Collector Turned Curator: Beth Rudin DeWoody Puts on a Show

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We asked Beth Rudin DeWoody how much art she actually owns. After a minute, “lots,” the real estate heiress said. “Just say ‘lots.'”

That is an understatement. Ms. DeWoody, a prominent and busy figure in the art world, can usually be spotted poolside at the Raleigh during Art Basel Miami, or as a guest of honor at another Hamptons benefit, chatting up artists at galleries and inviting one to crash at her home or come to dinner. According to artist and friend Ross Bleckner, “Beth always seems to love what she does, no matter what it happens to be. She seems happy around artists because her sensibility is like one.” 

Ms. DeWoody is the daughter of Lewis Rudin, whom The Times once called “the head of one of New York’s oldest real estate dynasties.” A socialite and philanthropist (She’s on the New York Social Diary’s “The List”), she serves on the board of several New York cultural institutions, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Brooklyn Academy of Music and Creative Time. A voracious art collector, she has works by Andy Warhol, John Waters, Tom Sachs, Anthony James and many other artists in her Florida and New York homes, and has gifted works to the Whitney. 

More recently, she’s turned gallery-show curator, and is in demand, in part, because she encourages her friends to come, and to buy.

Said Ross Bleckner: ‘Beth seems happy around artists because her sensibility is like one.’

Currently, she has a pair of exhibitions on view. “Hunt & Chase” focuses on the accessible and unattainable, and is at buzzy gallery Salomon Contemporary in East Hampton. “Inspired,” which surveys photographic appropriation, homage and parody, is at Chelsea’s Steven Kasher Gallery.

The New York Observer‘s Paul Laster caught up with Ms. DeWoody at her Upper East Side apartment to discuss her freewheeling role in the city’s cultural landscape.


The Observer: When did you first start collecting art?

Ms. DeWoody: Oh God, probably as a teenager. I bought a few things here and there, not much. I made art before I began buying it. I started making art as a kid and then I took art classes. I bought my first artwork when I was I was 16 or 17. It was a drawing by Benny Andrews, who was my teacher.


How did the curating come about? Why do you enjoy it?

When you collect things, you arrange them in a certain way. I was able to see patterns in the things that artists were focusing upon. I thought it would be fun to do theme shows on some of the things that I’ve been collecting or the things that I saw becoming prevalent out in the world.


As a collector who sits on numerous art institution boards, you have a lot of clout. Has anyone ever given you a hard time about having so many opportunities to organize shows?

Well, first of all, I don’t do it professionally. I have great respect for professional curators and what they do. I’m a total amateur. I don’t get paid for organizing shows; I just do it because I love it. I’ve only received support from other curators. Nowadays, there are a lot of collectors organizing shows. As long as there’s not a conflict of interest, I think it’s great for the artists and for the gallerists.


Tell us about your current shows. Is there a specific concept behind “Inspired” at Steven Kasher Gallery?

Originally, I thought that it would be interesting to ask photographers to pick an iconic image and be inspired by it. (Famous works riffed upon include Annie Liebowitz’s portrait of John and Yoko and Richard Avedon’s “American West” series; Terence Koh interprets Marcel Duchamp.)

And the show at Salomon Contemporary?

The current show at Salomon Contemporary is the only time I’ve really collaborated with a gallerist. James Salomon took me to a studio to see an artist’s work and I suggested another artist that he shows as a two-person show. Then he said, “Let’s do a group show called ‘Hunt & Chase.'”

How much of the curatorial effort is in collaboration with the gallerist or the artist?

The ideas mainly come from me. I think of an idea and present it to the gallery. The collaboration with Donald Baechler came about because I happened to be at Donald’s studio and looking at his art. He paints ice creams cones and lots of childlike themes. Japanese artists, such as Yoshitomo Nara, Takashi Murikami and Misaki Kawai, and a number of other artists use childlike imagery. For example, E.V. Day uses Barbie dolls. I asked Donald, “How would you like to do a show together at Cheim & Read?” The gallery liked the idea and the rest is history.

When you have a show up, do you urge your friends to visit the gallery?

Of course, that’s the reason why a lot of galleries like having me curate a show. I bring a whole bunch of friends; I send invitations; and people that support me come see the shows. Not everyone buys things, but they come and it brings the gallery a new audience.

Is there a particular focus to your own collection?

No, I just collect what I like, which is mostly 20th- and 21st-century art. I have a few Old Master drawings and some earlier things, but mostly 20th century. I collect quite a few artists’ works in depth. Iran do Espírito Santo. Dan Fischer. I don’t own as many Marilyn Minter’s as I’d like: I own four or five pieces.

What was your most recent purchase?

Two drawings from Leslie Tonkonow’s “Merry Christmas Mr. Ordover” show, early works by Malcolm Morley and Larry Zox.

Having been involved in philanthropic activities for as long as you have, what are your fondest memories?

While running our foundation, which involves our whole family, I’ve enjoyed watching my kids and my nieces and nephews take on philanthropic and helpful roles, which is fabulous. I love seeing that passed down to them. … I have some wonderful memories, such as helping to raise money during the 80s AIDS crises.  I co-chaired the first auction for Gods Love We Deliver with Jed Johnson, Jock Soto and Heather Watts, which was a great success.

What’s next?

I’ve got a zillion ideas for shows in my head. The next one is going to be called “January White Sale” and it will be all white.

Collector Turned Curator: Beth Rudin DeWoody Puts on a Show