New Wave Art Weekend Aimed to Use Palm Beach’s Largest Natural Resource—Rich Collectors—to Support Emerging Artists. Things Got Weird
The event sought to funnel support from one of America's richest zip codes to artists who need the money. What could go wrong?
Art dealer Sarah Gavlak is looking to harness the wealth and prestige of Palm Beach—home to one of the richest zip codes in the U.S.—to support young artists. That’s the mission of her newly minted nonprofit, New Wave, and its annual post-Miami Art Week event, New Wave Art Wknd, which took place December 3–5.
New Wave only received its nonprofit status earlier this year, making it eligible for grant money and other support, but the first Art Wknd took place in 2018. Buying one of the limited number of $2,500 patron tickets grants access to the weekend’s program of private collection visits and panel discussions (two of three of which were also open to the public), with the funds supporting New Wave’s artist residency in West Palm Beach, which started in 2020 and has hosted five artists to date.
“Everything goes right to young artists at the beginning of their career, which is a very critical time,” Gavlak told Artnet News. “The basis of the program is to support women artists, BIPOC artists, LGTBQ artists, and immigrant artists. It’s striving toward creating equity in the art world.”
But even coming on the heels of a week of glitzy art-world parties on the shores of Miami Beach, New Wave’s Saturday night fundraising gala, held at the North Palm compound of former Art Basel Magazine editor Sue Hostetler Wrigley and her husband, chewing-gum heir Beau Wrigley, was an extravagant affair.
Pulling up inside their gated community, approximately 150 guests were greeted by performers on stilts and clad in hot pink feathered flamingo showgirl outfits. (New Wave’s official color is pink.) Astroturf had been laid down on what appeared to be, during normal days, the couple’s driveway, which encircled a venerable-looking banyan tree decorated for the occasion with candles in tiny glass globes.
The guest list included Sotheby’s Noah Horowitz; dealers Steve Henry of Paula Cooper and David Maupin of Lehmann Maupin; art collectors Rona and Jeff Citrin, Pam and Bob Goergen, and Lisa and Richard Perry. Also in attendance were artists such as Will Cotton, Jose Alvarez, and Gisela Colon, as well as three leading New York museum directors: Thelma Golden of the Studio Museum of Harlem, Lisa Phillips of the New Museum, and Anne Pasternak of the Brooklyn Museum.
Waitstaff circulated with passed hors d’oeuvres and cocktails as a live band played in front of what appeared to be a smaller guesthouse. For a brief time, partygoers were permitted to enter the main residence to see the art inside—provided they left their drinks at the door and adhered to a strict no-photos policy. Then, guests made their way around the property’s waterside perimeter, along a seemingly endless dock, to a massive tent filled with banquet tables and a dance floor.
“This is so crazy—it’s the house that Juicy Fruit built,” artist Ryan McNamara, who was there to photograph guests as part of a cocktail-hour performance, told Artnet News. (He had been slightly offended when some people asked him if the stilt walkers were part of his piece.)
“I didn’t actually know what I was stepping into. I’m used to New York wealth, but this gives me a little bit of anxiety,” he added. “But I love any situation that gives artists who can’t afford it a great time. So maybe this is great?”
Earlier that day, collector Beth Rudin DeWoody hosted a public New Wave panel discussion at her private museum, the Bunker, in West Palm Beach. Near the end, April Bey, an artist in the talk’s audience, spoke candidly about how uncomfortable she sometimes gets when a funder can’t understand why she worries about the cost of materials like paint.
“I grew up poor,” she said. “I often feel uncomfortable in spaces that I can’t relate to.”
And now, just hours after asking Palm Beach’s collector class to be mindful of what she dubbed “poverty trauma,” here was Bey at Hostetler Wrigley’s dinner party, which almost certainly cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. (New Wave representatives noted that gratis tickets were offered to artists, and that the event was generously funded by the Wrigleys at no cost to the organization, which helped result in a record total of $300,000 raised over the course of the weekend.)
Gavlak readily admits that New Wave is trying to walk a fine line.
“The issues that I’m trying to address are uncomfortable issues, especially in the context of someplace like Palm Beach, and you have to be very sensitive to that. There is horrible wealth disparity in this country, and there’s a big class divide,” she said. “I’m very aware of the optics. It’s a difficult balance.”
If anything, the art scene in Palm Beach has only grown more rarefied since the last in-person New Wave Art Wknd in 2019. Over the course of lockdown, the gold-plated enclaves of the world’s wealthiest have increasingly become art destinations in their own right, as galleries and auction houses rushed to bring business to the doorsteps of art collectors riding out the crisis in hot spots such as the Hamptons, Aspen, and Monaco.
Palm Beach is now home to outposts of Ben Brown Fine Arts, Pace Gallery, Paula Cooper, Lévy Gorvy, Lehmann Maupin, and Acquavella, among other galleries—at least some of which are committed to being there for the long haul. Christie’s and Sotheby’s have also opened showrooms.
Gavlak, who set up shop in Palm Beach way back in 2005, is happy for the company.
“It’s made New Wave even more exciting and brought more energy and more people to it,” she said.
But the arrival of the art world circus is not without its downsides. The truth is, when your scrappy nonprofit is based in the backyard of billionaires, things can quickly escalate to absurd levels of opulence, with multiple guests commenting on how over-the-top the party was.
“I think even Sarah is surprised,” collector Ann Tenenbaum, who is on the New Wave advisory board, told Artnet News.
Hostetler Wrigley had just joined the New Wave board when she offered to host this year’s dinner, and Gavlak and her team let her handle all the logistics. (New Wave has access to Palm Beach’s seemingly limitless resources, but not necessarily control over how to deploy them.) And after two years largely without in-person events, the impulse to throw a big bash—and even outdo the 2019 event, hosted by Amy and John Phelan—is somewhat understandable. But maybe all that money might have gone to better use supporting New Wave’s core mission of supporting young artists.
The night before, the weekend had kicked off with a decidedly more modest affair in Rosemary Square, the outdoor shopping mall in West Palm Beach where New Wave hosts its artist residency program in a space provided by real estate giant Related. Guests could visit with Na’ye Perez in the studio—a space previously occupied by Asser Saint-Val, Joiri Minaya, Estelle Maisonett, and Renzo Ortega—and enjoy a plant-based buffet and live jazz played by high-school students from West Palm’s A.W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts.
Steps away, children were running around the courtyard between stores as artificial snow began falling from above Symmetry Labs’s 32-foot-tall LED banyan tree topped with a glowing Christmas star—a nightly event during the holiday season. But Gavlak has aspirations beyond the shopping mall, to one day open a dedicated New Wave building with a live-work studio space for artists.
“My hope and my intention,” Gavlak said, “is that bringing artists together with people who have the potential to help make change, both philanthropically and legislatively, can start to move things a little bit in the right direction.”
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