Can Palm Beach last as a hub of the art market?

Palm Beach snowbirds are now year round beach birds, and the recent influx of merchants and bankers to the Florida panhandle – which followed the super-rich south in fall 2020 – is here to stay. . The Acquavella gallery signed a lease until June 2022. Paula Cooper, who had initially committed to a six-month lease, is now here for the foreseeable future. And Pace appears to be a long-term prospect, having sold exhibitions of works by Sam Gilliam, Robert Nava, Julian Schnabel and Tara Donovan last season and recently hired former Salon 94 specialist Allison Raddock to manage the space. .

The Sotheby’s Palm Beach outpost is also “fairly permanent,” said David Schrader, the auction house’s global head of private sales, noting that the space is open seven days a week all year round, with the other art companies located at the Royal Poinciana. Plaza Shopping Center.

Clearly, the influx of collectors since the start of the pandemic has brought success to newcomers to Palm Beach. “We were really impressed with the number of people that came out,” says Steve Henry, partner of Paula Cooper, of the gallery’s pop-up experience in Palm Beach last season. He says the gallery is in contact with new collectors not only from New York and Florida, but also from Boston, Philadelphia, Canada, the West Coast and South America. “In New York, people try to see 15 to 20 shows an afternoon. It takes a little while for them to get back to you, ”says Henry. “In Palm Beach, there are six or eight galleries. There isn’t much to do there, so people come to the galleries a lot.

As a result, Palm Beach dealerships rotate shows in some cases every two to four weeks, a strategy that appears to be paying off. The companies report strong sales to institutions as well as collectors in the region. Among the sales in Palm Beach over the past year, Paula Cooper has placed a former Claes Oldenburg at the Norton Museum of Art; an important work by Luciano Fabro with the Margulies Collection in Miami; and a work by Veronica Ryan with the Pérez Art Museum Miami, which was purchased as a gift for the museum.

Henry says he has seen a strong response to the work of contemporary and rigorous conceptual artists such as Jennifer Bartlett as well as crowd-pleasing people like Oldenburg. “People will say, ‘Don’t you need to bring some shine and shine to Palm Beach? “, He said. “Not really!” The gallery is currently hosting an exhibition of Atsuko Tanaka’s work (until December 11), artist Gutai’s first solo show in the United States since 2004. The artist’s drawings and paintings are quite colorful, but it’s serious work, says Henry.

Gallery owner and longtime Palm Beach resident Sarah Gavlak, founder of the area’s New Wave Art Wkend, says her Florida location has consistently surpassed her Los Angeles gallery in terms of sales. Notably, she doesn’t represent top-notch heavyweights, instead focusing on women, artists of color, and LGBTQ artists. Gavlak sold exhibits of works by Gisela Colón and Jose Alvarez last season, placing a few of the latter’s works in American museums.

“That’s what I shouted from the top of the mountains: there are really great people here! said Gavlak. “I showed Betty Tompkins before she played with PPOW. So imagine, I show these hyperrealistic hardcore pornography paintings on a large scale and place them with collectors like Andy and Christine Hall.

“Before I moved to Worth Avenue, I had administrators from the Carnegie Museum [in Pittsburgh] come and buy Jose Alvarez, ”she adds. “Last year [the philanthropist] Aggie Gund bought one of his works for the Brooklyn Museum. I knew there were a handful of really good collectors here and had a instinct that he could grow.

Pale and stale?

Gavlak says she has seen Palm Beach’s population grow throughout the pandemic, delighted with the arrival of new colleagues who can help provide historical art context for her artists, but it’s a trend that started years earlier. The island may still be overwhelmingly a sleepy enclave with a large contingent of extremely wealthy retirees, but it also observed the shift to a slightly younger population about eight years ago.

Nonetheless, she notes that the region still lacks diversity, as well as any significant artist community. (He is 95% white and the average age of residents is 70, according to a recent article in the Financial Time.) “There are no artists here, and certainly no people who tackle some of the bigger issues [in the art world] in a more constructive way, ”she said.

Gavlak hopes the new Palm Beach gallery community, which includes at least one recent transplant from neighboring Miami, Robert Fontaine, will commit to creating lasting change for the region. “Hopefully there will be a long term investment in the community, and it’s not just pop-ups,” she says.

Eric Payson, an artist who moved to the area during the pandemic – to the more affordable and diverse West Palm Beach, with a population of around 1.5 million – is also excited about the arrival of new merchants in the region. But he says beyond Gavlak’s program, “it’s a lot of retail.” Here, he says, “art is just a sort of silent component of a suburban or small town painting. It’s almost like there’s only one trader in there and they might as well sell glasses or tapestries or clothes like the stores next door. They sell goods.

In the more liberal West Palm Beach, Payson says, there may be more promise of an art scene becoming something bolder and more vibrant. But the region has seen its own recent real estate boom, fueled in part by investment from developers, including billionaire art collector Jorge Pérez, as well as the influx of transplants to the region, which has spiked prices. . Through his associated companies, Pérez recently invested millions in the mixed-use Rosemary Square site, which features various artistic and architectural attractions. And he has just signed to invest in the new Transit Village multi-use development planned for West Palm Beach. The recently reopened Brightline train, connecting the two beaches of Palm Beach with Miami, is also touted as a major boon to the region’s economic and cultural prospects.

All of this bodes well for the nearby Norton Museum, which opened a Norman Foster-designed addition in 2019 and is part of a 6.3-acre campus with other cultural attractions expected to open in the years to to come. Norton Museum President Bruce Gendelman said he was aware of other art-related developments in West Palm Beach, including the opening of private museums planned between Norton and The Bunker, the art space by prolific local collector Beth Rudin DeWoody.

Norton’s new director, Ghislain d’Humières, said he saw evidence of the region’s increased capital in the museum in the form of donations to its auction and an increase in membership.

“We’ve recruited a lot of people over the last six months, at a pretty high membership level,” says d’Humières. Many newcomers to the region, he adds, “have to prove for tax reasons that they are residents here. So it was helpful. He notes that when he arrived at the museum in the fall of 2020 and began fundraising for the institution’s current Frida Kahlo exhibit, community members generously donated.

Rich pickings

Recent announcements of local outposts for Goldman Sachs, Blackrock and other investment banking firms signal even more wealth in the region, as well as new opportunities for potential clients.

Gavlak, who also works for the Forbes Family Trust, which educates and advises its art-collecting clients, says the presence of more investment firms in the area could open up the possibility of similar partnerships for dealers and advisers. . “As art has become an asset class, a lot of these hedge funds and banks understand that they have to offer this to their clients,” she says.

Indeed, according to Noah Kupferman of Athena Art Finance, wealth advisers “love working hand in hand with the art community, because clients love it. This is why you will see financial institutions subscribe to museums and exhibitions ”. He adds that the new dealers in the area could also capitalize on the wealthy international jet-setters who have a foothold in Palm Beach.

“People of the world, not domiciled, with whom banks often do not want to work,” he says, may regard art as “a store of value, because art holds its value in a more secure way than many other assets. If your Modigliani is worth $ 20 million today, it will be worth $ 20 million tomorrow ”.

Whatever the future of Palm Beaches’ burgeoning arts community, it’s clear that the season began early this year, well before Thanksgiving, when the social and cultural calendar historically begins. The Gavlak Gallery exhibition Kim Dacres: Black goes first (until January 2, 2022) sold out before it opens on December 1. Allison Raddock, director of Pace Palm Beach, says about 30 or 40 people attended the gallery’s Calder preview opening in early November, “which is a lot for the preseason!”

When the season is in full swing, Raddock expects to see at least 100 people walk through the gallery doors each day. On an island with “more collectors per square mile than almost anywhere in the world,” as Gendelman puts it, this level of foot traffic could represent a gold rush for galleries.

James C. Tibbs