The artists are more than passing acquaintances; they are represented by Marlborough Gallery, the blue-chip establishment of which Pierre is president. “They are objects we have chosen to live with,” Rosi said about the collection, “not something fashionable for the moment.” Parting with these treasures even temporarily, when they are on loan for exhibitions, gives her pain. Replacing them is unthinkable. So her home has changed around them. She and Pierre began looking for real estate in the neighborhood when “we realized we didn’t have to go to SoHo for a loft,” she said.