By: STEPHANIE DAVIS SMITH
What’s it like to run a hip gallery concept on both coasts? The Gavlak Gallery is doing it with grace, while breaking barriers for women, LGBTQ, and BIPOC artists across the country.
Sarah Gavlak opened her contemporary gallery in Palm Beach in 2005, before iPhones and social media altered the landscape. Over the years, she built a significant following of collectors and connoisseurs in that posh enclave. The ethos of Gavlak Gallery was to be a champion of women and LGBTQ artists early on. She knew the local elite had a great eye, so Gavlak pushed female artists, who were underrecognized yet important—Betty Tompkins, Simone Leigh, and Wade Guyton were among the early ones. They have all blown up since.
In 2014, she opened a second Gavlak Gallery in Los Angeles. The SoCal gallery has a decidedly younger collector base. Both galleries put on a slew of solo exhibitions. Gisela Colón is a noted L.A. artist who has shown in both locations. Jose Alvarez is another. A Venezuelan with a studio in Miami, he has exhibited in both spaces to much acclaim.
“We get a lot of support from both coasts,” says John McGurk, director of the Palm Beach gallery. “If we’re showing an East Coast artist in L.A. we’ll get a lot of inquiries from New York City. And the opposite happens for a West Coast artist in the Palm Beach space.” McGurk has been with the gallery since 2018, and he’s watched the market trends as big museum supporters from New York City have migrated to Palm Beach since the pandemic. “We get tons of D.C. and Chicago curators, collectors, and interior designers in town, too.”
Fans of Gavlak will find that the L.A. gallery has much more flexibility in layout and is noticeably larger. “In contrast, our Palm Beach space is a nice jewel box,” explains McGurk. “The new exhibition in L.A. is really interesting,” he adds. “It’s the second iteration of an exhibition with Beth Rudin DeWoody. She’s a big American collector, who owns The Bunker [Artspace in Palm Beach].” Gavlak and DeWoody collaborated on Think Pink back in 2010. This nod to the past is now dubbed “Think Pinker” and is a large group show featuring 70 artists that has been well-attended.
Back in Palm Beach, Taha Heydari is showing through March 5, 2023. He’s a young emerging artist in Baltimore who grew up in Iran. “He’s relatively new, and it’s our first solo exhibition with him,” says McGurk. Entitled “Loom,” these new paintings reference the ubiquity of Persian rugs. “It references what’s going on [in Iran] now. A lot of layering. Very timely,” shares McGurk.
McGurk notes the demographics in Palm Beach have begun to skew younger since the pandemic. “Sarah started New Wave Art WKND five years ago. It championed immigrant artists without representation. It’s about bringing new, young artists some exposure and getting them in front of seasoned collectors,” adds McGurk. “Showing works by black, indigenous, and people of color is a big part of Sarah’s vision as well.”
Nancy Lorenz will have a solo exhibition in the Palm Beach gallery followed by a show by April Bay. In Los Angeles, Anthony Sonenberg from Bentonville, AR, will show his ceramics. Female artist, Iwilda Sterling Dupree from Puerto Rico, will show as well. Dupree recently exhibited at the Whitney Museum, and this is her first show with Gavlak Gallery.