Collector’s Conversation

Trend-setting Palm Beach gallerist Sarah Gavlak takes questions from Houston-based collector Frank Herzog, a representative for AXA Art Insurance Company.

Describe how you decided to open up your gallery in Palm Beach.

I was visiting friends when I was living in New York, and I already knew about all these great contemporary art collectors here. I couldn%26rsquo;t figure out why, with such a concentration of wealth and taste, there wasn%26rsquo;t a serious contemporary art gallery curating exhibitions, representing cutting-edge international artists and participating in art fairs. So I moved here and opened one.

Was your big break showing in the shipping containers in Art Basel Miami Beach in 2006, days after you opened your gallery in Palm Beach? How did you get in the Art Basel Miami Beach that first year?

It was amazing for me and the artists %26mdash; I showed Aleksandra Mir. I never thought I would be accepted in my first year open, but I wanted to show the Art Basel committee that I was serious and what my program was. I wrote a strong proposal, and they accepted it. People should understand that my being accepted into the fair in my first year had nothing to do with luck. The committee is made up of the best and most successful art dealers from Berlin, London, Los Angeles, New York and beyond. They have known me for years and watched me grow in my professional life from working for other galleries, as a writer and independent curator. They knew that I would do a great job, and they gave me an amazing break.

What is your personal background in terms of the art world?

I have worked for galleries such as Works on Paper in L.A., owned by Christine Nichols, where we presented a Martin Kippenberger exhibition of his %26ldquo;Hotel%26rdquo; drawings in 1996. We only sold a few; Christine was way ahead of her time on that. I also worked for Gagosian in New York briefly, and Yvonne Force and her Art Production Fund. Because I really come out of a more academic background than commercial, I was always writing for art magazines, artists%26rsquo; catalogs, curating independent exhibitions all over the world. Even now that I have to focus on the business side of having a gallery, I really long for a day when I can write more about art history, art and culture.

Were you an art history major?

Yes, I studied art history in Pittsburgh and was an intern on the 1991 Carnegie International, and it was the first time I really studied the work of living artists like Mike Kelley, Stephen Prina, Sophie Calle and Louise Lawler. I was 20, and it changed my life. I knew then that I didn%26rsquo;t want to be stuck in a library doing art history papers, but that I wanted to work with the artists of my generation. Five years later, I went to graduate school in Critical Theory at Art Center in Pasadena, and Mike Kelley and Stephen Prina ended up being my teachers, and several of my fellow students who were artists are artists that I represent today.

Anyone in your family an artist, etc.?

My father is an artist, and I grew up with his paintings and drawings all over the house. And both parents took my sister and I everywhere to see art exhibitions in Washington D.C., Philadelphia. My first trip to New York was when I was 11 in the %26rsquo;80s to see the major Picasso exhibition at MoMA.

Where did you grow up?

Pittsburgh. I had classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art from the time I was five. Art was a big part of my childhood. Recently I was able to take my parents around Paris on their first trip there, and it was one of the best times of my life so far to watch their excitement at seeing all of the major pictures in the Mus%26eacute;e d%26rsquo;Orsay and Louvre.

How do you divide your time between NYC and Palm Beach?

I have been pretty much half and half in both places, but this season, with our new beautiful gallery in Palm Beach, I have been so busy down here that I didn%26rsquo;t get up to NY that much this winter %26hellip;

Are you single-handedly carving out an art scene in that section of Florida?

I%26rsquo;m not sure about that. I do know that no one else has a gallery that is doing what I am doing.

You famously opened a show in your home in Manhattan in 2009 to exhibit Christopher Milne%26rsquo;s Mad Men-styled paintings, which garnered the attention of The New York Times. Are you still curating in your homes in New York and in Palm Beach? Any upcoming exhibits planned there for your pads? If so, which artists and when?

I am actually going to do a project this May with Jane Holzer in her home. I am so thrilled that she has invited me to do something there with her. Her incredible art collection and her own history with Pop to contemporary art is a context I could only dream of putting my artists into.

How would you describe your aesthetic as a gallerist?

Because of my art history and critical theory training, I really am drawn to artists who are also equally invested in both. They are extremely well educated and smart, but there is also an amazing aesthetic quality to their work. The artists are all also very well-skilled in the %26ldquo;craft%26rdquo; element of the work. They have brilliant ideas, but at the end of the day we are talking about a visual medium, and that object, painting, photograph, drawing, video, film has to hold up to a very high formal standard. I show a lot of painting because I really understand it. I just reread Linda Nochlin%26rsquo;s essays on Courbet, one of my favorite painters. It is amazing to me how relevant his work still is to even my generation.

How would you describe the artists in your stable? What characteristics do talents from the feminista-fashionista Lisa Anne Auerbach to the glittery-mirrored wordsmith Rob Wynne to Marilyn Minter of the smoldering photographs share, if any?

I show a lot of women and gay men. Not sure if that is even %26ldquo;PC%26rdquo; or puts me in some sort of ghetto. And, really, I don%26rsquo;t care. The artists I show are passionately exploring histories, art, culture, music, politics, gender, critical theory and notions of desire, sexuality, decadence. These are serious artists who are constantly thinking of very weighty subjects and ideas. These may appear at first as being merely fashionable or glamorous (there is nothing wrong with), but there is always a very serious, underlying critical examination or critique going on in all of their work. %26ldquo;Beauty%26rdquo; is such a dirty word in contemporary art. But I can%26rsquo;t help but be drawn to it and showing artists whose work seduces you into their world of ideas.

Why are you coming to the Dallas Art Fair? Any special connections to Texas?

Two of my favorite collectors, Diane and Mark La Roe, moved from Palm Beach back to Dallas, and they encouraged me to come and try out the fair. They were also very helpful in suggesting artists from our program that may resonate with collectors there.

What curatorial surprises are you planning for your booth? Who will you be exhibiting in the Dallas Art Fair?

We are exhibiting Jose Alvarez, Marilyn Minter and Rob Wynne. I think, overall, the aesthetic of the booth will be spectacular!


Dallas Art Fair: April 8 %26ndash; 10, 2011, Preview Gala April 7



Sarah Gavlak with Alexis Marguerite Teplin%26rsquo;s Venus Restraining (Landscape), 2011. Photo by Dana Funaro.

Frank Herzog. Photo by Jenny Antill.

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