Known for her quick eye and keen enthusiasm for daring artworks, Beth Rudin DeWoody has gained a reputation as a career-maker for emerging artists, and a taste-maker of sorts. The Armory Show speaks with DeWoody on the occasion of opening The Bunker Artspace, a 20,000-square-foot exhibition space in West Palm Beach. — Interview by Audrey Rose Smith
“Most of the time I follow my instinct, but I do hesitate occasionally.”
The inaugural installation at The Bunker Artspace is co-curated by Phillip Estlund, Laura Dvorkin and Maynard Monrow. How did they approach distilling your 10,000 plus-piece collection to a single exhibition?
Phillip, Laura and Maynard have been with the collection for many years, and are very knowledgeable about the work. I have great confidence and trust in their creative decisions. Each room at The Bunker has its own curations, and is essentially its own exhibition. We already have ideas for other rooms and exhibitions in the future.
When I collect, I often see connective tissue between what artists are creating. This is an inspiration to me when I curate my own shows and for all of us to curate The Bunker the way I collect. The most frustrating part is that I always want to add more work, and they're always inclined to edit.
There is much debate in the art world over the value of private and semi-private museums. As a patron of the arts, and someone who has lent a great deal to public institutions over the years, what compelled you to create The Bunker, an exhibition space of your own?
The space was created because over the years, I've amassed a large art collection, and many of these works are in storage. Fortunately, I had the ability to create The Bunker, which merges gallery and storage space and is the perfect building to show a considerable amount of work outside of what is possible in my domestic spaces, and to a wider audience. I don't see The Bunker as a museum. I see it more as a private art space for me to share with others. In the end, much of the collection will be donated to museums and my family.
Following the opening on December 2nd and a special performance by Fallen Fruit, what programming plans lie in The Bunker’s future?
We don't have anything formalized yet. Moving forward, the Sunday before Art Basel Miami Beach seems like the perfect time for an annual opening with new installations and exhibitions. Our opening this year is part of the inaugural Palm Beach Art Weekend, organized by Sarah Gavlak, and will continue in the [years to come]. It would be wonderful to host talks, performances and other programming throughout the year, but The Bunker is still in its early stages and developing.
As a collector, you are known for your keen and swift eye. Do you ever hesitate, or is it always a matter of following your gut instinct?
Most of the time I follow my instinct, but I do hesitate occasionally. If I am considering a work, and it sticks with me, I usually go for it even if the subject matter is a bit challenging. I do more research on historical works before acquiring them because I am drawn to their story.
“The most frustrating part is that I always want to add more work, and they're always inclined to edit.”
Having begun collecting in the 1970s, how has your taste changed over time? What has stayed the same?
The first art piece that I acquired was from Benny Andrews in 1969. He was a teacher of mine at the New School. I then started collecting early American and Grosvenor School prints from the 20s and 30s. My interests have since broadened to span mostly 1960s to present, contemporary art. However, I still love and continue to enjoy all of my treasures that I've acquired since the beginning.
How do you approach collecting? Do you have a specific medium or movement in mind when you go to fairs or galleries, or is it more spontaneous?
It's always very spontaneous, and I collect all media so it's hard to say. I love learning about new, emerging artists at The Armory Show and other fairs, as well as considering more historical works at each show.
Your support for emerging artists is a hallmark of your collecting style. Who are some of the emerging artists you are most interested in today? Are any of them included in The Bunker’s inaugural exhibition?
Yes, we've included quite a few emerging artists at The Bunker that I am interested in, and feel are creating work that's very fresh and enduring—Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Jen DeNike, Andrew Brischler, Alex Hubbard, Karon Davis and Borna Sammak, just to name a few.
If it's possible to pinpoint, do you have a favorite artwork that stands out among others in your collection?
It's very difficult—I love them all!