“Maison Massoud”


The Atlantan Magazine – March/April 2010

Maison Massoud

A peek into the loft/gallery of Castleberry’s new art czar reveals an aesthetic informed by exotic
globetrotting, classic good taste, and a pinch of provocation | By Nancy Staab | Photography by Sarah Dorio |

Massoud Besharat is a gregarious man with a large circle of international friends, a raconteur who spins tantalizing tales at his favorite neighborhood haunt FAB (French American Brasserie), and a bon vivant who contends that “a meal is not worth eating if you don’t have at least 12 people at the table.” Walk into his salon-style lof, hung floor-to-ceiling with eclectic works, and you are likely to find him playing opera music by Cecilia Bartoli, while proffering a glass of Chateau La Grange Clinet to his guests. But few Atlantans outside of his creative circle had heard of the arts ambassador before he boldly opened Besharat Gallery two years ago. Who was this mysterious avatar of art, an Iranian expat by way of Austria, London, Paris and then Elberton, Georgia, who dabbled in multiple vocations from art to the travel biz, real estate, and even stone quarrying? Asked about his past, Besharat weaves a heady tale of a teenage dropout who wandered through Europe living by his wits and fueled by his Renaissance interests (“art, books, politics, sociology and sex”). When the Iranian Revolution of 1979 closed the doors of his homeland, he eventually followed his brother to Atlanta in the 1980s to obtain his green card. Somewhere along the way his bachelor pad collection of “primitive café paintings of dancing women” gave way to a serious collection of internationally renowned contemporary artists (from photojournalist Steve McCurry, whose 1984 image of an Afghan girl with a mesmerizing gaze is iconic, to classicist sculptor Roberto Santo). Likewise, Besharat’s works span every medium: sculpture, photography, abstract and figurative paintings, drawings and installation art—the result of his very visceral, “spontaneous relation to art,” he says. Forget sterile white cubes. Besharat’s self-designed lof is the antithesis of this conventional gallery model. Instead, his lair is a highly personal, eccentric place. Te hodgepodge multi-level space was carved out of a historic turn-of-the-century warehouse and retains original elements such as exposed brick walls, which provide an interesting textural backdrop to works of art. Over the course of four years, the run-down space emerged into a stunning groundlevel open gallery, equal parts raw and refined—paved with rough cobblestones from Besharat’s own Elberton quarry and lit by neon columns and biomorphic glass chandeliers by local artist Christopher Moulder. A dramatic “ghost” staircase of translucent acrylic leads down to the cavernous space, which might be flled simultaneously with abstract paintings in candycolored pastels by Spanish artist Alexandro Santana, classicist nude drawings, and alarmingly realistic, expressionistic carved heads by Spanish artist Samuel Salcedo. “I tell visitors they are my ex wives and girlfriends!” jokes Besharat. Tucked in a corner of the gallery is his prized red Harley-Davidson Duo-Glide, which he likes to take out for long rides (accessorized by his Louis Vuitton helmet). And just outside is an urban garden tucked beneath Peters Street with train tracks that run parallel to Besharat’s potted cacti and lemon trees. Upstairs, on level one, is the more traditional gallery and behind it, a two-story open-plan living space that encompasses Besharat’s private quarters—a sleek kitchen on a raised platform, and a dining and living room area punctuated by tall windows to let in light. fle rotating private collection of art, hung fioor-to-ceiling, ranges from a portrait of French actress Charlotte Rampling to poetic paintings of light-flled interiors by Parisian artist Jean Arcelin. A nude female sculpture, painted in bright colors by artist Jean Tannous, lounges in one of Besharat’s vintage leather armchairs, a fedora tilted rakishly on her head. fle furniture, like the art, is a mishmash. Sleek modern pieces such as white leather chaise lounges from Ligne Roset and Starck Ghost chairs harmoniously cohabitate with antique tapestry chairs, a French loveseat covered in Orange Crush suede, Persian rugs, and a shimmering fve-foot candelabra of Venetian glass from Murano. Exposed beams and an aluminum staircase add industrial chic, while the mezzanine level boasts a daring 21st-century master bath set in a nearly all-glass cube splashed with glazed-red tiles. Most romantic of all is Massoud’s master bedroom, up another set of stairs that lead to the rooffop. flere, in a glass greenhouse structure, is Massoud’s magical sleeping quarters overlooking a rooffop terrace
and the gritty-but-glam downtown skyline. Besharat says the bedroom is a nod to his childhood in Iran. “My family didn’t have air-conditioning, so on sultry summer nights we offen slept on the roof where it was cooler and you could see the stars and the moon.” An arts haven it may be, but nomadic Besharat is not one to stay put for long, even in his Castleberry castle. Jetting between his pieda- terre in Paris (the flm location for Last Tango in Paris), art shows in posh places like Palm Beach, and Aspen for play, spontaneous Besharat is always on the go. Next up for the entrepreneur: La Vie Salon Massoud, a boutique art hotel he is developing in Barbizon, France, with a rotating gallery of international artworks in each suite. flere’s also his big-news collaboration this spring with Fay Gold, whom he fondly calls “the grand dame”—a greatest hits show of large-scale, experimental works, old and brand new, curated by Gold and tapping her blue-chip cache of local and international
artists (Herb Ritts, Mike and Doug Starn, Gregor Turk, Zoe Hersey, Robert Jessup, Anthony Liggins, Jane Manus, Scott Ingram, RadcliTe Bailey and more). flere are even hints of future collaborations between these two powerhouse gallerists. Originally, Gold’s show took the theme “Detox”—though it has since been officially renamed “Onward.” Perhaps the name change was reasonable given the various interpretations that the word “detox” inspires. Gold’s defnition referenced the healing eTects of art, while Besharat oTered a playful counter defnition: “Detox means it isn’t working! Retirement didn’t work for Gold, and now she’s back!” A
“Onward” opens March 19, 6-8pm, at Besharat Gallery, 175 Peters St.,
404.524.4781, besharatgallery.com.

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