Art Market

Collector Beth Rudin DeWoody on Curating Her 10,000+ Piece Art Collection

Sandra Hale Schulman
Mar 4, 2022 9:46PM

Portrait of Beth Rudin DeWoody. Photo by Firooz Zahedi. Courtesy of The Bunker.

Installation view of “All Roads Lead to More Roads” at The Bunker. Photo by Firooz Zahedi. Courtesy of The Bunker.

Beth Rudin DeWoody strides into her private art space, The Bunker, in West Palm Beach, Florida, looking like a work of art herself. An embroidered jacket, a patterned silk scarf, multiple strands of silver necklaces, and chunky rings complete the look. With chic, cropped hair and a sunny smile, this mega-collector has an eye for the beauty and humor—as well as gravitas—of all things visual.

DeWoody has been collecting since 1969, when she took her first drawing class at the Art Students League of New York. There, she bought her first work: a drawing by one of her teachers, the artist Benny Andrews for $100. She’s acquired over 10,000 works since then—and can tell you the story behind each one.

The lobby of The Bunker. Photo by Firooz Zahedi. Courtesy of The Bunker.


Much of that art is living at The Bunker, a former two-story toy factory DeWoody purchased six years ago to display her collection. The space, located just south of downtown West Palm Beach, has large, open white-walled rooms, along with two kitchens, a photo studio, offices, and storage. The lobby is artfully filled with work from Theaster Gates, Karon Davis, Lisa Anne Auerbach, and the Guerrilla Girls, as well as a vintage “Free Angela Davis Now” poster. There’s also a curated library, where small sculptures fill the nooks between stacks of art books.

An heir to her family’s real estate fortune and a longtime trustee of the Whitney Museum of American Art, DeWoody serves on the boards of various other institutions, including the Hammer Museum and The Glass House. She has curated shows at the Rebuild Foundation in Chicago; the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach; the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, New York; and the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia, among many others.

Installation view of eyeball artworks at The Bunker. Photo by Firooz Zahedi. Courtesy of The Bunker.

At The Bunker, each art-filled gallery is organized around a theme, though a key focus is clearly “art with a sense of humor,” DeWoody explained. “That’s what usually catches my eye.” There are chairs made of stuffed alligators and films of raccoons eating a dinner party; there’s an exhibition dedicated to animals, a roomful of eyeball art, and bizarre works made of hair.

“I’ve been collecting for a long time and I didn’t like to have things constantly in storage,” DeWoody said. “This is not a foundation, it’s not a museum, it’s just basically my collection, by appointment. I’ve curated about 60 to 70 shows on my own over the years and when I do that, I think about what I have in my collection and themes that run through it. I’ve done a show called ‘Think Pink’ and one called ‘In Stitches’ that had things where people used embroidery, stitching, fiber stuff. I have a few pieces in mind and then a theme emerges out of the thousands of pieces I have.”

Installation view of “Resistance” at The Bunker, West Palm Beach. Photo by Firooz Zahedi. Courtesy of The Bunker.

The largest new exhibition at The Bunker, “Resistance,” is curated by Laura Dvorkin and artist Maynard Monrow, and is made up of 72 works by artists including R. Crumb, Rob Pruitt, Varnette Honeywood, Robert Mapplethorpe, Sadie Barnette, Hank Willis Thomas, Howardena Pindell, Judith Bernstein, Glenn Ligon, Ed Paschke, Alison Saar, David Hammons, and Niki de Saint Phalle. Some works hang on rough chain-link fence dividers that tell tales of resistance, resilience, and power to the people.

“For this show, I came up with some ideas, my co-curators came up with some ideas, then we started going through my database,” DeWoody explained. She pointed out the myriad examples of bold political art, including pieces by Nicole Eisenman and Mark Lombardi. “His art makes line drawing connections to political and Mafia people and terrorism,” she said of Lombardi’s work. “The Whitney Museum owns a big piece that has to do with Middle East terrorism and terrorist groups, and after 9/11, the CIA actually went to the Whitney to study the piece because he had made more connections than they had.”

Installation view of “Resistance” at The Bunker, West Palm Beach. Photo by Firooz Zahedi. Courtesy of The Bunker.

DeWoody’s large celebrity portrait collection is anchored by work by DeWoody’s husband, photographer Firooz Zahedi. His striking portrait of Elizabeth Taylor, taken post–brain surgery, is included, as are multiple Polaroids by Andy Warhol that became the basis for his silkscreen portraits of Jean-Michel Basquiat, O.J. Simpson, and Robert Mapplethorpe.

The opening program for the current exhibition featured a live performance by Ryan McNamara that invited viewers to take a “screen test,” akin to what Warhol filmed with his Superstars at The Factory.

Installation view of “All Roads Lead to More Roads,” at The Bunker. Photo by Firooz Zahedi. Courtesy of The Bunker.

DeWoody admits to buying art “all the time.” With homes in New York, Palm Beach, and Los Angeles, she makes frequent trips to galleries (she counts Gavlak, Garth Greenan Gallery, and Gagosian among those she visits most often), museums, art fairs, benefit auctions, and the studios of emerging talents.

“I don’t buy to resell, it’s just a gut feeling after all these years,” DeWoody said. “I often buy on sight, but it depends; sometimes, I’ll think about it a bit. I buy mostly from galleries, but I love studio visits. I like to see them and the work in person, but with [the COVID-19 pandemic] I have been buying from online images. I’ve been collecting for so long, I just trust my instinct.”

Installation view of The Bunker, West Palm Beach. Photo by Firooz Zahedi. Courtesy of The Bunker.

As a curator, she has a current show, on view through March 23rd, at the Lighthouse ArtCenter in Tequesta, Florida, called “Warhol! Warhol! Warhol!” A celebration of Pop Art, the show includes more than 20 pieces of rarely seen original works by Andy Warhol from her collection. Shoe drawings, oxidation paintings, and small sculptures fill out the galleries.

While looking at a Warhol photograph of silver balloons, DeWoody recalled visiting a big Warhol exhibition at a museum. “They had all the actual silver helium balloons you could interact with in the room, and it was so funny: This woman was leaving and because of the static electricity, the balloons were attracted to her hair and they started following her out of the room. We ran after her to make sure they didn’t think she was taking them—they were following her!” she laughed.

With that, DeWoody was off to an afternoon of gallery viewing. There are always more shows to see and art to collect.

Sandra Hale Schulman