Mitchell Kaneff strums bass guitar for The Young Presidents, a rock band that plays clubs in New York and Los Angeles and, occasionally, Roanoke.
He’s also chairman and CEO of Arkay Packaging, a 97-year-old New York-based business founded by his grandfather, with a factory in Botetourt County.
And he’s also an art collector who has just gifted four artworks to the Taubman Museum of Art. Each piece provides an example of a different style — abstract expressionism, hard-edge painting, pop art, large-scale color photography. All are from living artists.
“I like the variety,” said Patrick Shaw Cable, the museum’s deputy director of exhibitions and education. “They help fill the gaps in our American contemporary collection.”
Cable interviewed Kaneff in front of an audience of Taubman staff and supporters Wednesday morning during the unveiling of the new acquisitions. Kaneff, 52, described growing up with contrasting influences. On one side, his father, Howard Kaneff, intended for him to take over the family business, designing, printing and manufacturing the cartons for cosmetic and pharmaceutical products.
On the other side, his grandmother, Annette Nancarrow, an artist and free spirit who lived in Mexico and befriended legendary painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, encouraged him to pursue his own artistic passions.
Kaneff chose both worlds. “I just finished mastering my fifth album, so I didn’t stop playing music,” he said. “The idea is, you can do everything. The issue is time management.”
His interest in the fine arts has provided inspiration for a number of his company’s package designs, he said.
Arkay opened its Roanoke Valley plant in the mid-1990s (though it’s technically in Botetourt, it has a Roanoke address). Yet surprisingly, the Kaneff family’s link to the museum originated on a different continent.
The Kaneffs purchased land for the plant in 1989. That same year, Mitchell Kaneff and his mother traveled to Hungary. On a bus in Budapest, a woman overheard the Kaneffs discussing their impending trip to Roanoke and told them, “I’m from Roanoke!” Their newfound acquaintance turned out to be Jenny Taubman, longtime volunteer and supporter of the Roanoke art museum, who would eventually lead the campaign to construct the $66 million building on Salem Avenue.
Jenny Taubman and her husband, retired Advance Auto Parts Chairman and CEO Nick Taubman, made the largest contribution to that capital campaign, which is why the museum bears the family surname.
Kaneff’s grandmother, whom he described as his best friend when he was growing up, was a powerful personality who, in addition to painting and drawing, played the violin at Carnegie Hall in her teens and worked as a journalist in Mexico. Though she had a lively, cosmopolitan career before her death in 1992, Kaneff became concerned that her legacy was going unrecognized.
“I reached out to Nick and to Jenny Taubman and said, ‘There’s a really wonderful story here.’” This led to the 2014 exhibition at the Taubman, “Between Two Worlds: Annette Nancarrow in Mexico and America,” spanning the artist’s career.
The museum’s presentation of his grandmother’s art left Kaneff hugely impressed. “I had such a great experience. That’s when I connected and said, ‘How do we continue to do more together?’”
The new additions to the museum’s collection, which once hung on the walls of Kaneff’s New York home, are:
- “Homage to Isaac Hayes” (2006) by Chris Martin, a large, playful hard-edge abstract work inspired by the music of the late American R&B singer-songwriter.
- “Untitled (1777)” (2006) by Daniel Hesidence, another large abstract work that Kaneff compared to the large, sensual paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe.
- “Untitled” (early 2000s) by Robert Mars, a painting that pays tribute to the pop art style of the 1960s.
- “Sterling Forest Water Lily I” (2007) by Lawrence Beck, an almost 7-foot-wide photograph that calls to mind French impressionist Claude Monet’s paintings of water lilies.
During the talk, Kaneff said he and his father own a collection of Latin American art ranging from pre-Columbian artifacts to paintings by Kahlo, which he is contemplating gifting to the Taubman. “It’s what I think would be the next opportunity.”
For now, the new acquisitions are going into storage in the Taubman’s vault, but they’ll appear in future exhibitions from the permanent collection, Cable said.