This New Palm Beach Art Fair Aims to Create Some Extra Buzz Around the City’s Burgeoning Art Market

Veteran fair organizers David and Lee Ann Lester unveiled plans for the new event in Palm Beach—and the concept of an "art bubble."

Interior of the Palm Beach Convention Center.
Interior of the Palm Beach Convention Center.

The organizers who brought the world an art fair on a yacht—the short-lived Seafair—have another against-the-odds gambit. Veteran fair executives David and LeeAnn Lester are launching a new IRL fair even as the ongoing public health crisis has pushed most commercial art events online.

The aptly named Private Art Fair will be held in the fast-growing art hub of Palm Beach between February 24 and February 28, 2021. Although cases of COVID-19 in Florida have been on an upward trajectory in the past 10 days, the Lesters remain optimistic that a possible vaccine might ease lockdown restrictions in time for their big debut.

The couple has a history in Palm Beach, but their long-running Palm Beach Show, which has run for more than two decades, focuses on regional dealers and decorative art, with nary a mega-gallery in sight. Their new venture will replace the annual Palm Beach event, which would have required a more packed venue. The Private Art Fair aims to capture the type of blue-chip dealers and collectors that commonly attend Miami Art Week in December and decamped to the Hamptons over the summer. (The Lesters were also clearly incentivized to upcycle their plans—they had already booked the venue.)

Sotheby's new space in Palm Beach. Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Sotheby’s new space in Palm Beach. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

In recent weeks, there has been a mini-flurry of announcements of Palm Beach pop-up spaces from prominent art sellers including Sotheby’s, Acquavella Galleries, and Pace. (The latter said it currently does not have plans to participate in the Private Art Fair.) Just today, powerhouse Chelsea gallery Lehmann Maupin revealed plans to open a new space on Worth Avenue.

To sweeten the deal, the Lesters are marketing their event as a sort of “art bubble,” with strict safety precautions in place. The venue, the Palm Beach County Convention Center, is one of three buildings in the county that has received independent certification by the GBAC Star Accreditation (Global Biorisk Advisory Council) for COVID-19 safety and sanitation.

Attendance will be strictly limited to approximately six to eight percent of the hall capacity. This means that where capacity at the convention center is 6,600, says Lester, there will be no more than 300 to 400 people inside at a time, including exhibitors. No exhibitors have officially been confirmed, but Lester says he’s been in conversation with about 30 galleries so far.

He acknowledges that there are major unknowns that will affect their ability to pull off the event, including continued travel restrictions and quarantine requirements for galleries from around the world. “I don’t think we’ll have any problem producing 70 galleries but we’ll be late with the exhibitor list because of travel and logistical problems,” he tells Artnet News.

All guests will be invited—no tickets for sale, no admission fees—and provided a designated time to visit based on their availability. Lester says follow-up visits by exhibitors may be held at collectors’ homes. Valet parking will ensure guests head straight into the convention center after exiting their cars and masks will be provided at the entrance.

Lester predicts optimistically that a number of collectors from across the East Coast might fly in for the day on their private planes. “We will provide complimentary limousine service from their plane at Palm Beach airport to the fair and return,” he says. “This makes it especially easy for people to fly in for the day, visit the fair, and return home the same evening.”


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