Staffan Ahrenberg’s New Cahiers D’Art
By James Reginato
A few years ago, as he was strolling through Paris’ 6th arrondissement, Staffan Ahrenberg took a random turn that changed his life. That detour is now about to make a mark on art history, with the rebirth of the legendary Cahiers d’Art.
“It was pure accident!” says the energetic 55-year-old. “I was walking down the Rue du Dragon and I noticed a faded sign. Just for a moment a ray of sun lit it up. ‘Cahiers d’Art,’ it read. How strange, I thought. Can it still exist?”
It was a name he had known practically since his infancy – it appeared on countless publications that arrived at his home, situated in the idyllic village of Chexbres, near Lausanne.
In 1962, four years after Staffan was born in Stockholm, his father, Theodor Ahrenberg, relocated his family to Switzerland. The elder Ahrenberg, a shipping and commodities magnate, had already assembled one of the largest collections of Modern and contemporary art in Northern Europe. Having always enjoyed meeting and spending time with artists, Theodor equipped his new estate with a guesthouse and studio where many illustrious artists were invited to take up residencies.
“So I grew up with constant interactions with fascinating people doing strange things,” recalls Staffan. “Fontana, Christo, Tinguely, Niki de Saint Phalle and Mark Tobey were some of the artists who stayed with us. It was very intense.”
Many other celebrated artists came to the family’s home. “I have a picture of Picasso holding me when I was two years old,” he says.
A cultured household such as this naturally subscribed to the magazines, books and catalogues published by Cahiers d’Art, which was founded in 1926 by Greek-born Christian Zervos. By 1960, he had published 97 issues of the Cahiers d’Art revue and more than 50 books, including monographs on Matisse, Man Ray, El Greco and on African and Mesopotamian art. Assisted by his wife, Yvonne, Zervos also operated a gallery on the premises.
James Reginato is writer-at-large of Vanity Fair.
Right: Cahiers d’Art founder Christian Zervos and Pablo Picasso