The photography community is mourning the loss of Bonni Benrubi, the whip-smart, straight-talking dealer who died on November 29. “Bonni was a great dealer,” said Howard Greenberg, her friend of more than 25 years. “She had a lot of integrity and really took care of her artists.”
From her gallery in the Fuller Building on 57th Street, Benrubi nurtured a stable of artists including Louis Stettner, Gillian Laub, Matthew Pillsbury, Massimo Vitali, and Abelardo Morell. “I met Bonni 20 years ago, and it was love at first sight,” says Morell. “She ￼was an incredible dealer and lover of photographs. I was lucky to have this courageous and intrepid woman represent my work for so long, but better yet to have had her as a friend.”
Benrubi, who was born in the Bronx and raised in Fort Lee, New Jersey, knew by the time she was a teenager that she wanted to be an art dealer. As she told Sarah Schmerler for an article in photograph in 2010, “The idea of art and commerce – that you can own a piece of history – was fascinating to me.” Benrubi worked for Daniel Wolf for ten years, and when he closed his gallery, she became a private dealer, handling work by Tod Papageorge and Frank Gohlke as well as Robert Frank and Walker Evans. “I represent photographers who represent people with dignity. The human condition – that’s what my sensibility leads up to,” said Benrubi. She opened a gallery in 1993, moving to the Fuller Building in 2004.
“Bonni was a lady of great intelligence and spirit, and she had a terrific eye,” says dealer Yancey Richardson, another longtime friend. “She was also a devoted wife and mother, who raised two great kids. She was a wonderful friend and a great dealer. It’s a real loss.”
Benrubi is survived by her husband, Dennis Powers, and her two sons, Samuel and Jack, and her brother, Sam Benrubi.
Rachel Smith, who worked with Bonni for seven years, will run the gallery. Her first show: an exhibition of Benrubi’s favorite photographs, which opens January 11.