Beth Rudin DeWoody is native of New York, as well as a renowned art collector and curator. DeWoody studied at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she majored in anthropology and film studies. She completed her studies at the New School for Social Research in New York City, where she received her B.A. in Liberal Arts. DeWoody began working between film assignments at Rudin Management for the accounting department, in addition to leasing apartments. She later joined the company full-time in 1982 as a managing agent. She is now President of The Rudin Family Foundations and Executive Vice President of Rudin Management Company. DeWoody has curated shows for numerous art galleries between New York City and New Orleans including: “Inspired” at Steven Kasher Gallery, “Hunt & Chase” at Salomon Contemporary in East Hampton, and “Pink Show” at Sarah Gavlak Gallery to name a few.
Beth Rudin DeWoody’s board affiliations include the Whitney Museum of American Art, New Yorkers for Children, Inc., New York Children’s Foundation, Creative Time, Find Your Voice, Inc., the New School University, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Design Museum Holon Israel, Save A Child America Inc., and The Police Foundation. She serves on the Parsons Board of Governors of the New School University, is a Member of the Committee for the University Art Collection, and is on the Photography Steering Committee at the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, Florida. Her professional affiliations include being charter member of New York Women Executives in Real Estate. DeWoody is Chairman of the Arts and Culture Committee of the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), is on the Council of Conservators of both the New York Public Library and the Library Association of MOMA.
Currently, there is a showing of her collection of California art from the 1940's to 1980's at the Parrish Museum in Southampton entitled EST-3, which was curated by David Pagel.
Ross Bleckner has said that you have the “sensibility of an artist”, why is that?
I went to Steiner from kindergarten to 7th grade. Art was very important. We had to draw pictures for each subject, we learned how to knit, crochet, sew, woodworking, candle making, etc from the earliest grades. Boys and girls both did the same things. We learned how to sing and eurhythmics, which is a form of dance movement, so the arts were a very important early influence.
How do you see yourself?
I see myself as a collector, a curator, and a philanthropist – that’s the business I have. In my collecting I like to help young artists. Although by buying their work, I wouldn’t necessarily call it philanthropy, but I think it helps artists in that sense.
So when people say that you nurture young artists, is that what they’re referring to?
Yes, I try to help. I buy the work, I advise them, I make the connections, help them network, things like that. Or, I put them in shows that I curate.
How important is it for an artist to go to grad school? Does that mean everything to you? I know that it does to some people, but how do you see it?
I think higher education is always wonderful and for artists to be in an environment with other artists can be influential; with wonderful teachers it is a great thing. Some artists flourish under it. It’s always great to make those connections, because your peers will recommend you. If they are going to be in a show they will say “I had a classmate who was great and you should put them in a show too.” It’s wonderful in terms of networking and just to hone in on your craft.
Is there anything about the art world today that you would change, if you could?
In the earlier days, the 70’s, when I began collecting, there wasn’t such a big emphasis on the money part and the success of your career; the urgency of “you have to get this artist now” before their prices go up. Artists had more time to really work and develop their style; there wasn’t that pressure on them. You find artists who all of a sudden have something great happen with their careers, causing their prices to jump, and then looking to switch galleries. They are focusing more on the monetary value than focusing more on their art. Which I think is not such a great thing.
Do you think that’s prevalent?
I think it happens, yes. I have no problem with an artist becoming successful, being in shows, and doing things. I find that sometimes you go to a gallery and they say “oh, we have this new artist” and you look at the prices and they are crazy; it’s ten thousand dollars for a painting and he/she is not even out of grad school yet. It’s just crazy.
Do you buy with your gut or instinctually? Do you research?
I don’t do a lot of research; it’s mostly my gut. I am certainly open to recommendations from people. I’ll hear from other collectors ‘you should look at this artist or curator” or “this is somebody that we are looking at so you should take a look.’” I’m always open to any form of input and recommendations on artists. Visually, when I go to a gallery and I look at something, its mostly gut. It’s funny because the show I went to last night at a gallery downtown, I was picking out different works that I liked and I had them hung up. So I kind of re-hung the show, and I thought that these look really great together. I bought the whole bunch of them and felt that it looked better than the way it was originally hung and became a kind of pattern. I have a definite, distinct, visual thing that influences me, and it’s hard to explain what that is.
Do you buy any work from emerging artists that are not represented by galleries?
Sure, a lot of times. I will go to group shows or different events, I will meet an artist, ask if they are in a gallery, and many times they will reply “no”; so I’ll go to their studios. My first Kehinde Wiley painting was right from his studio. I was introduced to him by Simon Watson. Simon and I have gone around quite a bit to look at artists in their own studios. It’s fantastic. He has been very helpful in placing them. There is an artist that I am trying to help right now, he’s not really young, but he needs a gallery and I’ve been trying to do that too.
Do you have any favorites in your collection?
No, I love all my art.
What do you do, rotate your art?
Yes, I’ll re-hang. Not everything, but here and there, constantly.
What advice would you give a young collector?
Look, look, look. Go to shows and museums to see what they are looking at, go to fairs, and trust your gut. There is plenty of art at very inexpensive price levels. I buy drawings for only a few hundred dollars, the Affordable Art Fairs are great. Don’t buy with the idea that it is going to go up in value or not, buy what you love and what you want to hang up.
What advice would you give to emerging photographers starting out in their career?
Take pictures that have meaning to you. It’s like what you would say to a writer “write what you know”; photograph what you know. Again you need to look, look, look. Be influenced by things but develop your own style. I think all artists should go to openings so they can network and meet people.
What would you say to people who are intimidated by contemporary art?
Get involved with a museum group. You will get invited to studio visits and different events where you will meet the curators. Keep going to shows and don’t be intimidated, it’s not like you have to understand. Some people think that you have to look at something and understand it. Now, conceptual art may have a message within the work, however, a seasoned art looker might not see the message until they hear it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in galleries. What’s really interesting is that sometimes you will see the work differently from what you find out is behind it.
So the back-story is important?
Well it is, but you also need the visual. If you have a great back-story and the visual isn’t that interesting, you’re not going to be that interested.
What about the reverse?
Yes, that’s fine too, because you could love a painting while the artist has a certain thing in mind but you see it in a different way. You could not really care about what it says because you’re visually attracted to it, and that’s fine too. The whole idea is that you hang it and look at it; it has to be something that moves you and you will not get tired or sick of. People shouldn’t be scared of making mistakes because a lot of times you’ll buy something, think it’s fabulous, and fall in love with the piece. But after a while you might not be crazy about it. You might go to a gallery and say “I’ve lived with this piece and I really like this artist, but can I look at other work by this artist and want to trade it in for something else. Or maybe you can sell this for me and I’ll buy something different”, and that’s fine too.
Do you buy at auctions?
What do you think of Damion Hirst putting all of his stuff right to auction and bypassing Larry?
Somehow I think Larry was involved with it.
What is the most unusual piece within your collection?
(Laughs) Everything is unusual, that’s truly hard to answer.
What’s the most sentimental or most important material possession that you have? Something that, if everything else was burned down or destroyed, you would take?
It would be the art created by my children.
Do you feel that your tastes have evolved over the years?
Yes, they have definitely evolved. However, everything I bought in the 70’s I still love. I just think it has opened up to more things; there is a lot of great art out there. I’ve always collected historically and contemporary. As I get older I learn more about different periods and different things, but even from a young age I’ve loved pop art. I guess I just trust more in my eye and what I’m looking at.
What do you think about the way photography is going directionally as opposed to making images with satellites and drones, which is considered photography within the 21st century?
Photography has evolved a lot. A lot of people felt that photography was only journalistic but then, fashion photography became a form of art as well. People use new technology. Photography was once a new technology and now there is digital as opposed to analog. I think that whatever is out there to use, you should use.
Do you have any plans for your collection?
Well I’m working on that, (laughs) I have to have a pow-wow with my kids and with museums. I would like a lot of it go to different museums, and I give away things now and then. I just have to figure out what I have to do. A lot of it will probably go to the Whitney, the Norton, and the Parrish.
Any habits that you would like to break?
The shopping habit; the feeling that I have to have it.
Is there anything about your life that you do not like?
Yes, I don’t like the hustle and bustle that much. I think I travel to get away from those obligations. Not that I don’t like keeping busy and doing stuff, it’s just that sometimes it gets overwhelming. The paper work just gets crazy.