Art Dealers Christina and Emmanuel Di Donna on Their Special Holiday Rituals

The couple, which runs Di Donna Galleries and its sister salon Sélavy, have a lot to celebrate in 2023.

Christina and Emmanuel Di Donna at Di Donna Galleries in New York, 2023. Photo: Jacob Snavely.

For Christina and Emmanuel Di Donna, the holidays always begin at Thanksgiving. That’s when the couple—partners in life and business—set up their yearly Christmas tree and hang the family stockings. 

“The candles come out. The florals change to reds, whites, and greens. The whole mood changes!” Christina said. Just because the tree is up doesn’t mean that work is done for her and her husband, though. Shortly after completing the interview for this article, the Di Donnas were on a southbound plane for Miami Art Week.  

The couple runs Di Donna Galleries, an uptown Manhattan space known for mounting stately exhibitions of 20th-century European and American art, and Sélavy, an itinerant offshoot that functions more like a salon, with pieces of design intermixed with pieces of art. For them, Miami was about meeting clients new and old, and maybe acquiring a few pieces themselves.  

The annual trip is something of a homecoming for Christina, who was born and raised in Miami—but it’s not vacation. “This is definitely a work trip,” she explained. “It’s hard to be able to focus on the fair, and enjoy all that Miami has to offer in the one week that we are there.”  

The real relaxation will begin later this month, when they head to their home in Southampton for Christmas, and Emmanuel’s family flies in from Paris. Hear more about the art world power couple’s plans below as they look ahead to the holidays—and back at their most memorable moments of 2023.

Installation view of "Rock/Paper/Scissors," presented by Sélavy by Di Donna, November 9, 2023 - January 19, 2024. Courtesy of Sélavy by Di Donna.

Installation view of “Rock/Paper/Scissors,” presented by Sélavy by Di Donna, November 9, 2023 – January 19, 2024.
Courtesy of Sélavy by Di Donna.

What rituals or traditions tend to be highlights for your family this time of year? How did they come about?  

Christina Di Donna: We make a customized Advent calendar for our two young daughters. I have this old vintage wooden Advent calendar that my mother made for me and we are happy to continue the tradition. It’s not always easy finding little gifts that fit into the tiny slots, but sometimes it’s a note with a scavenger hunt to find a bigger present hidden somewhere else. I love the idea of spreading the gifts out over the entire month, rather than the kids just tearing through all of the presents at once on Christmas morning. 

What are the food and drinks you associate with this time of year? What does your home typically look like?

CDD: I think of roasted meats and hot cider during the holidays. Something in the oven cooking all day and then enjoyed for an early supper. Maybe some champagne at Christmas dinner and sparkling apple cider for the girls to enjoy. Our home looks the same, except with a lot more greens and reds!

You’ve said before that Sélavy was conceived as an “extension of [your] living room.” Has the salon influenced your home and the objects you live with in turn? Are there any new acquisitions for the personal collection that you were particularly excited about this year? 

Emmanuel Di Donna: Researching themes for the salons helps with discovery and quite often surfaces the associative qualities that certain artists or types of art have with one another. Through the salons, I have had the pleasure of exploring further the master craft of Japanese artist Kyohei Fujita, which we have collected over the years, or Greek and Roman ancient sculpture, or Picasso’s unique painted and sculpted ceramics. In terms of new acquisitions, I am particularly excited by a small Annie Morris foam-core stack sculpture. The intensity and powdery quality of the pigments of this sculpture always brings me joy. 


Installation view of "Rock/Paper/Scissors," presented by Sélavy by Di Donna, November 9, 2023 - January 19, 2024. Courtesy of Sélavy by Di Donna.

Installation view of “Rock/Paper/Scissors,” presented by Sélavy by Di Donna, November 9, 2023 – January 19, 2024.
Courtesy of Sélavy by Di Donna.

Sélavy was born during the pandemic and in some ways, it reflected the constraints of that time. How has the project evolved since then? As business owners, what does Sélavy offer you today that Di Donna Galleries doesn’t? What about as art lovers?  

EDD: Our exhibitions at Di Donna tend to have a scholarly framework, and are often museum-quality shows with firm parameters. They often include loans from private and public collections. As a result, those shows are organized over many months, if not years. By contrast, Sélavy allows for a nimbleness and flexibility, both in terms of timeline and, more importantly, in terms of the ways in which art and design can be mixed in unexpected and surprising ways, unbound by time period or style. Our current Sélavy salon, “Rock/Paper/Scissors,” fully embodies that concept.

CDD: Sélavy has really expanded our personal collection of design objects. Every time we do a show, we end up keeping one of the design pieces for ourselves, because we discover how wonderful the art is to live with. These range from Rogan Gregory’s evocative bronze furniture, to a Nakashima lamp, to simple and timeless Halabala lounge chairs. I currently have my eye on the Byung Hoon Choi stools made of stone that are part of our “Rock/Paper/Scissors” salon. 

Imagine yourself 20 years from now, thinking back to 2023. What will come to mind? What are the moments that defined the last 12 months for you?  

CDD: Gosh, I think if I look back in 20 years, I will just remember my daughters being young and home all of the time and likely say, “those were the good days!” I know this time with our family all under one roof is fleeting, so we really try to enjoy as much of it as we can. 

EDD: Amid the turmoil that defined 2023, the world turned to art as a source of comfort and resilience. The global art community, including the gallery I am a part of, recognized the profound impact that art could have on individuals and society as a whole. Art became a refuge, a space where we could explore our emotions, question the status quo, and find beauty even in the most chaotic of times. 

One of the defining moments of the last 12 months was also witnessing the resurgence of global Surrealism and art created by female artists. The gallery had continuously championed this genre, and it was inspiring to see how institutions and collectors alike rediscovered its power. Surrealism, with its dreamlike imagery and exploration of the subconscious, became a symbol of our collective desire to escape from the harsh realities of the world, if only for a moment. It was as if Surrealism had found new relevance in a world that desperately needed an escape from the mundane. 

Installation view of "Rock/Paper/Scissors," presented by Sélavy by Di Donna, November 9, 2023 - January 19, 2024. Courtesy of Sélavy by Di Donna.

Installation view of “Rock/Paper/Scissors,” presented by Sélavy by Di Donna, November 9, 2023 – January 19, 2024.
Courtesy of Sélavy by Di Donna.

What are you most proud of this year?  

EDD: We had a great time this year working on our TEFAF New York booth dedicated to trailblazing female Surrealist artist Meret Oppenheim. I was very proud of the look of this small but very powerful and elegant presentation which was celebrated by the press and received very well—we sold most of the booth to major collectors and institutions, including LACMA. We also sold a significant piece of design, Dalí’s 1937 Mae West Lips sofa that came from the Edward James Collection, to a major Australian museum. Meanwhile, the gallery’s exhibition of fifty or so vintage portraits taken by Man Ray in Paris between 1921 and 1939, captured the essence and vibrancy of Parisian life through its poets, intellectuals, artists, and socialites. I wonder what an exhibition looking back a hundred years from now will look like.

What in 2024 are you most excited about? 

EDD: In the spring, we will present an exhibition, three years in the making, of two of the most significant and beloved modernist artists of the twentieth Century at our Madison Avenue gallery. I am also excited to discover the different exhibitions around the world that will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Surrealism. 

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