Our Lady of the Manhattan Beach Arts
September 8, 2010 by Bondo Wyszpolski // Photos by Monica Orozco
“I came from a very formal, traditional background,” says Homeira Goldstein, whose regal bearing and striking wardrobe complements her reputation as the South Bay’s foremost proponent of the visual arts. Her home in Manhattan Beach is a veritable museum of contemporary painting and sculpture by both emerging and established artists. Locally, Homeira is best known as the force behind Arts Manhattan. This non-profit arts organization sponsors soirees in her home, art and architecture tours, as well as exhibitions at the Creative Arts Center across from Polliwog Park.
It probably wasn’t at all what her parents envisioned for her as a child growing up in Tehran, even though, as Homeira notes, “When I was young I really wanted to be a fashion designer.” The stylish, elegant women she encountered impressed her from an early age, which of course – as I point out – is not among the perceptions the people in the West have about the Middle East.
Homeira ruefully acknowledges this: “You really need to go to these other countries and spend time, and get inside of them to see their true culture.”
And did she pursue her early interest in fashion?
“That was not a choice,” Homeira replies. “My father thought that I would be a medical doctor because I was such a good student in high school.” This was a private, all-girls school, the focus being on subjects like biology. “A lot of the girls who graduated from that school ended up in the medical world, but I didn’t have the heart for dissecting frogs and mice. I did not want to do that, so I ended up in the financial world.”
Perhaps nothing seems further from high fashion, but Homeira has no regrets, and says that going the business route has instead equipped her to utilize both sides of her brain, the creative and the logical, and that in the long run this has been highly useful.
Putting down roots wasn’t easy
After leaving her homeland, and after a brief stay in London after an even shorter one in Russia, Homeira landed in Washington, D.C., and then continued on to Texas where she took classes.
“A friend of mine came to visit on her way to Los Angeles. She said, Let’s go to L.A. for the summer,” and that’s exactly what happened because in those days Homeira was always on the move.
“My goal was that I wanted to live around the world. I didn’t want to get married, I didn’t want to have children. I wanted to be free so I could go wherever I wanted and live wherever I wanted to live. It was the experience of living that was so important to me, and not the family traditions and the formality that I grew up in. I just wanted to go and experience something new all the time.” She pauses. “I still do that in my daily life; I always try and have something new and different that makes life exciting.”
Well, Homeira fell in love with Los Angeles and didn’t return to Texas. There would be a brief flirtation with San Francisco, which Homeira found was better suited for visiting, before she returned for good to Southern California.
“I stayed here and I thought, well, I can still travel to other countries; but I realized as time went by that it’s not that easy to drop everything and change your home.” So L.A. became her permanent base and, yes, she still travels extensively – most recently an arts-related trip to the Middle East that took in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Qatar, and three of the seven states that comprise the United Arabic Emirates: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah.
Pursuing her studies, Homeira took courses at UCLA and then decided on USC where she earned her Masters in accounting and business. She worked at a number of CPA firms and eventually started up her own company in financial consulting which she ran for eight years. On a blind date in 1986 she met her husband, Arnold, who also happens to be the founder and president of Shorewood Realtors. After her son Joshua was born she closed her business and began devoting all of her time to the arts.
That’s been well over 20 years, and Homeira Goldstein has a lot to show for it.
Homeira’s Iliad and Odyssey
Although Homeira never became a professional fashion designer – and more about this in a moment – her early interest in photography and photographic collage undoubtedly sharpened her eye for the new and the innovative, and in time prepared her for an unofficial role as a leading patroness of the arts – although high priestess of the local arts scene sounds even better. This happened in large part, she says, “because I didn’t have a chance to become an artist myself,” and because “I want to make sure that every person who has become an artist has a chance to have a platform” which enables their work to reach an audience.
“That’s why I’m adamant about [supporting] emerging artists,” she continues. “That’s where my emphasis is.”
Championing them, helping them acquire visibility in an often noisy field of middling and mediocre talents, is what gives her “the satisfaction and the joy that I am part of their career. The connections, the conversations, the whole relationship with these artists is so enriching.
“When you do that,” Homeira adds, “it’s not about the money. When a person becomes an artist they want to be recognized for their work; they want to be seen, they want to be heard. To me, art is for sharing – you have to share your art.”
So what is it that appeals to her? Something I can relate to, she replies; Something I don’t get bored with no matter how often I look at it. “And it’s more than just pretty,” she emphasizes. “I like beauty, but the beauty that I really like has got to have a lot of depth. It’s not just about the surface.”
Homeira discovers compelling artists in several ways, whether it’s by talking with faculty at colleges or going directly to art students themselves. Among the artists she has promoted: Simon Ouwerkerk, Kate Stone, Nick Agid, Suzanne Erickson, Yoshio Ikezaki, Lita Albuquerque, Nathan Hayden, and Kazuo Kadonaga. And, because her reputation now precedes her, Homeira often receives mail from artists, not just from the area but even from overseas. They ask her, What would be the best chance for me to show in the U.S.?
Mostly, however, “I get to see established artists, mid-career artists, and emerging artists because I’m involved with so many different organizations. I was on the board of Otis, I’m on the board of USC, and I’ve had a lot of connections with Art Center in Pasadena.” That’s just for starters. “Everywhere I go, I live in the art world.”
Which leads to the obvious question: What’s a typical day like for you?
“I get up in the morning, I have Arts Manhattan to worry about, I have Fellows of Contemporary Art to worry about, I have USC to worry about, and I have my own projects to worry about.” If there’s a dinner in the offing, because Homeira throws the occasional impressive high-end shindig, she’s planning the table settings, the centerpiece, the color combinations, the dishes and the candles, not to mention the menu. And lest the latter seem more drudgery than inspiring, you’ll just have to think again. Homeira’s culinary endeavors may be ephemeral, but they are always works of art.
Life in the bubble
Not surprisingly, Homeira pays close attention to the visual aspects of the environment she lives in. While artists may dwell in the squalor of an archeological dig, that’s not the case with our first lady of the arts.
“I care about my surroundings very much,” she says. “You don’t have to have money to be surrounded by art. You don’t have to have a big house to have art. It’s a way of life, how you approach things and how you live an artistic life.” To illustrate what she means, Homeira describes a hypothetical place setting, enhanced solely by river rocks, candles, and remnants from fabric stores. “Sure, you can spend a lot of money doing beautiful things, but you don’t have to.”
I wouldn’t know what Homeira allots for clothes, but her creative flair – mostly in black, white, and red – ensures that she stands apart from the crowd. “I go out and buy designer clothes and I cut them and put two of them together,” she says in passing. “It just makes something different out of it.”
Maybe that’s an understatement, because the result is often more than just different, it is eye-catching, even stunning, and it reminds me of what Paloma Picasso once said: “To look good and to dress up isn’t just a favor you are doing for yourself – it’s a favor you are doing for the people around you.” When I attend an opera or a museum opening I silently thank each woman – or man – who, perhaps unconsciously, has sartorially added something a little memorable to the occasion.
Homeira realizes that the human body is a canvas, but quickly points out that she’s not referring to tattoos – a whole different ballgame. Many of us wear hand-me-downs or pull from the sales rack at Thrifty, but for Homeira clothing provides a means for individual expression and creativity, and she does so fearlessly.
Her philosophy in this regard is the same that she applies to our confrontation with modern art.
“We don’t have to be afraid of change or bogged down with traditions. When you break your boundaries, when you step out of the box, the level of enlightenment is unbelievable.
“When we allow ourselves to be free, life becomes an ultimate joy, and that freedom is going to allow you to be flexible. If I don’t do this, then I can do that. Out of constraint comes creativity. I always say, you’re only limited by your imagination.”
It’s not so easy for people to let go and do that, I tell her.
“Absolutely,” Homeira replies; “you can’t change people overnight. That’s why I’ve spent 20 years sowing the seeds, little by little.” And so it follows that her goal encompasses more than publicizing the artists she believes in:
“I am not only interested in promoting artists, I’m interested in bringing art to the community, enhancing the level of cultural awareness [and] getting them to go beyond their boundaries, their comfort zone, and to take that chance.”
Truly, she’s adamant about all this, about helping us to shed our insecurities about modern art.
“It’s just like a muscle,” Homeira says. “You go and work out and you develop your muscle. It’s the same thing, developing the creative mind. It needs practice, it needs feeding. It doesn’t grow, it doesn’t get better if you don’t feed it.”
More on her plate than food
“For the last 18 years I have been wanting to bring art to the public at a much grander scale,” Homeira says, “to do a television show that was arts-related.” She’s still tinkering with the particulars, how to make it cutting edge and accessible at the same time. “People are just not interested in the arts because they feel intimidated by it, they feel they don’t understand it, and it’s almost like you have to take people one by one and tell them there’s nothing to be scared of: You don’t have to be intimidated by it, it’s just somebody else’s expression of something and you just go and take whatever you want out of it. In the process of doing that you get to be better, you get a wider vision as to how you see things. You expand your horizon.”
That’s one project. Another is to get up a website, HomeiraG.com, that will contain videos about art, and about cooking.
Cooking? Bondo, you haven’t yet mentioned this. Homeira in an apron, with a rolling pin?
Homeira has a couple of books up her sleeve, and the first one is focusing on the culinary arts, with an emphasis on “arts” (especially when we factor in her fabulous table settings, her pictures of which are dazzling). As for the bacon and eggs aspect of it: “Everywhere I go, every time I cook something, people want the recipes. Unfortunately, what I have created in the past I have not put down on paper; I created it and let it go. Now I’m trying to be more conscious, and writing my recipes.”
Her philosophy about cooking is similar to her ideas about fashion, experimentation, and pushing the boundaries of art.
“People say, This is my grandmother’s recipe so I have to follow it exactly the same way. I’m saying that just as your grandmother came up with the recipe so can you. You can either take hers and modify it and come up with something new, or come up with something 100 percent new. Do your own thing. And then your grandchildren will look at you and say, My grandmother… To me, if we stick with the same thing we’ll never grow. We constantly have to move and create something new. Out of this, comes that – and then out of that comes something else.”
The other book that’s up her sleeve is an account of her life, but Homeira says that while she’s written several chapters there’s still plenty more to put in. I don’t doubt it, and suspect that it will be thoughtful, engaging, colorful and stylish, just like the author.
In the meantime, what is Homeira hoping to accomplish during the next decade or two? Well, don’t look for her to be spending her days in a hammock or a rocking chair. She fully intends to keep promoting and championing other artists, in addition to expressing more of her own art in the diverse mediums of her choice.
“I feel I’m in my space,” she says. “No matter how hard I work, I love every minute of it. How do you retire from something that you love to do? People retire from something that they don’t like to do, so they can do things they enjoy. Well, I enjoy everything that I do, so there’s nothing to retire from.”