Palm Beach, Florida: An Adventure in the Arts
When my Vitamin D levels start to drop, my skin turns pale, and the images of Spring seem light years away my thoughts turn to Florida-one of America’s favorite Winter getaways. Having spent many years in Key Biscayne as a second residence, and loving the “vibe” of Coconut Grove and Miami during the worse days of Covid, Palm Beach remained an unexplored territory in my mind’s eye.
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
Palm Beach, admittedly conjures up some stereotypical images, reminiscent of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: Champagne Cocktails and Caviar Dreams”….with its claim as Florida’s city with the most billionaires….43 to be exact, that includes Bill Gates, Steve Wynn, Jimmy Buffet and Rod Stewart. Also known for its world class golf courses, beaches, dining, architecture and a host of charming eccentricities that range from a robust dress code (think white slacks, pink shirts, navy blazers, sockless Gucci loafers for men and brightly colored designer dresses and not-too-modest jewels for the women) to the adherence of “old school” rules, regulations and practices by those for whom being identified with a certain socio-economic class has real value and cliché.
The Home of Philanthropy
Palm Beach boasts only 9,515 citizens who to their credit donate more money per capita than any other community in American, while enjoying the benefits of quality municipal services, strict zoning standards, and a high level of public safety (only 8 incidents of violence reported per year), which accounts for the incredible beauty, cleanliness and allure of the city.
America’s First Resort Destination
And did you know that Palm Beach is known as “America’s First Resort Destination” because it was the first purpose-built destination in American developed solely for leisure travels? Its history covers over 100 years of graceful evolution: when the first settlers arrived in Palm Beach, it was the perfect location to fulfill Flagler’s vision to build one of America’s grandest Gild Age Hotels, known as the Royal Poinciana, along with the Florida East Coast Railway which facilitated the travel of the wealthy elite during the Gilded Age. As a growing class of the successful and affluent began to travel in the early 20th century, summer destinations became more popular.
However, during the Winter, Palm beach remained the most popular during the Season – Christmas thru Easter. To meet the demand, Flagler built a second hotel, known as the famous Breakers. Today, a record 9.1 million visitors came to Palm Beach in 2022, spending more than $6.5 billion.
An Art Adventure with Karen Stone Talwar
After absorbing a bit of history and perspective about this magical place, I began to ponder: what else did this playground for the “rich and famous” offer for the soul? And does it all have to do with billionaires? My answer after a 10-day visit was a revelation.
After taking in the island’s natural beauty, swaying coconut palms, aquamarine oceans and its friendly people, the following days were spent catching up with friends…and joining a group of women from various parts of the United States on a 3-day exploration, led by Karen Stone Talwar, and her company Adventures in Art, which skillfully combines her two passions: travel and art. Karen is a strong player in the Art scene in New York and across the globe, conducting specialized tours in London, India, Miami’s Art Basel and other.
Among the visits planned by Karen was Beth Rudin De Woody’s Bunker Space, the Norton Museum, the studio of Venezuelan artist Jose Alvarez, a private tour of The Four Arts Garden at the Society of Four Arts, and The Galleries at Royal Poinciana Plaza, which includes the Pace Gallery and the Plaza, designed by world-renowned architect John Volk.
Although many of these exhibits may be familiar, for those less schooled in the Arts (me included), each tour was marked by a special sense of discovery and adventure and some singular impressions I’m happy to share.
The Bunker Art Space
Will you stop buying art when you run out of wall space”?
When you are mega collector Beth Rudin De Woody, and heir of a real estate fortune, you simply buy a 20,000 sq. foot former toy factory and turn it into a personal play space. This is not a gallery (nothing is for sale) …it’s not a museum (zoning reasons) ….and it’s not even open to the public (invitation only private tours). Because it is a private collection, there are no wall writings or
headsets to explain the variety of socially conscious and “disrupter” art objects on display…one is left to experience Beth’s collection on one’s own terms, only guided by passionate and skilled guides. Across the 3 floors of the gallery art is everywhere…in the bathrooms, the kitchens, and even in the elevator (where there is an alligator chair on which you can sit). There are themed rooms including Film Noir rooms, Small Works, and Christmas…with works in all mediums, ranging from sculpture and textiles to emerging artists. If you are fortunate enough to visit this space, your senses will be engaged in unexpected ways! Note: Beth has been collecting since she was 18 years old…with over 10,000 objects…which are curated and refined for this space.
The Norton Museum
Exhibitions from Picasso to Jasper Johns, the West Palm Beach Museum is the largest in Florida with more than 8200 works in European, American, Chinese, Contemporary and Photography. A favorite of mine was Chihuly’s “Persian Sea Live”, ceiling art with over 700 hand blown forms, commissioned by the Norton. In addition to the lush Sculpture garden and restaurant, Friday night ART AFTER DARK offers jazz musicians, art workshops, docent tours, and a great way to meet and greet fellow art lovers!!
The Studio of Jose Alvarez-Immigrating from Venezuela in 1961, Jose began his career through charismatic performances where he “channeled” the 2000-year-old spirit of shaman named Carlos, seen by worldwide audiences in the US, China, Australia, Europe and South America.
Preferring to share his art in a more intimate form, he now creates paintings, collages on mica, videos and installations where he reflects on social justice, the plight of the Venezuelan Exile, and interacting components of science, spirituality and mysticism. His work bursts with color, psychedelic patterns, lush floral imagery and traditional shamanic materials such as crystals and porcupine quills.
He has performed and exhibited at the Whitney Museum of Art, The Kitchen in New York, the NASA Johnson Flight Center, with current works at the Gavlak Gallery in Palm Beach and Los Angeles. His work like no other and a visit to his Studio in West Palm was a high point of my trip.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
And, of course, no vacation trip would be complete without enjoying the restaurant scene, bike rides along the Palm Beach Lake Trail, shopping on Worth Avenue, and for those who want to view the Palm Beach skyline and prime real estate from the water, a Sunset Cocktail cruise with new friends.
I recommend dining at Renato’s with its fine Italian cuisine in an outdoor courtyard that delivers the romance of a trip to Italy, Sant Ambroeus (chic and trendy for a ladies lunch), Swifty’s at the Colony Hotel (poolside for the Palm Beach scene), Le Biblioquet (an offshoot from the popular NYC flagship under the management of Warhol muse Jane Holzner), and for super casual, Cafe Flora, in another charming Worth Avenue courtyard.
Many thanks to Karen Stone Talwar for creating a special and unique itinerary through www.adventuresinart.com
And remember, “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”