Lévy Gorvy gallery runs four primary spaces worldwide—in New York, London, Hong Kong, and Paris—but what with localized lockdowns in 2020 and early 2021, the period when all were open for operation at the same time came to just three days. “It was sad and moving,” cofounder Dominique Lévy said recently of that fleeting glimmer in early December. And even when the individual galleries were open, she added, “people weren’t really going out. We’ve been having a tough time putting art in front of curators, collectors, artists, and writers.”
To change that, this past fall, Lévy decided to try pop-ups. “I thought, Let’s be agile,” she said. “Let’s be where some of our clients are. Let’s be in places where people are comfortable outdoors, even if they’re just peeking through the windows.”
Lévy Gorvy first popped up in Miami in December, collaborating with fellow New York gallery Salon 94 on a temporary presentation in the city’s Design District, to coincide with their respective online viewing rooms at the virtual version of Art Basel Miami Beach. “It was fantastic,” Lévy said of that first experience. “Every curator in Miami, Palm Beach, and further away in Florida; tons of collectors; artists; anyone who was in the region—people made a point of coming by.”
The next stop, she decided in January, would be Palm Beach, where many of her collectors have homes. A month into the tenure of that space, Lévy left the running of it to her business partner, Brett Gorvy, while she went to Aspen to open a two-week pop-up there in collaboration with the design store Pitkin Projects, cofounded by Rodman Primack, former director of the Art Basel–owned fair Design Miami.
“I think of the circus, which I’m passionate about,” Lévy said of her pop-up saga so far. (When she was young, the distinguished dealer once worked as an assistant to a clown.) “You don’t travel to see the circus—the circus travels to you, and it is different in each location it visits. We are the new nomads, for the moment.”
Lévy is not alone in this new nomadic adventure. She was joined in Miami in December by New York galleries Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Deitch Projects, Ramiken, Galerie Lelong, and Marianne Boesky (the latter collaborating with Goodman Gallery from Johannesburg, South Africa). In Palm Beach, Lévy’s neighbors in the Royal Poinciana Plaza shopping center included Pace and Acquavella. Those who joined in giving Aspen a shot include London’s White Cube and Lehmann Maupin.
The phenomenon emerged from the Covid pandemic: when art fairs can offer only more online viewing rooms (OVRs), galleries with the capital and the connections to do so have been taking things into their own hands by taking the art to their collectors.
The earliest signs trace back to last summer, when galleries like Pace and Per Skarstedt decamped from New York City and started appearing 100 miles east in the seasonal idyll of the Hamptons. “Our whole idea about how to deal with this pandemic is to keep the energy going,” said Pace CEO Marc Glimcher. “That first meant East Hampton.”
In July, not long after outposts for Van de Weghe, Lisson Gallery, Michael Werner, and Di Donna opened in what became a sort of East Hampton gallery district, Glimcher began to think about Palm Beach. Anticipating that some of the same collectors he was serving in the Hamptons might soon be headed to Florida for the winter, Glimcher knew Palm Beach as a longtime haven for art collectors, including many on the annual ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list, among them, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Dan Loeb, Charles Schwab, Ronald Lauder, Howard and Judie Ganek, Ronnie Heyman, Ken Griffin, Amy and John Phelan, Ann Tenenbaum, Peter Brant, and Steve Wynn (who himself recently opened a gallery in Palm Beach).
And more wealthy people are buying homes there every day. In late December, the Palm Beach Daily News reported that deeds recorded at the local courthouse indicated that more than 20 Palm Beach residential real estate sales hit $20 million or more in 2020. In 2019, there were only 10. Another sign of southward drift: restaurants on New York’s tony Upper East Side also felt the pull, with Le Bilboquet and La Goulue opening locations there.
Pace, Acquavella, and the private sales division of Sotheby’s were the first to grab spaces in and around the Royal Poinciana, a shopping center that already had its own art world connection: Up Markets, the company that owns it, is headed by Samantha Perry, daughter of New York and Palm Beach–based collectors Richard and Lisa Perry. Glimcher called Samantha Perry, then got Acquavella on board. David Schrader, head of private sales for Sotheby’s, had meanwhile also contacted Perry; he ended up renting a house on the plaza property for rotating exhibitions of art and jewelry, and in February gave over some of the space there to a display from a former Sotheby’s colleague, Emmanuel Di Donna, who runs a namesake gallery in New York. Other galleries, seeing the pop-up trend taking off, soon joined elsewhere in the Palm Beach area, signing leases running from three to six months.
Over the summer, the principals at New York–based Lehmann Maupin had noticed how well their colleagues were doing in the Hamptons. “Should we have done it?” gallery partner Carla Camacho remembers thinking at the time. Later, in August, the gallery took the opportunity instead to do a monthlong pop-up out West, in Aspen, Colorado, in collaboration with the design firm R & Company and the Lebanese nonprofit design organization House of Today. “It was really successful and people loved it,” said Camacho. “We immediately felt like this was going to be a new model: bringing art to regional areas that have a strong collector community.”
Inspired by their success in Aspen, Lehmann Maupin turned to Palm Beach. They tried for the Royal Poinciana, but all the available ground-floor spaces were spoken for—by other galleries, as it turned out. But Camacho kept looking and found a space nearby, on the corner of North Avenue and South County, one of the island’s major crossroads, and nestled next door to Ferragamo and across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue, Tourneau, and Louis Vuitton. Lehmann Maupin landed a bigger space there than was available at the Royal Poinciana, and it had a nice perk: an eye-catching roadside billboard bearing the gallery’s name.
Even more so than the migration to the Hamptons, the swell of movement to Palm Beach has been a reaction to increasing burnout on the part of collectors and dealers when it comes to the digital experience provided by art fairs. “There’s a limit to the online viewing room,” said longtime Paula Cooper director Steve Henry, who praises Palm Beach’s relaxed, small-town vibe. “It was a platform that made a lot of sense and was absolutely necessary for everyone to engage in, because there was no other way to have any kind of communication or contact with your collectors. But we’ve all heard about OVR fatigue.”
In the warmth of Palm Beach, people could wander more freely—and the timing was fortuitous as the rollout of Covid vaccines began. In February, Camacho said, there was “a broad spectrum of people here who are going out and going to stores and galleries and dining outside or inside. I’ve had phone calls from people saying, ‘I’m getting my second vaccination on Tuesday and I’m coming in on Wednesday.’ ”
For pop-up galleries in Palm Beach, giving both existing and new clients the longed-for in-person experience of looking at art has been just as important as sales. “I cannot tell you the number of times someone has walked in and said, ‘Oh, my God. This is the first piece of art I’ve seen in eight months,’” said Daniela Gareh, a partner at White Cube. “Literally, it’s joyous.”
White Cube found a warehouse-like space with 18-foot ceilings near the Norton Museum of Art and Beth Rudin de Woody’s private museum, The Bunker. And the success of the operation there led to plans for another pop-up in Aspen this summer.
Galleries already in Aspen have similarly stressed the power of the intimate, in-person experience—the anti-OVR, and maybe even the anti-gallery. In a press release for its show last summer, Lehmann Maupin described a space with views of the surrounding mountainous landscape as “an experience more akin to a private loft viewing than a visit to the impersonal ‘white cube,’ ” one that would “offer collectors and audiences the opportunity to rediscover the indescribable feeling of encountering artists’ work first hand.”
“Collectors a lot of times need some kind of event or exhibition to generate excitement rather than just the cold call,” Camacho said of a sensation that OVRs have not been especially good at providing.
Marc Glimcher of Pace spoke of the same effect, suggesting that the mere fact of artwork up on a wall in however distant a locale can catch collectors’ attention and kickstart demand. “Keeping art in front of collectors—people who are actually coming to see art—ripples through everything. We might have a dealer in Korea who is like, ‘Oh my God, I have someone waiting for one of those Julian Schnabel paintings on view in Palm Beach. Then they sell it to their client.”
Glimcher said the global impact of local shows can create sales from Geneva to Palo Alto. “We get Schnabel to give us five paintings for Palm Beach, and suddenly a museum deal that was on standby starts happening,” he said, while noting that all his shows in Palm Beach have sold out of works at prices ranging from $50,000 to $500,000. Which isn’t to say the numbers don’t go higher: Over the opening weekend of his pop-up, called Sélavy, Emmanuel Di Donna sold a number of works of art and design, including a Willem de Kooning painting priced at more than $10 million.
How long will the pop-up phenomenon last? In mid-February in Palm Beach, signs pointed to a foreseeable future when Per Skarstedt, who had set up in the Hamptons over the summer and plans to keep his space there for another season, secured a space in Palm Beach where he’s looking forward to a similar experience. In New York, his office is on the third floor of his gallery. In Palm Beach, as in East Hampton, his plan is to sit in his small space and greet visitors himself. “Even when this pandemic is over,” he said, “people will not be so keen to go back to the life they had before.”
Lévy said she thinks that even as vaccinations begin to take effect and the pandemic recedes, we may be in for as many as five years of thoroughly changed times. “Is tomorrow going to be about the brick-and-mortar gallery?” she wondered. “Or is it going to be about finding a special place, a special moment, to allow engagement, conversation, emotion, and simply the experience of art? Will people, like in the olden days, rush from all over the world to New York in November for the auctions and see 20 galleries there? Or will they instead take their car and go to the south of France to see an exhibition in an old church? I don’t know, and I’m questioning all this stuff at the moment. I’m leaving all avenues open.”