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Park Magazine Feature

Charles Saffati with Carlton Fine Arts

Multigenerational Family Art Gallery Carlton Fine Arts on Madison Avenue is a family business. “My father was in the business, and I quickly took over when I became of age,” says Charles Saffati, the current proprietor. Saffati considered himself “of age” at 14, when he began showing up to work at the gallery after school. Now his son Morris is in the business with him. “He’s 40 years old now and he also came to me after school,” Saffati adds with a laugh. His other two children did not gravitate toward the business.

Picasso, Warhol, Chagall, Haring, Miró & Matisse Started in 1969, Carlton Fine Arts specializes in modern masters and pop art. “From the beginning we started in masters: Picasso, Chagall, Miró, Giacometti, Matisse,” says Saffati. As time progressed, he brought in newer artists, like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring in the 1980s. “At the time, those were the new upcoming type of artists. I mean, I used to buy Keith Haring works for $1,000.”

Good instincts In addition to dealing in timeless blue-chip artists, Saffati continues to add new talent as the art world evolves. Now CFA handles contemporary artists like Kaws, who is already a household name, Ron Agam, and Mr. Brainwash, a graffiti artist with a Bansky-type style. The artists were featured in the 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, directed by Banksy.

Mr. Brainwash Saffati’s instincts have paid off. “We carried Keith Haring when nobody even knew who he was. Even Andy Warhol, we carried him when there was very little recognition of his work, we got in on the ground level.” The gallery tries out new artists that they feel are setting new trends going forward, things to invest in the future. “I feel like that right now with Mr. Brainwash,” says Saffati. “We started on the ground level with him, but I really see how it’s been exploding in the last two years, and the recognition that he has gotten.” What makes Mr. Brainwash special, he feels, is his use of iconic images like Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, Mickey Mouse, and Keith Haring. “It’s graffiti. He uses spray cans and stencils to spray the way graffiti artists used to do on the wall, but he does it on a canvas or on paper, and then he splashes the paint in the back, all over the piece.”

9/11 20th Anniversary Memorial An unexpectedly moving opportunity arrived this year when the 9/11 Museum asked Carlton Fine Arts to host an unveiling of a piece by artist Charles Fazzino that was later installed at the museum. Yankee legend Bernie Williams and the Fire and Police Commissioners attended the gallery event. It included a Color Guard ceremony and a performance by the same NYFD singer who performed at the official ceremony. “Singing the national anthem in the gallery and seeing the Color Guard do the ceremony with the flag from the fire department, then the captains speak, it was very touching. I knew it would be a beautiful thing, but when it actually happened, it was very, very special.”

Art Basel Miami Beach Carlton Fine Arts showed at the Hamptons Fine Art Fair in the summer and will be showing at Art Basel Miami in December. They will be featuring one of their newer talents, Chinese multimedia artist Linjie Deng. Deng has made a splash recently with some anti-racial art related to the uptick in attacks on the Asian community in America. “He was mugged, he experienced it, and it was picked up by all the various TV stations,” says Saffati. “And me being Jewish and Hispanic, I’ve experienced racial hate, so that’s one of the reasons I picked him up, because I felt for him, and he had a very good message in his heart.” He added that Deng is also a part of the LGBTQ community, and the gallery featured his work along with other artists and allies in a Pride Month exhibit titled “Queer Art 1950s-2021.”

Philanthropy Saffati is very involved with Bikur Cholim, a charity that serves people with illnesses, the poor and the elderly. He’s also active in his synagogue’s Sephardic Center, which is similar to a JCH or YMCA, with locations in both New York and New Jersey. The gallery has also held exhibitions for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and similar organizations, with a portion of the proceeds going to charity. In his spare time, Saffati plays tennis, and enjoys bike riding and jogging.

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