Chai Style Art: Couple Goes Off Script in Collecting and Creating
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Chai Style Art: Couple Goes Off Script in Collecting and Creating

Bernat and Ciliberto, both artists, let the art do the talking in their polished Buckhead space. Bernat’s work is in the High Museum of Art and the world class Whitney in NYC.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

  • Photography by Howard Mendel//
Robin Bernat and Jon Ciliberto enjoy time in their study with black lab Winnie. Robin’s large mixed media drawing is based on the Book of Job (left).
    Photography by Howard Mendel// Robin Bernat and Jon Ciliberto enjoy time in their study with black lab Winnie. Robin’s large mixed media drawing is based on the Book of Job (left).
  • The dining room features an antique oak china cupboard, a colorful painting from Robin’s Aunt Fran (right), and Robin’s “Seaside.”
    The dining room features an antique oak china cupboard, a colorful painting from Robin’s Aunt Fran (right), and Robin’s “Seaside.”
  • Jon stands in the hallway with some of his drawings.
    Jon stands in the hallway with some of his drawings.
  • Jon’s drawing, “L.P. Grant Mansion, Interior.”
    Jon’s drawing, “L.P. Grant Mansion, Interior.”
  • Bertie, the couple’s cat, lounges in the master bedroom. Robin created these two drawings (left) based on a modern translation of the Book of Job.
    Bertie, the couple’s cat, lounges in the master bedroom. Robin created these two drawings (left) based on a modern translation of the Book of Job.
  • The living room features a triptych of Robin’s own photography taken in Rome in 2001, a midcentury modern lamp, and cocktail table by James Mont.
    The living room features a triptych of Robin’s own photography taken in Rome in 2001, a midcentury modern lamp, and cocktail table by James Mont.
  • "Walkabout” was shot from above by Art Vandenberg.
    "Walkabout” was shot from above by Art Vandenberg.
  • Robin found this woodcut by Leonard Baskin at a flea market on Cheshire Bridge Rd.
    Robin found this woodcut by Leonard Baskin at a flea market on Cheshire Bridge Rd.
  • Robin poses in front of her painting and watercolor.
    Robin poses in front of her painting and watercolor.

Artist Robin Bernat and attorney/artist Jon Ciliberto met at a friend’s “Grand Unified Holiday Party” and have been collaborating ever since. Bernat, whose gallery, Poem 88, was recently featured in the Oct. 3 Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Sunday Living section, said, “Most of the artists work in Atlanta — there’s a wealth of talent residing right here! You don’t need to go to New York or Switzerland to find breathtaking, risk-taking, provocative and beautiful art. Creative expression makes life worth living.”

The couple’s Peachtree Road condominium is a multilayered treasure trove that is never static and is awash in natural light and filled with much of Bernat’s own artwork. It’s polished and never shies away from making a statement.

The dining room features an antique oak china cupboard, a colorful painting from Robin’s Aunt Fran (right), and Robin’s “Seaside.”

Jaffe: What was it like growing up in Monroe, La.?
Bernat: My family owned the Palace Department Store, as did so many Jewish merchants in the South. I was one of five Jewish kids in my grade. Despite being from such a small town in the South, I never had an experience of anti-Semitism. And maybe that speaks more to Louisiana. I come from a family of artists, so that has always been an outlet. My paternal aunts were both painters. The Masur Museum of Art is in the former home of my great-grandparents. Art was important. Our vacations were spent at art museums.

Jaffe: How would you describe your home?
Bernat: We live in this fantastic, midcentury modern building right on Peachtree. Atlanta has not been kind to its modern architecture — demolishing most of it. Luckily, many homeowners are keen to preserve the integrity of our building. Our home is a true amalgamation of modern and eclectic. I have furniture from James Mont mixed with English antiques. Most of the art is my own or from artists I work with. There are pieces by my Aunt Fran, Jon’s drawings, and works by his parents!

Bertie, the couple’s cat, lounges in the master bedroom. Robin created these two drawings (left) based on a modern translation of the Book of Job.

Jaffe: Describe your own work.
Bernat: My primary medium is experimental film. My work captures very momentary experiences, the fleeting and provisional. I approach my work like a documentary filmmaker — I have an idea of the thing/feeling/experience and I set up the conditions for it to occur and have my camera ready. Some works, like “Real Lush: Short Stories” are recreating childhood memories of having grape juice and saltines in nursery school, or capturing something that made a profound impression on me like the French Barbizon painters and Camille Corot. Some are moments with one of my pets! They’re very personal, but also universal. Some of my work is about loss. Life is fleeting — catching that spark before it dissipates into space. In art school, I trained in printmaking, photography, and artist’s books. I write poetry, too. My works at Atlanta’s High Museum are two series of etchings with hand-set text; at the Whitney Museum, a three-channel video titled “Effortless” and at the Kemper Museum in Kansas City, another 3-channel video installation, “American Pastoral.”

Jaffe: Expand on your vision at Poem 88.
Bernat: Women artists have always been underrepresented, just as they have been in other professional fields. When I first opened, artists with whom I had associated were looking for new representation; but they weren’t getting any traction. I asked if they would entrust me with the job. The emphasis on representing and exhibiting women artists came out of the #metoo movement. I made an effort to add more women and minority women to our roster. After all, I’m a woman who owns a small business. For our 2021 program, the exhibiting artists are split: 55 percent women and 45 percent men. The inspiration for many of the group shows I curate come straight from art history. For instance, “Nymphs and Shepherds Come Away: Women Artists Respond to Secular Themes from the Renaissance;” “Blow-Up!” inspired by the Michelangelo Antonioni film; “Le Chic,” women artists making Pop-inspired works. “Correspondences,” inspired by the Swedish philosopher and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, presented a series of exhibitions, talks and performances that address our desire to restore a natural equilibrium to our environment, the body politic, our spirits and sense of fairness.

“Walkabout” was shot from above by Art Vandenberg.

Jaffe: How did you get into the film world?
Bernat: First off, I wouldn’t say I’m “in the film world;” I make new media works primarily for galleries and museums. I started making video and experimental film as a natural outgrowth from artist books. My real love is film history, and I teach thematically-organized film history classes for the Atlanta Film Society and most recently for the OLLI program at Emory University.

Jaffe: Your work was chosen for the Whitney Biennial Celebration, which you attended. Did you get a “big head”?
Bernat: I don’t think so! I was in such distinguished company — it would be hard to feel superior! The first night at the museum was a posh event for curators. The second night was for the artsy public.

Robin found this woodcut by Leonard Baskin at a flea market on Cheshire Bridge Rd.

Jaffe: Jon, you’re an artist. How do you describe Robin’s talent?
Ciliberto: Robin has a poetic combination of ability and sensibility. She studied philosophy and is rationally smart. Her work has an expressive quality that’s thoughtful.

Jaffe: Define fun.
Bernat: I’ve danced Argentine tango since I was 30. I hope to visit Buenos Aires one day! Travel, food, art, and architecture are very important. We love visiting gardens, hiking, being in the landscape. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of our favorite places, and London! I love cooking and travel shows and entertaining. Jon kept a food blog of meals I prepared during COVID “Pandemic Kitchen Experiments” — for real!

Follow Robin @Poem88 on Facebook @Poem_88 on Instagram  www.poem88.net @robinbernatlifestyle www.robinbernat.com.

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