Triumph of Love

   There are few relationships in the art world more important than that between the artist and the collector. While one creates, the other consumes. While one doubts his skill, the other appreciates his effort. While one forms a message unique to his experience of the world, the other disseminates in the hope that that singular message hits upon a universal truth.

Prada Boots, Sylvie Fleury. Photo by Monica McGivern Photography

   The role of the collector is the focal point of the Norton Museum of Art‘s newest exhibition “The Triumph of Love: Beth Rudin DeWoody Collects.” On display through May 3, “Triumph of Love” offers a rare glimpse into the collection of one of today’s most prolific art collectors. Part-time West Palm Beach resident Beth Rudin DeWoody has spent the better part of the last four decades collecting contemporary works of art from up-and-coming and established artists alike, resulting in a textured yet opinionated assemblage that speaks volumes about DeWoody’s own personality as well as her enthusiasm for art.

   For this exhibition, the Norton has selected roughly 200 paintings, sculptures, drawings and mixed-media works from DeWoody’s 10,000-piece collection—though that number “probably includes my collection of beanie babies,” DeWoody jokes. As her photography collection alone includes around 1,500 images, photography as a medium was set aside for another exhibition to take place next season.

   Selecting from the collection that dons DeWoody’s New York City and West Palm Beach homes, the Norton’s Director of Curatorial Affairs and Curator of Contemporary Art Cheryl Brutvan aimed to present “a reflection and taste of Beth’s collection.” As Brutvan notes, DeWoody’s collection could take up the entire museum so the true challenge in curating this project was trying to provide a comprehensive sampling of DeWoody’s multifaceted collection within a small exhibition space. “She’s intrepid in her interests,” Brutvan says. As a result, “Triumph of Love” predominantly focuses on sculpture, paintings and drawings, with the title of the show coming from an early Cy Twombly drawing that sits in the exhibition space above a Richard Artschwager piano. 

   DeWoody’s overall curatorial philosophy revolves around what she likes; she buys what she’s drawn toward, regardless of who created it. “What I love is when I buy something and I don’t know who [the artists] are or what they are. … It’s just great art,” DeWoody says. This particular selection includes many California artists—a group she began collecting after attending the University of California Santa Barbara—and female artists, as well as a strong representation of iconic artists, like Andy Warhol, Bruce Connor and John Waters, alongside new contemporary talents. “That really makes me happy, when you can help a young artist,” she says.

Beth Rudin DeWoody with Yeti by Mark Swanson. Copyright Harry Benson

   The first thing one notices when entering the exhibition space are two multi-level platforms that display DeWoody’s impressive selection of sculptures and mixed-media items. Each stacked at least four levels high, the platforms house eclectic items that reflect DeWoody’s tastes and sense of humor, and signal that this collection has a distinctly modern and contemporary edge. Shiny replicas of haute fashion items, playful takes on consumer tropes and one giant golden shopping cart by artist Sylvie Fleury are just a few of the pieces to adore. “It’s called shiny-object syndrome,” DeWoody explains. “I have a lot of shiny objects.”

   The remainder of the space features a few lone sculpture displays as well as at least five walls depicting DeWoody’s painting and drawing collection. Some common themes among these pieces are hyper-realistic drawings and the artistic process. “I love the process of artists,” she says.

Untitled (Study for Triumph of Love), Cy Twombly

   One theme, however, is most apparent. “One clear theme is art that is about art,” Brutvan says. A strong sense of playful irreverence permeates DeWoody’s collection, from a deflated take on Jeff Koons’ Rabbit sculpture by Jonathan Monk to a collapsed Degas ballerina from Richard Jackson. Above all, DeWoody is a collector who deeply cares about the artist, different artistic movements and historical periods—she collects because she loves. But, she also realizes that art can have a sense of humor too. Daniel Arsham’s Donkey, for example, is a collapsing sculpture that DeWoody purchased because she thought it was “hysterically funny.”

   This irreverence and light-hearted nature comes across loud and clear throughout “The Triumph of Love.” Yes, you are communing with valuable art and, yes, it was taken from the homes of one of this generation’s most prominent collectors. But it is on display so that visitors may form their own relationships with the works, much like how DeWoody has formed a relationship with the same works as part of her home. And that, of course, is one of the most glorious parts of being a collector: to be surrounded by astonishing works of art on a daily basis, resulting in a more appreciated and beautiful life. “The Triumph of Love” is remarkable in its impart, comprehensiveness and taste, but it succeeds in conveying something even more extraordinary. It allows the visitor to step into the shoes of the collector, transforming the showcased art into a shared collection—one which we can all call our own.

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