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Installation view of Palm Beach Gallery

By Gareth Harris

As the pandemic took hold, moving out to Palm Beach in south Florida appeared to be the latest diversion for the high-end art world, as major US collectors and galleries migrated en masse to the affluent island town located 65 miles north of Miami. Over the past 18 months, numerous New York dealers have set up satellite branches in and around the plush 1950s Royal Poinciana Plaza. Crucially, this market trend is holding up, not just in the traditionally busy winter months. “During our very successful first season, we realised that there’s a whole group of collectors new to us, based in south Florida outside of the winter, and also that some of our clients aren’t coming back to New York! This motivated us to extend our presence in Palm Beach year round,” says Marc Glimcher, president of Pace gallery, over email. The gallery opened last November in the plaza, presenting works by artists such as James Turrell and Tara Donovan.

Collector and lawyer John Morrissey, who has lived in downtown West Palm Beach for more than 20 years, has witnessed a transformation in the area. “Attempts to escape overbearing Covid-19 restrictions and business disruptions are what seemed to tip the scale and cause the surge in migration of New Yorkers to south Florida during the pandemic,” Morrissey says, adding that Florida has always had a reputation for being more “tax-friendly” than New York. David Maupin, co-founder of Lehmann Maupin gallery, has also embraced having a presence in the Sunshine state: “With collectors concentrated in regional markets, international travel halted and art fairs cancelled, we recognised a captive audience and seized the opportunity to create a seasonal platform for the gallery.” At its Worth Avenue venue, the gallery will present four solo exhibitions running until April next year, including a show of new sculptural fabric works by the Korean artist Do Ho Suh.

The gallerist Sarah Gavlak was here first, though, founding her contemporary art space in 2005. “There are clientele in search of established names, but from the beginning I have worked with collectors who have a trained eye and confidence in their taste,” she says. Beth Rudin DeWoody, founder of The Bunker art space in West Palm Beach, has been a supporter of Gavlak’s programme “since day one”, she says. Steve Henry, a partner in Paula Cooper gallery, is also impressed by the “vitality and seriousness” of the collector community (its Palm Beach gallery is its first outside of New York). The gallery’s current exhibition focuses on works on canvas and paper by the Japanese artist Atsuko Tanaka, a key figure in the 20th-century Gutai movement (until December 11). “The fact that we are opening this rare and remarkable exhibition in Palm Beach speaks to the calibre of collector that we have encountered,” says Henry.

The Palm Beach bonanza also demonstrates how pop-ups may be a way forward in the “new normal” art world. Brett Gorvy of Lévy Gorvy gallery says that the satellite model embodies “our philosophy as an international gallery to be both global and local”, confirming that the Palm Beach gallery will be holding exhibitions monthly until March next year. The show No Line on the Horizon (until December 5) includes works by postwar and contemporary artists who “reimagine the tradition of landscape through the lens of abstraction”.  Sotheby’s opened an outpost in East Hampton in the summer of 2020; a Palm Beach space followed suit in November that year. “We thought it made sense to bring art and objects in closer proximity to where people were,” says David Schrader, Sotheby’s worldwide head of private sales. In its Palm Beach “gallery location”, the auction house shows a variety of items from fine art to jewellery and cars. “We operate very much like a traditional gallery, which is really what the private arm of Sotheby’s is,” he adds.

Sotheby’s also invites “guests” to co-curate presentations: Emmanuel and Christina di Donna, the duo behind Di Donna Galleries, will present another “salon of art and design” (Sélavy) in the Sotheby’s space next February. Highlights from major auctions are also previewed in the Palm Beach location. But will Sotheby’s stay? “For now, our idea is to be there pretty permanently, we like being part of the community there,” Schrader confirms. Eleanor Acquavella of New York’s Acquavella Galleries says that the lease on its Palm Beach venue at Royal Poinciana Way has been extended until June. “It has enabled us to build and expand upon our relationship with a wonderful community of dedicated collectors in a place where our gallery plays a different kind of role than it might in New York,” she says.

Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary works by art market darlings such as Gustave Caillebotte and Willem de Kooning go on display in the gallery’s next exhibition. “The world outside of the art market is still very much in flux, so for now we will continue our presence in Palm Beach alongside our typical schedule of fairs and be prepared to be nimble if we need to be,” she says. So will the Palm Beach boom last? The market only follows the money, of course. Notably, 48 billionaires reside in the town, both seasonally and permanently, according to Palm Beach Daily News. “My clients are all scrambling to find rentals in Palm Beach for the winter,” says Nilani Trent, a New York-based art adviser. “And the art galleries and restaurants don’t seem to be going anywhere,” she concludes.