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The Collector as Curator - Beth Rudin DeWoody

By definition, collectors are the chief curators of their own collections. Choosing art, selecting where and arranging for its display, even providing safe care and transport are all part of the job descriptions of contemporary curators -- and collectors. Gallery directors often perform these tasks and are often collectors, too.

Only collectors and artists fully invest in art, they live with art and take the biggest investment risks. Many of our museums began or continue to house the collections of prestigious patrons, a tradition that continues today as collectors, serve on museum boards and even create museums to house their collections. The patrons of the great artists are often as remembered as the artists themselves.

Beth Rudin De Woody is repeatedly listed as a top collector in Art News' annual list of the top 200 collectors. This summer she curated two thought provoking group shows, near her New York homes, one in Chelsea and one in East Hampton.

This is fortunate for me, as I wanted to meet Beth who I had heard only kind and positive things from people who have met her from the art grapevine. I knew I'd learn more about her and discover new artists (to me) my seeing her shows, even if they were not worth reviewing, but I suspected they would be. So, I scheduled pet and studio sitting and took the Jitney into Manhattan to see “A House is not a Home” at the Caren Golden Gallery in Chelsea, curated by Beth Rudin DeWoody.

Earlier that day, Brooklyn has it's only recorded tornado, the subways in Queens were flooded and closed also, plus it was one of the hottest days of the summer. By the time I left Chelsea and headed back across town, traffic was in an overheated snarl on the East Side, with additional Brooklyn and Queens communter buses stalling the traffic. Bicyclists were giving up and walking the bikes on the sidewalk. I finally had to leave transportation and walk part of the way in the heat to catch the returning Jitney. But, I had already seen the show so I knew my hassle was well worth it.

I purposefully did not make arrangements in advance with the gallery that I would be covering the show, as I sometimes do. I was that Caren (who I enjoy seeing) would be out to lunch, because did not want it known that I had seen the show and not even given it a mention, which I knew was a possibility. I only mention or review what I like. Anyway, I was able to take my time, go back and forth between the works, because the sum of the show is a interesting creative work itself.

Reflecting the title, the buildings (houses, usually) in this show are not homes, although people may dwell in them. Most are seen from the outside if at all. No matter how luxurious, full of art, fantastic or perfectly manicured suburban they appear, these are the dwellings of the lonely, who are lonely, or dreamers in sugar coated denial, those who may be gaining affluence but losing their joy, go through the motions of living and park their lives.

Both shows curated by Beth Rudin DeWoody ranges from emerging artists to established, internationally recognized ones, such as Damien Hirst. All of the works are high caliber and show a current avenue each artist is exploring.

Again, although the individual works are good, it's the experience of the way they all come together, a collage of a show of works that harmonize to create a new whole on the “canvas” of the gallery walls.

For instance, in the entry room is Sheri Warshauer's A Nod to Neutra , a 50's type house rendered in that flat, sterile architectural depiction, showing from the outside looking in a amazing collection of Modern Art on the walls. On the wall to the left is Frank Magnotta's relentless Thursday Afternoon Resort End, a graphite on paper drawing of an idealized theme park type log cabin fort, pennants blowing in the breeze announcing the reruns of the day, such as Bonanza and Matlock. Again to the left, by the door, but actually more noticeable as one departs is Will Cotton's Brittle House (see photo right), a painting of a house made of candy, that is simultaneously sweet and sad.

Will Cotton
Brittle House , 2000

Beth Rudin DeWoody explores another kind of house, a metaphysical one of our realities, where do we live? Do we dwell in fantasy, denial, alienation? Using the art works to form a collage of meaning from the artworks that explores the home of the mind and spirit.

I saw the “House is not a Home” at the Caren Golden Gallery on Wednesday and then was at the opening for “What's Your Hobby?” at the Fireplace Project in East Hampton on Saturday. Viewed almost together is an added bonus as although each show is fully stand alone in realizing it's concept, the shows together reflect each other and communicate strongly about contemporary art and society.

The physically livelier and colorful show is “What's your hobby?” It is an eclectic assortment of works, including their sizes, materials and strokes, (stitches, corks, puzzle pieces, butterflies, knives, Barbie dolls, car parts, buttons, and leather soles, etc.) explores the relationship between artists, their hobbies and how those hobbies inform and enhance their work.

Neistat Brothers
Our Hobbies, 2007

The opening itself becomes a part of the show, because it happens on a beautiful summer early evening in the Hamptons, where many of the attendees' hobby on Saturday night is see and be seen. It was packed with people coming and going and staying to schmooze. I watched as many people walked in and then stopped, blocking the doorway, to take in the riveting scene, the gallery is jam packed with works, but those works are of such physical variation, hanging, placed against walls, on the floor, that especially with a crowd, it is a fun but totally differently placed show, certainly from the one in the Caren Golden gallery.

Al Souza , Monarch , 2005

In the small entry room, immediately to the right is an almost floor top ceiling case displaying hunting knives, Toland Grinnell's Bonanza - (TV Purchase #7) . To the left, above that is a deer's head trophy encased in leather complete with zipper along the nose, Michael Combs' Wildlife Management, while to the right Van Neistat (see photo) is busily finishing an artwork by writing in white on a wide screen monitor while a road trip video plays. To the side of that is a bright round finished and mounted jigsaw puzzle by Al Souza (see photo) . And there's a lot more and all of this is hard to see, without working at it due to the crowd.

And it should be seen. It is a fantastic and fun assemblage styles and materials, as diverse in artists' focus, form, texture and meaning, making it a small but good survey of contemporary art. Tara Donovan's Bluffs , all made of white buttons (see photo) , Kenny Schachter's 4 Wheeled Self Portrait a photo of thechrome word "Imp" from his car, but the ramifications are splendid, Martabel Wasserman's Satin Doll (we're not related), well space just does not allow me to mention them all.

Tara Donovan, Bluffs, 2007

In the gallery's press release Beth Rudin DeWoody states,” Most of us had a hobby growing up… Whatever it is it allows us to get into our alpha zone or more meditative state of our brains. In my years of collecting I've noticed that many artists work in a medium associated with hobbies such as knitting or needlepoint or use hobbies as their subject matter. I thought it would be fun to put a show together showing some of this art. Especially since collecting art and curating are my hobbies!”

That meditative state is the connection that allows artists, athletes and others to be in the flow, creating or moving in harmony. Just as artists use their hobbies and interests in their creative work, Beth Rudin DeWoody has serendipitously transformed her hobbies to create two of the best group gallery shows I have seen this year. Go!

Thanks to Shane McAdams and the Caren Golden Gallery and Natalia Benedetti and owner Edsel William of the Fireplace project for their help and permission to use the images.

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." -- Albert Einstein

Envision the world filled with the energies of creative inspiration and potential. See more. Share the vision.


Judy Rey Wasserman
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