Collector’s Diary: Beth Rudin DeWoody Reflects on Jam-Packed Art Journeys in New York and Los Angeles

This spring has been quite a whirlwind, and it’s hard to remember everything I saw. I typically use photographs to jog my memory, but it can be hard for me to retrace my steps. If I like something a lot, I’ll buy it, but sometimes I can’t afford it, and that’s just as well. I can just enjoy looking at it. I’m always moving forward when it comes to looking at art. I go at such a speed and pace that it can be hard to keep up. I try to meet artists when I’m in their cities to go to their studios. I try to go everywhere and see a lot.

A hallmark of my May schedule is attending Frieze New York, so I’ll start there. At Frieze, I learned about this wonderful Iranian artist named Bita Fayyazi at Dastan, a Tehran-based gallery. She was showing a hanging sculptural piece that was great. Another discovery was the work of June Clark, an 82-year-old artist who was born in Harlem and is now based in Toronto, courtesy of Daniel Faria Gallery, also from Toronto. She had on view Enough (from the Perseverance Suite), 2023, a metal sculpture showing rusted chains in a birdcage-like structure. It was such a powerful work, it immediately stopped me in my tracks. The gallery mentioned that there was significant interest in the work, so I was happy that, in the end, I was able to acquire it.

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A drawn illustration of three men -- the first wearing a red shirt and coat and a thick beard, the second wearing a white shirt and blue sweater, short hair and glasses, and the third, in all black, with glasses.

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery’s booth focused on art made in 1973 by women, which was also the year the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision. The gallery had an interesting mix of cool works: a Nancy Grossman head, a Lee Bontecou drawing, an early Betye Saar, a red rope piece by Claire Zeisler, and an incredible vaginal textile work by Magdalena Abakanowicz. That week I also attended the launch for Komal Shah’s new book on her collection, Making Their Mark: Art by Women in the Shah Garg Collection, which was lovely. The room was filled with so many great people.

I like that Frieze New York wasn’t so big. It allowed me the time to visit a number of artists’ studios. I went to Alteronce Gumby’s studio in the Bronx, as well as Hannah Levy’s, which was in a building next door. I collect both artists’ work, but I didn’t realize their studios were so close to each other. Across the street, I went for a walkthrough with Sanford Biggers in his studio. I’m such a visual person when it comes to art. I don’t have a set of questions that I ask artists when I enter their studios. I just ask questions related to the work as I’m there. It’s always different with each visit. We often talk about their use of materials and how they go about their work. And then other questions pop into my head. For instance, sometimes I’ll ask, “Were you looking at a particular artist?” But it’s never one set of things with me.

During my tour of galleries, a standout for me was the butt show: “Rear View” at LGDR (now Lévy Gorvy Dayan). I liked that there was a mixture of different artists from different periods. I’m always one for thematic shows because you can show different periods, different artists, different ranges of famous or not-famous. The show looked amazing. I loved that you were looking at everyone from the back. That was very appealing to me.

I also went up to the Columbia University School of the Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition, which was curated by Jasmine Wahi and was really well done. There were interesting artists in the show, including Levi Nelson, Alison Nguyen, Kat Lowish, Nick Farhi, and Li Wang. I also had a chance to stop by the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, which was not too far away this year.

Later, I went to see an exhibition called “Femme F(r)iction” at the Academy Mansion, a four-story town house on the Upper East Side, as well as Lauren Halsey’s rooftop commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Lauren gave me a walkthrough. I’ve been collecting her work for several years, since almost the beginning. I also have an incredible portrait of her as Nefertiti by artist Aaron Fowler, a friend since their days in Yale’s MFA program.

Other knockout exhibitions I saw while in town were Fred Eversley’s solo show at David Kordansky’s space in Chelsea, Gagosian’s “Avedon 100” exhibition, and Takako Yamaguchi’s solo at Ortuzar Projects in Tribeca, where I got to meet the artist. She had on view these fascinating seascapes.

A mixed-media artwork showing a Black woman with her baby sitting on a chair. They are slightly obscured by green plants and you can see inside a house in the background.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby: Still You Bloom in This Land of No Gardens, 2021.

Photo Fredrik Nilsen Studio/©Njideka Akunyili Crosby/Courtesy the artist, Victoria Miro, and David Zwirner

I’m always popping back and forth between LA and New York, so back in Los Angeles, I had the chance to see a lovely trio of exhibitions at Jeffrey Deitch: Faith Ringgold, Karon Davis, and Judith F. Baca, whose work was new to me. I ran into LA-based artist Mr. Wash there. I got to know him and his work through the last Made in L.A. biennial at the Hammer Museum in 2021, and then bought Mr. Rene # MAN POWER (2011) and Targeted Insurrection (2021) directly from Mr. Wash.

Then, of course, I went to the opening of David Zwirner’s new LA space, which had a suite of recent work by LA-based artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby that will travel to the gallery’s 19th Street location in Chelsea this fall. At Sargent’s Daughters, down the street on Western Avenue, I bought a work by a young artist named Yaron Michael Hakim, whom I learned about via my friend and fellow collector Lyndon Barrois. Hakim does these portraits of himself and others as birds, which are just fascinating. The one I bought, Self-Portrait as a Hawk-Headed Parrot (2021), will be included in a future exhibition at The Bunker Artspace that will focus on self-portraits.

Then I stopped by Shrine to see the latest exhibition of Blair Saxon-Hill, an artist I’ve been collecting for a number of years. I first bought some works from a show of hers at Venus Over Manhattan, and then I bought Untitled (Ladle, Break, Horn Solo), from 2020, and Mother (2021) from her exhibition last year at Nino Mier’s Glassell Park space. These new paintings are fantastic. Her work has gotten more painterly over time, and it’s been fascinating to witness.

A painting on unstretched fabric of a person as a bird with a human arm holding onto a tree branch.

Yaron Michael Hakim: Self-Portrait as a Hawk-Headed Parrot, 2021

Photo Evan Bedford/Courtesy Sargent’s Daughters

Another highlight for me from that round of galleries was a duo of exhibitions at Make Room. My friend Yassi Mazandi had a beautiful show of new paintings and ceramic sculptures alongside works on paper from almost a decade ago. That was paired with a show by Xin Liu, a New York–based artist who was born in China; she has an MFA from RISD and did another graduate program at the MIT Media Lab. That exhibition showed several sculptural works featuring the artist’s DNA data printed on rice paper that was part of her reflection on her identity. “I felt this unshakable disconnect with myself,” Xin wrote in an artist statement after a trip back to China several years ago. “I struggled to recognize and locate myself among the various identities I am constantly obtaining and losing, and often wondered in my thoughts alone in the studio: an artist, a woman, an engineer, a Chinese immigrant, an Asian American, a daughter….”

Then I went to the home of Lyndon Barrois and Janine Sherman Barrois, who is on the Hammer Museum’s board of advisers with me. They have an incredible collection and were hosting an event for the redoubtable collector and patron Joy Simmons, who has long been a backbone of the arts community in Los Angeles, in particular for her generous support of Black artists. (I also ended up buying a work there by their son Lyndon Barrois Jr., an artist in his own right; he’s now based in Pittsburgh and an assistant professor of art at Carnegie Mellon University.)

Before I headed back to New York, I saw other two incredible solo shows, Molly Bounds and Javier Ramirez at Sow & Tailor, and ended up buying works from both: Burlesque (2023) and Grand Entrance (2023) by Bounds, and Con Banda (2023) and Bernie (2023) by Ramirez.

Photo illustration showing two artworks including a sculpture of a dog and an installation view of a museum.

From left, Xin Liu: Fortune Tellers: Energy, 2023; Javier Ramirez: Bernie, 2023; and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s exhibition “Memory Map,” installation view.

Photo Illustration: Kat Brown/ARTnews;Images courtesy (from left): Make Room, Los Angeles; Sow & Tailor, Los Angeles; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

I’m lucky because I get to see amazing shows everywhere. One of those I was able to catch back in New York, just before it closed at Jack Shainman in Chelsea, focused on the photographic work of Barkley L. Hendricks, who is better known as a painter of stunning portraits. Another exhibition that closed in mid-June was by Peter Halley at both Craig F. Starr Gallery and Karma, which focused on his incredible early work from the 1980s. I hadn’t collected his work previously, so I was glad to be able to purchase a painting and drawing from that joint show.

My next stops were the museums. A real standout for me was the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at MoMA. These were works I had never seen before, and the drawings were just so beautiful and not your usual O’Keeffes. Also at MoMA, I enjoyed the museum’s permanent-collection galleries on the fourth floor, showing work from the 1940s to the ’70s, as well as the combination of Alberto Giacometti and Barbara Chase-Riboud, who is now represented by Hauser & Wirth. I loved that somebody thought of placing them together. It’s something I would never consider, but it works so beautifully. I just love when people have these great ideas and different viewpoints of artists, and act on them.

I really enjoyed the Josh Kline and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith shows at the Whitney Museum. I loaned two works to Smith’s exhibition: Trade Canoe: Making Medicine (2018) and I See Red: Snowman (1992). The way they installed Trade Canoe was just fabulous. I actually bought the works by Smith about five years ago from Garth Greenan, whose gallery had an amazing solo for Esteban Cabeza de Baca this summer. I got to meet the artist’s mother, Rosario, who worked with César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, and that’s where she met Cabeza de Baca’s father. She’s still involved in union work, so it was a real treat to hear her stories. Those stories and history are reflected in several pieces featured in the exhibition, like Rosario Cabeza de Baca (2023) and Si Se Puede (2023), both of which I also purchased.

A painting of an older Chicana woman sitting on a green chair in a backyard surrounded by various vibrantly colored items.

Esteban Cabeza de Baca: Rosario Cabeza de Baca, 2023.

Courtesy the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York

As you can tell by now, I’ll go anywhere when it comes to seeing art. There’s just so much to see, it can get overwhelming. The day before I sat down to think about what I had seen over the past few months, I went to more than a dozen galleries in LA—including Chris Sharp, Tanya Leighton, Spy Projects, Blum & Poe, Jac Forbes, Hannah Hoffman, Sebastian Gladstone, and Peter Harkawik’s new space—with John Auerbach and Ed Tang. The Harkawik exhibition, titled “Daydreaming pressed against a fence,” was about how artists often remake works, and was another real treat, as Peter is the 2023–24 guest curator for The Bunker, with his exhibition about artist families and interpersonal relationships set to open in December. I finally got to meet Barbara T. Smith, a great California artist who’s been around a long time. I’m looking forward to her upcoming survey at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, which opens in October.

I’ve always been a curious person. I’ve always had great interest in life and people and what they’re doing, and I’ve always loved the arts. I have loved collecting from a young age, even before I collected art. I’m like a sponge, you could say, and I enjoy absorbing all that’s around me, taking it all in. I love going down rabbit holes about artists and other interesting people that I learn about when I’m seeing art and meeting people and hearing their stories. Then I’ll do my own research to learn more.

For example, I recently visited the studio of the late artist Carole Caroompas in LA. Cliff Benjamin of Western Project is working with the estate and I bought some of her work. I didn’t know anything about her, but she was very integral to a particular art scene in California that it was fascinating to learn about. There are so many artists out there who were really interesting and good that people have totally forgotten about, and then a dealer will help their art resurface. I love collecting that way. It’s just something that’s ingrained in me.

I’m probably not as good as I should be in documenting everything I see and taking notes. But I don’t have the patience for it. I would just rather look at art. I try to be in the moment. The best way to really get a sense of what I’m looking at is to come with me when I’m going around the galleries—just wear your most comfortable shoes and bring a snack. 

—As told to Maximilíano Durón

A version of this article appears in the 2023 ARTnews Top 200 Collectors issue.

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