Noah Becker's whitehot magazine of contemporary art

A Conversation with Beth Rudin DeWoody and Sarah Gavlak

Sarah Gavlak and Beth Rudin DeWoody join us here for a lively conversation.
 

By ANGEL CHEN November, 2019

Through Beth Rudin DeWoody’s passion, vision, and continuing support of emerging artists and galleries, she has redefined the boundaries of collecting. By championing emerging, and at times, overlooked artists, especially in the early stages of their careers, she has amassed a truly unique collection. The collection is grateful for the opportunity to share these treasures and push beyond “the greatest hits” to show a more complete view of contemporary art today.


Beth Rudin DeWoody, art collector and curator, resides between Los Angeles, New York City, and West Palm Beach. She is President of The Rudin Family Foundations and Executive Vice President of Rudin Management. Her Board affiliations include the Whitney Museum of American Art, Hammer Museum, The New School, The Glass House, Empowers Africa, New Yorkers for Children, and The New York City Police Foundation. She is an Honorary Trustee at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and on the Photography Steering Committee at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach.


DeWoody has curated numerous exhibitions, and the Collection has been the subject of exhibitions featured at the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach; Parrish Museum, Southampton; and the Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, among other institutions.

Since opening her gallery in Palm Beach 14 years ago, Sarah Gavlak has presented pioneering exhibitions including early solo presentations by Wade Guyton, Marilyn Minter, Betty Tompkins, Rob Wynne, Simone Leigh, Sheila Hicks, and others. In 2014 she expanded her gallery to Los Angeles. In 2018 she founded New Wave Art Wknd, a non-commercial art weekend featuring extraordinary private collection visits, dinners, lectures, and robust public programming around the theme of immigration and migration through a cultural lens. NWAW is designed to showcase the contemporary art scene flourishing in Palm Beach. The weekend will follow the Vernissage of Art Basel Miami Beach, one of the most significant art fairs in the world.
 
Hello and welcome! This is Angel Chen for Noah Becker's Whitehot Magazine here with Beth Rudin DeWoody and Sarah Gavlak. We have come together today to talk about The Bunker, Beth’s private art viewing space in West Palm Beach, and Sarah Gavlak’s New Wave Art Wknd. 

Angel Chen: Beth, You have been called a “Super Collector” and are famous for buying entire shows, what gives you that incredible eye… the first time you see a work, you know you want it?

Beth Rudin DeWoody: First of all I’d like to clarify, I don’t buy a lot of full shows. I did it once with Don Bacardi because I really felt that the show, it was portraits of a lot of the artists of the 70’s, the California Pacific Standard Time artists, and he was so undervalued and the work just needed to stay together. That’s a show from Craig Krull Gallery, I definitely bought the whole show. (Laughter.) But generally, I’ll buy a few works, sometimes one, if I like it, sometimes a few more.  I think it’s just from years and years of looking at art, and you know, just trusting your instincts. 

Chen: How do you know what to buy? 

DeWoody: You kind of develop a knowledge of what you prefer, and what strikes you, and I’ve been at it for a long time, since the mid-70’s or so, it’s been a long time to develop my eye.  

Chen: Can you tell us about your process as a collector, and what was your progression?

DeWoody: Well, I started looking at art very young. My parents had some art in the house, but I was at Rudolf Steiner School in New York, so art was very important, so that was more the making of art. And as a collector, I always, I think it’s kind of genetic, I always had the collector instincts.  So it wasn’t necessarily art in those days, it was magazines, and Beatles memorabilia; you know I always had a sense of history that certain things are going to be important in time.  And then I started taking some art classes at The Art Students League, and at school I had really good classical art teacher who taught us studio art, but then I had a great art history teacher who was a young Soho artist who introduced us to the contemporary art scene.   

Chen: So you would visit a lot of galleries?

DeWoody: Yes, I would go around and look, they sent us to Henry Geldzahler’s show, the 1940-1970 Painting and Sculpture show that was at the Met, that was my introduction to the contemporary art scene at the time. Later on I moved to Tribeca in 1975 with my then husband to be, and then we married, he was an artist, we had a lot of friends so we were always looking at art. That was just part of our lives.

Angel: Sarah, as founder of New Wave Art Wknd, tell us about the mission and how you began supporting these causes.

Sarah Gavlak: Beth is a big part of the story here. When I moved from New York in 2004, and opened my gallery in Palm Beach, before I did, everybody in New York said oh you can’t even think about opening a gallery without talking to Beth Rudin DeWoody, and so I was introduced to her, and I guess the rest, like they say is history. We hit it off. She has been incredibly supportive of the gallery, but also in 2004, there were a few collectors who were involved in buying contemporary art down here, but there wasn’t much of a contemporary art scene at all.  And it’s really grown and changed as younger people come. The Norton has been a part of that. Cheryl Brutvan doing solo exhibitions of women artists and artists of color.  

Chen: What do you most enjoy about Palm Beach?

Gavlak: I always loved it down here, and I’ve really experienced the collector community, for what I’ve been doing, which is showing mostly women artists over the years, and they’ve been incredibly supportive. I always had this idea after going to Berlin Art Weekend, or Art Crush, this sort of experiential weekend, why can’t we do this in Palm Beach?  It’s beautiful and there are great collections. And then when Beth was getting ready to open The Bunker, actually we were in Europe together, and I saw that there was a gap weekend between Miami Basel and Thanksgiving. And I said to Beth, could you open The Bunker earlier, so we could do this art weekend and have this whole thing together? 

Chen: What a great idea.

Gavlak: Yes, so Beth’s team bumped up the deadline, but they got it done, it was unbelievable.  And we had this incredible weekend.  I realize that this is a wonderful opportunity because there are philanthropists and art collectors who gathered, and maybe we could actually do something that was more than just about collecting. The thing about Palm Beach is there are collections, but there aren’t really artists living here, there are some, but not a critical mass, maybe that will change someday. So the other idea was to bring in artists and do panel discussions, and then I came up with this idea of doing a small little residency program for an artist who is an immigrant to this country, I went through this with an artist I work with from Venezuela, Jose Alvarez, so it was a very personal thing to me having gone through this.   

Chen: Interesting.

Gavlak: Yes, you know, to be able to offer a break or a place for an artist who has been through, I mean it’s traumatic to have to leave somewhere, and to have a place for them to work - or not even work, was ok.  Maybe just to read and swim in the ocean and be around art collectors in a nice environment would be a nice thing to do. I wanted there to be a nice social component to what we were doing for the weekend, so that’s how that all came about.

Chen: That sounds beautiful. And you’ve been in West Palm Beach for quite a while. What was that like for you when you first arrived?

Gavlak: Well, there was not much going on in terms of contemporary art to the point where I had people telling me it was never going to work. They were discouraging me to open a gallery here. I even had male collectors of course tell me that I had to show more male artists, other than gay artists - but I believed in what I was doing. People like Beth came in, right away, the first show, first exhibition, and supported the artists that I was showing. In my first show, Beth, I don’t know if you remember, you bought Lisa Anne Auerbach works - I mean, it was just an immediate support. Of course Beth, and anyone who works with her can attest to this, that she is incredibly supportive and generous, and shares her resources and new artists with people. There are collectors who don’t do that, I don’t know why. Beth really believes if she finds an artist that she thinks is really great, that telling people, and connecting people is important. I also think that’s really important actually. And especially as the art world changes and it’s harder and harder for younger, small and medium galleries, to have people like Beth really be a part their agenda. The fabric of the art world and supporting galleries and artists is so important now. So, it was hard, as everybody knows.   

DeWoody: But you know, early on, there were always pockets of collectors, Jane Holzer was here. There were always people who were here, who were collecting but there was not a lot of galleries to buy from. Jason Rubell, for a moment, had a gallery on Worth Avenue, I was so excited about that. 

Gavlak: In the 90’s right? 

DeWoody: Yeah, and it didn’t last very long because he couldn’t find enough collectors around here. Which was too bad because it was a great gallery. But then things started to change. I think the whole world changed in terms of collecting contemporary art. A lot more people started moving to Florida who were interested in it, and as Sarah said, the Norton Museum had Cheryl and other curators Tim Wride started bringing in great shows. That became wonderful. The Nortons are incredible. 

Gavlak: “I noticed since I had the gallery and started participating, first in NADA, then Art Basel. Art Basel Miami has to be credited with really opening up people’s eyes and their minds to contemporary art in Florida and the United States, collectors always went to Basel Switzerland and other art fairs in the past.  People who weren’t even collecting wanted to go, and would ask me to take them, we’d buy work from other galleries. And I think that Miami really rose the awareness to people in Florida.  

DeWoody: Also, Sarah’s first job when she came here, was at the Palm Beach ICA, in Lake Worth, that Michael Rush had been the director of, it was an interesting institution, had been the Lannan Foundation, this guy Bob Montgomery, he decided to run it not as a not for profit, but as a sub Corp, S or something. He allowed Michael to curate and he did these amazing shows, and that was really exciting. They were bringing in shows that the Norton wasn’t doing - It was fantastic until that ended.  And then the Norton, when they re-did their building, it was a game changer because now you really have a top notch, first class museum.  They were always doing good shows, but with that terrible addition that had been put on years ago. And now, it’s beautiful, with Norman Foster having designed it - and it’s just fantastic. That came on line at the same time as The Bunker, my art space, which is not too far from there in West Palm, my personal collection, which has just been unbelievably popular. 

Chen: When people visit Palm Beach, where do they go to look at art?

DeWoody: When people come down, they go to the Norton, they go to The Bunker, they go to galleries around town, so that’s been fantastic. We get groups coming in from museums and some of the groups that go to Art Basel will come up here before or after.  So that’s been a great thing for down here. 

Chen: Beth, a question about The Bunker, I see it as an act of philanthropy actually, opening a private collection for viewing and sharing the work.  How does it feel to open yourself and the work up to a wider audience?

DeWoody: Well, I love it because I’ve always been a loaner of my works out to shows, I’ve never refused anyone to borrow anything, because I feel like art should be shared, it should be out there. And then years ago I started curating with galleries and that was because I felt like in my collecting, I would see patterns, or themes in my collecting, that I thought oh this would be fun to do as a show - and so I love to do that. Sometimes I’ll borrow works from my own collection, but most of the time they’re consigned. But it’s generally a theme that I have been collecting in.

Chen: So it gets the work out there I’m guessing? 

DeWoody, Yes, since I’m a hopeless collector it always depressed me to have things sitting in a warehouse, and so I just felt it was important to get it out there. And I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great curators, Laura Dvorkin and Maynard Monrow. And then also initially the artist Philip Estlund, the three of them did the initial show and helped, you know, we renovated this incredible building, an art deco 1925 building that had been a toy factory, then became a bullet factory. But they did the first show, and then Laura and Maynard did the second show along with guest curator Eric Shiner, and this year we have Simon Watson who is a guest curator.  We’ll continue that way, we’ll bring in some guest curators, and I help with the curation picking themes of the shows I want to see, and then they do all the work. Hanging it and figuring out everything. 

Chen: What do you have planned for the opening? 

DeWoody: For the opening we’ll have a performance going on, this year, we’ll have Delia Brown, who’s going to do a room. And then we also have FriendsWithYou in the video room, you know, it’s a lot of fun. It’s great because people come and see all of this, and it’s not intimidating for people. Last year we had the food room, and the silver room, and everyone can relate to all of that.  I think that they see art in a different way, to me, any entryway you can get into art, and it’s such an important thing for all of us, to enliven our lives. 

Chen: What is important about it for you?

DeWoody: For many many reasons, it is so important.  I hope to get more school groups in, I think that would be great for the students around here, I just love doing it. It’s not a foundation, it’s not a museum. It’s just my art space. If you want to call it philanthropy, you can. Whatever it is, it’s just great. I love it.

Gavlak: Maynard is an artist, and Philip is an artist, who did the first shows, and I always think of Beth in her curating, it’s very creative. It’s very much like an artist, I think. Seeing these ideas. Nobody puts together work in a collection, in a room, in an environment, I don’t think, I’ve never seen it, like this - Anywhere.  I think that’s so wonderful like Beth was saying, It’s very accessible. People at all levels, school children, people who have never looked at art, seasoned collectors, and art gallery people, and across the board people love it. So many collections are the same artists, the same trophies, and the same work. This is all very across the board, artists you’ve never heard of, next to artists from art history, it’s very inspiring. I’ve heard from art dealers, who were so happy to see The Bunker, it made them actually, I’ve heard a few comments, it actually restored their faith in art.  To be honest, especially as art dealers you see the same collections everywhere. It’s inspiring that it’s completely unique. Anyway, that’s my two cents about it. 

Chen: Sounds great.  How do you see the role of the collector in the cycle of the contemporary art world? 

DeWoody: As a collector, obviously, collectors all have different motives, some collectors collect just because they later want to sell, they only want the trophy work that are going to go up in value. I collect because I love art - I’m addicted to it. But I also want to help young artists, I love discovering new people. I love supporting their work early by buying the work, and giving them a chance and giving them exposure.  I also like collecting artists who are older who have not been in the public eye for a while and kind of forgotten or underappreciated. Luckily, a lot of them are still alive to reap the benefits of new exposure - I think it’s great. A lot of the women artists who were working in the 60’s and 70’s.  Artists of color are finally being appreciated too - all this is great. I think it’s important for collectors to go out there and support artists in any way they can and keep their studios going by buying the work - it’s really important.

Chen: Absolutely. For new collectors who want to engage in the art world and might be a little hesitant or don’t know where to start, people would love to hear from you what you think would help them to begin?

DeWoody: Don’t be intimidated, don’t be scared, go into galleries, ask questions. Never be scared to go, if you don’t understand something say, “I’d love to have this explained to me.” “Do you have other works by the artist?” “What’s the history of the artist?”  Understand that everyone reads about these big prices on art. It’s very intimidating. Everyone says “I can’t afford any art,” but that’s not true - I find art for $100 out there. You can find inexpensive art.   

Chen: For example, where? 

DeWoody: Go to places like the Affordable Art Fair. Go to young galleries. I notice that a lot of collectors will only go to certain galleries. They’ll go to the big ones, Zwirner, Pace, Hauser and Wirth, the bigger galleries, that they know the names. And those are great galleries, there’s nothing wrong with going to them. But these collectors end up overlooking a lot of young galleries. A lot of these young galleries are showing the work of the artists that become very expensive later, they show them inexpensively early on. And so you just have to kind of go with your gut and see what appeals to you  and know what your budget is. A lot of galleries are willing to do this, I know Leo Castelli used to work with young collectors and take money monthly to pay for a piece of work. The thing is to have a passion for it, and join a museum like a young contemporary group which gives you access to the curators, you learn what the museums are looking at. Also, get exposed to other young collectors. I don’t have advisors, but I do get advice from curators, from my kids, from other artists.  Anyway -  it’s important to look, look, look, and just be out there, and not be scared of anything.

Chen: That’s great advice.

Gavlak: Beth is right. Art fairs and social media are great.  They’re a blessing and a curse.  Going to an art fair is a great way to see a lot of things.  Galleries and artists especially spend a lot of time and their resources to create an exhibition and to do shows. Beth is one of those collectors that goes to see shows, galleries and exhibitions and museums and the smallest, little, I mean, I’ve literally gone with Beth to see a space that was in the garage behind a house with a dirt floor - all the way to the top galleries. The thing is, and Beth is right, and I can attest to this having gone through this many times. The newer, younger, smaller galleries often show artists way before the bigger galleries come along. It’s nice to be able to say, oh yeah, I bought that 8 years ago, or 5 or 10 years ago from that gallery. And you are also watching that artist grow, you get to be a part of that.  I think too many people don’t feel secure in their eye or what they know, so they’re afraid to take that risk - they don’t trust their eye. I’ve had many times, collectors that I told to buy something, come up to me, you know, 8 years later and say, hey what do you think of this artist, and I say, I showed it to you in Palm Beach 8 years ago. Some people have to wait until it gets to a bigger gallery. Which, I understand, but I think like Beth said, if you are really interested in art, you’re going to go into galleries and ask questions, and see work, and constantly look. That’s how you learn and how you know what’s good. 

Chen: So, we’re really excited to see The Bunker and New Wave Art Wknd, can you tell us a little more about how you see New Wave Art Wknd impacting West Palm Beach and the larger contemporary art world?  

Gavlak: My hope is that it’s going to bring people here to see what’s going on, to see Beth’s collection, and the Norton, some of the really great collectors who are supporting lots of galleries and artists and also we’re going to have great panel discussions, we’re flying artists in to come and have an experience that’s more relaxing. It’s a very small group of people it’s not a big crazy art fair, and that’s fun and great, but it’s much more chilled out than that. Not only is it a beautiful place to be, and you’ll swim in the ocean, and you’ll also be able to see great art, hear really interesting artists speak, see projects like what Beth is doing, and exhibitions at the Norton, there’s an incredible George O’Keeffe show that just opened, that’s going to be up during New Wave, and we’re doing our first panel discussion and kickoff event at The Norton.  So it will be nice for people to come and experience something different.

Chen: I saw something about City of Asylum?

Gavlak: Yes! City of Asylum is based in Pittsburgh, and it is a residency program, that was started by Henry Reese and his wife Diane Samuels, who is an artist, and they offer literally asylum to writers, poets, fiction writers, journalists from all over the world, Somalia, Bangladesh, who are under persecution, who don’t have freedom of expression, they work to bring them out of that situation, and their families, sometimes there are children involved, and they get to stay in Pittsburgh in these incredible historic homes, right on the same street as this really incredible art space called The Mattress Factory. This is also 5 minutes from The Warhol Museum, and the writers can stay there for up to a year - they’re well taken care of - there are amazing success stories. I’m from Pittsburgh, so this has even greater significance for me, it’s meaningful.  I was having a meeting with the new director, Eric Crosby, at the Carnegie Museum, he said, “tell me more about New Wave”, It was after last year.  “Oh, it’s great!  I’m trying to get this residency program off the ground for artists who are immigrants,” “Oh, you have to talk to my husband, he’s the program director for City of Asylum, he connected us, I got in touch with them, and they’ve been amazing. Not only are they able to receive our donations, and they get a percentage for their programming, and their residents, but also mentoring me, and talking to me about, explaining things to be aware of when you’re doing this kind of work with artists who come from other places and who also have suffered trauma, and they’ve been great, it’s been very moving to work with them, and to hear their stories, if I can even do a fraction, a tiny bit of what they have, for artists, that would be really amazing. They’re a wonderful partner to have in this endeavor.  And they’re coming. Henry is going to be on the first panel discussion at The Norton.  I’m looking forward to that relationship growing. They don’t have visual artists at this point, they only have writers. So maybe there’s an artist that wants to come to Pittsburgh that you know of, so we could do that too, which is really exciting.

Chen: Place and Space: Negotiating Displacement through a Cultural Lens, is that about climate change?

Gavlak: That’s the Friday panel discussion that Isolde, Dr. Brielmaier is in charge of. Climate change is a huge issue and it will become an even bigger reason for migration and displacement. It was something that a few artists brought up. She’s incorporated that into the Friday night panel. But I’m really letting her, she’s really taking this on, something that’s important to me, because I do have a commercial gallery, other than us having a reception for Candida Alvarez while everyone’s here. It’s very important that I have other people who take care of the programming, who are in charge of it, not me. So it’s a very separate endeavor.  The artist in residence isn’t going to make paintings that I’m going to show in the gallery and benefit from.  It should be very separate. That’s my feeling - I feel that’s important. 

Chen: And how do you see your role in supporting the new movement and the new generation of artists?  Either with the gallery or with New Wave Art Weekend?

Gavlak: I think with New Wave, there’s a range of artists that Isolde has selected for the discussions, some are more well known, some are very new. Most of them are newer, younger artists. It can become another platform for artists to say what they’re doing.  I think another thing that’s important is, I was talking to a woman who interviewed me for The Art Newspaper. There’s so much discord in our country, in our culture right now.  It’s really important that when there’s a human story, a real person sitting next to you talking to you, about how their dream was to go to New York and be like Andy Warhol and make art, as a child in Venezuela, but they had to flee to do that. When you’re an art collector, and you hear that story… everything else, I hope, or should, just fall away. All the other perceived politics around that too. Arshile Gorky had to flee Armenian genocide. He is one of the most incredible artists of the 20th century. And de Kooning.  And you think of Njideka (Akunyili Crosby), all these other people, we posted their stories on our New Wave Art Wknd Instagram… It’s important, especially if you’re an art collector, no matter what your politics, you would want to support that.  Because these people come from all over and they become our art history.  It’s important for artists to literally have a seat at the table - to sit next to a collector.  To be able to sit with collectors and talk to them and meet them, and it’s thrilling for artists to meet people who own their work, or to get to know them.  That’s my other hope, is to bring more artists here, and have artists and collectors be together. 

Chen: One final question. How would you like the art and its legacy to make an impact on the world? 

DeWoody: I just think it will impact the world, because art is so important.  It goes over barriers, even though artists can be political. Art connects the world. One of the great things about having art fairs, is people travel to them, countries in the middle east, like Dubai, Istanbul, there are art fairs, and people go, and travel there, and it doesn’t matter what your religion is, what your politics are, you’re out there, enjoying, being surrounded by great culture, we think about the caveman doing pictures early on, it’s always been part of our lives, something really to be cherished. It lasts and leaves a great legacy.  How many people are enjoying the Mona Lisa? That was done how many years ago? It still makes a statement or an impact today. I guess that’s my answer for that. 

Gavlak: I would agree with that. You might not know a language, but if you see something visual, an image, it crosses cultures and language barriers.  It’s a way to communicate and find a commonality rather than difference. Like Beth said, it enriches our lives. I can’t imagine a world without artists. They’re important, they help see the world in different ways. They even help bring us along faster to new ideas and change the way we think. I hope that New Wave and The Bunker will help keep that going somehow and be a part of that.

Chen: Beth and Sarah, two women I respect and admire so much, thank you both so much for joining Whitehot Magazine and talking to everyone about these exciting new ventures, The Bunker and New Wave Art Wknd. We have a lot to look forward to.  Is there anything else you would like to share with our audiences that we can do to participate in positive steps forward?

DeWoody and Gavlak: Come visit us in Palm Beach!  Look at art, support young artists.  Just enjoy, have fun with it.  Thank you, Angel, bye! WM

 

 

Angel Chen

 
Angel Chen is a Los Angeles based artist/writer. Born in Taipei, raised in Southern California, she earned a BFA from UCLA and an MFA from Calarts, also received the Ahmanson award and distinguished art fellowships from Skowhegan and Atlantic Center for the Arts, and created a 20 foot commission for the Annenberg Foundation. She has written arts coverage on the Venice Biennale, Basel Art Fair, and Shanghai Art Fair. You can find her at angel-chen.com.

view all articles from this author