Since 2017, Beth Rudin DeWoody, who has ranked on ARTnews’s Top 200 Collectors list each year since 2005, has invited those in South Florida for Art Basel Miami Beach to travel 1.5 hours to West Palm Beach to visit her private exhibition space, The Bunker. The Saturday following the fair’s opening, she launches a series of new exhibitions showing off highlights and recent acquisitions from her wide-ranging collection of contemporary art.
This year, DeWoody also invited two of the country’s leading museum directors, Thelma Golden (director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem) and Anne Pasternak (director of the Brooklyn Museum), to organize an exhibition drawing from works in her holdings. Golden and Pasternak, who have had longstanding relationships with DeWoody, immediately agreed.
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Their exhibition, which will take over the Bunker’s largest gallery space, will feature the work of around 30 artists, including Charles Gaines, Jeffrey Gibson, Glenn Ligon, Etel Adan, Nick Cave, Cecilia Vicuña, Kennedy Yanko, Calida Rawles, Guadalupe Maravilla, Marilyn Minter, and Benny Andrews, who was once DeWoody’s art teacher at the New School.
To learn more about the exhibition, ARTnews spoke with Pasternak and Golden. Because of scheduling conflicts, the interviews were conducted separately and have been edited and condensed together.
ARTnews: How did this exhibition come together?
Anne Pasternak: Beth and Maynard Monrow, the artist who’s also the curator of her collection, asked if Thelma and I would do this exhibition together. Thelma and I are so close—I owe her my career. Thelma was the trustee at Creative Time who told me I needed to apply to be Creative Time’s executive director, and she has been there throughout my life. And we both have had a very close relationship between our various cultural institutions and Beth. So I think it was a really nice idea that the two of us would work on something for Beth.
Thelma Golden: I am so deeply inspired by Beth DeWoody. I have known Beth since I was a curator at the Whitney. Then, as now, she is one of the most intrepid collectors around. She also is someone who’s so deeply supportive of institutions, and the people who work in them. Anne and I share having Beth as supporters of both of our institutions. When asked not only to work on this exhibition at the Bunker with Beth but also with Anne, it was a great gift. Anne and I have been colleagues and friends for three decades.
Anne, do you remember how you first met Beth?
Pasternak: I was invited to a party at her house for the Foundry theater [in South Florida]. I was sitting on the stairs, and she came and sat next to me. And she said, “I’ve been following Creative Time. I think what you’re doing is so interesting.” And I was like, “Really?” Because this was after Beth Rudin DeWoody. This is a big deal for little Creative Time. We went out to have lunch, and before you knew it, she was on the board. Having Beth DeWoody on the board of an organization like Creative Time helped transform the institution. People started to take it much more seriously when she was involved.
Where did your conversation for the exhibition begin?
Pasternak: We immediately agreed on what we wanted to do: celebrate Beth’s love of collecting. She is a passionate collector, maybe even an obsessive one. We wanted to show how she has supported artists outside of whether they’re hot in the market or not. She’s just always looking, and she supports numerous artists throughout their career. That’s a story we wanted to tell.
We agreed to start with the work by Benny Andrews because when Beth was in high school, she took an extracurricular art class at the New School, and he was her teacher. She later started going around to studios all over the city with him. The first work she ever bought was a drawing by Benny Andrews, which is in the show. He turned her on to her lifelong passion of collecting.
Golden: I was familiar with the Benny Andrews work in Beth’s collection previous to working on this exhibition. When I came to work at the Studio Museum—an institution that was very important to Benny Andrews, an artist who sits at the center of our Studio Museum life—in 2000, Beth told me of his incredible relationship to her as her teacher. I knew of Beth’s long engagement with Benny Andrews’s work, and it felt like that was a natural place to start our explorations into an exhibition.
How did you go about building the exhibition from there?
Pasternak: This was the challenge, actually, because there are many thousands of artworks in Beth’s collection. And so Maynard and the team put together a list of several hundred artists that Beth was supporting in their careers before people were looking at them. Then we wanted to select artists who had a deep personal connection to Beth, like Benny Andrews, but also artists that she has had a relationship to through our own work, whether it was at the Whitney or the Studio Museum for Thelma or Creative Time or the Brooklyn Museum. So, we were trying to lightly make connections between our personal histories and Beth’s collecting.
Then, when I got to Palm Beach, we saw that we had two times as much work that could possibly fit. We whittled and whittled the list down. If the work had already been shown at the Bunker, we weren’t going to show it. Initially, we were going to have multiple works of each artist, and it just didn’t work. So the artists are mostly represented by one work or one body of work. Everything that we had thought we were going to do didn’t work, but the intention to tell her story of collecting—how, early, she’s was courageous, in terms of the themes [in works she was buying]—is still there. She’s always chosen what you could say, for the times, were challenging works.
It seems to be a very personal exhibition for you both.
Pasternak: Yeah, and it wasn’t like we were coming at this with a kind of theme. I think that people don’t really know or understand how important collecting is for Beth. There are a lot of trophy collectors out there. Beth is not a trophy collector. She’s buying based on objects she loves and that tell interesting things about where the artist is at. They’re often the outliers in the artist’s body of work. They tell us something interesting about their processes and where their thinking is going. They end up becoming very illuminating works.
Golden: What was most interesting about this is that, knowing Beth and having the opportunity often to run into her as she’s looking at exhibitions or having the opportunity to be in her homes, it often brings out the shared relationships to artists. There is any number of works in Beth’s collection that perhaps were in exhibitions that were curated over my career, or or artists I’ve worked on projects with. So being able to look at Beth’s collection, on one level, it’s completely unfamiliar—it’s hers—but there’s a deep sense of familiarity because of these shared interests.
What are some of the highlights in the exhibition?
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Pasternak: It was important for me to put Charles Gaines in the exhibition, in part because when I left Creative Time, I was working on a project with him, and it was hard leaving and not being able to complete it. And now that Charles Gaines project [The American Manifest] is open on Governors Island, and was on view in Times Square earlier this year. Thelma is very close to Glenn Ligon, and Beth has quite a bit of works by him, including a very early self-portrait. And what’s always so great to think about is that Beth was buying Frank Moore early on, and there’s a great Frank Moore this in this show that is in such strong conversation with so many of the other works.
Golden: Here’s what was the great gift of this project. Beth’s collection is so deep that any idea that I thought I knew about what Beth had collected over the years was only the tip of the iceberg. Anyone who’s interested in contemporary art has had the experience of seeing an artist or going to see an exhibition, and maybe having a little bit of a sense that you’re getting there first. Inevitably, they will tell you that Beth had already been there. [Laughs.] She is someone who’s looking so deeply. While working on this exhibition, I was able to think about the ways in which Beth has created so many cross-disciplinary, cross-media, multi-focused, thematic ways of thinking about art, and being able to see how she has hung her collection and created these incredible conversations between artists. She’s been doing this for decades, and the collection represents not only a collecting and acquiring objects, but relationships to artists and the enthusiasm she goes about stewarding artists’ legacies. That’s what made me interested in having a chance looking at the collection and bringing light to some of these works.
Pasternak: There are different kinds of collectors out there, and this is somebody who’s not only just passionate about art and artists but who is courageous, independent-thinking, and very generous.