Collector Beth Rudin DeWoody has the quickest eye around. Her sweeps through art fairs are legendary and her West Palm Beach and New York homes are resplendent with arrangements of art, vintage furniture and other treasures gleaned from her expeditions. I’ve observed Beth in action on several occasions, but last week I asked if we could sit down to analyze her decision process.
Seated is not Beth’s natural state. When Beth’s out, she is always looking. She moves swiftly, alighting only when an object catches her attention. Upon arriving at MOCA to see “Mark Handforth: Rolling Stop,” she made a beeline for the small-scale models of Handforth’s sculptures in the lobby, telling me that she loves miniatures of big things and maquettes of any kind. She also made a quick stop in the museum’s giftshop, which had recently been transformed into a pop-up boutique for the jewelry and accessories crafted by Haitian artisans for Donna Karan’s Urban Zen. In less than 10 minutes she’d picked up many of the items I coveted, like handbags made of white ribbon recycled from T-shirts. Although her accumulation of objects appears eclectic, it was apparent from this visit that Beth has established specific categories of interest that guide her rapid selection process.
Among Beth’s favorite activities is browsing North Miami’s row of mid-20th-century design shops near MOCA. Although pressed for time, we stopped by Vermillion, presided over by Susan Cutler, who immediately noticed Beth eyeing a Philip and Kelvin Laverne midcentury coffee table ornamented with a Greco-Roman frieze in bronze and pewter overlay. Beth already had two Laverne planters that she purchased when prices were low. She bought them on instinct, not research. Now prices have skyrocketed. Cutler told us, “Laverne was so modern at the time and now their work transcends all time.” Beth loves Laverne and explained why she would consider buying the coffee table even if she didn’t have a place for it. By contrast, a white lacquer campaign desk with no attribution that piqued her interest was a curiosity that she would only purchase if she had a use for it.
Beth’s memory is impressive and in the course of our discussion she mentioned liking the work of Michael Joachim Grey, an artist she recalled seeing in a large group show at our museum in 2004. Her list of artists rarely includes the usual suspects. Among her recent interests are D.E. May’s small sculptures (falls in her miniatures category) at PDX Contemporary Art in Portland, Oregon, run by Jane Beebe, and Orly Genger’s knitted sculptures (falls into her category of handmade and tactile objects), shown by Palm Beach gallerist Sarah Gavlak. And while she’s known for spotting new artists, her acquisitions at Art Basel Miami Beach included a photo by Hans Bellmer.
Upon exiting Vermillion, she pointed to a Lucite A-frame shelf (or étagère), remarking that she likes Lucite and “things that hold things.” (She subsequently purchased this item.) And suddenly Beth was conflicted about popping in at Stripe, another favorite vintage design store, but she was already late. Walking to her car, I remarked that the selections of art and objects at Art Basel Miami Beach, the MOCA Shop, Vermillion and Stripe were vetted, making her purchases almost fool proof. The real excitement, she remarked was always keeping an open mind when entering into the unknown. And in the blink of an eye, she was gone.