An Adventure in the Arts

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The opening reception of Guild Hall: An Adventure in the Arts at The Society of the Four Arts.

Michel Cox Witmer, Chairman of the Fine Art Committee of The Society of the Four Arts, recently walked me around their newest exhibition, Guild Hall: An Adventure in the Arts. It was a rarified treat. His private tours of the world’s great museums and galleries are usually reserved for serious collectors.

Witmer is a longstanding member of the Global Advisory Board of TEFAF, lectures at the Louvre, and is a family next gen collector. All done with a broad smile.

We stood in front of the portrait of Marjorie E. Woodhouse that greets visitors. “She was the daughter of Mary Woodhouse, the principal founder of both Guild Hall and The Society of the Four Arts,” Michel told me. “They lived in the Hamptons and Palm Beach. So, we have a strong connection to this show. It comes on the heels of Scenes Of New York City: The Elie And Sarah Hirschfeld Collection. Since Palm Beach is full of New Yorkers, these shows resonate and are a celebration of our American, cultural and artistic heritage.”


William Whittemore’s portrait of Marjorie E. Woodhouse.

“It’s an eclectic show from an important institution in East Hampton which has very similar roots to The Society of the Four Arts. So, this is a meeting of two historical groups that have gone in the same direction, a very appropriate show for us, with lots of wonderful paintings,” Society President and CEO Dr. Philip Rylands, told me.

According to Society President and CEO Dr. Philip Rylands, “The founder of Guild Hall, Mary, Mrs. Lorenzo E. Woodhouse, was also one of the founders, in 1934, of the Civic Association, which becomes two years later, The Society of the Four Arts.”

Both Guild Hall and The Four Arts were pioneers of the multidisciplinary concept. Guild Hall has a theater, art gallery, concerts and community outreach.

Guild Hall will be reaching out to the Palm Beach community next, on March 14th, when they bring their Visionaries series to the Colony Hotel. LoveShackFancy’s Founder and Creative Director Rebecca Hessel Cohen and Colony Owner & CEO Sarah Wetenhall will talk about how they each brought their creative, forward thinking “visions” to business in transformative ways. (For more, www.guildhall.org)

For The Four Arts, it’s even in the name, which alludes to art, drama, music and literature. A perfect example: a presentation from Peter Gelb, the Director of the Metropolitan Opera, the night before. “We’ll do at least 700 top level programs this one season,” added Witmer.

There are even more top level “programs” for Michel’s Fine Art Committee of ten “wonderful, supportive, active members … that are like family.”

He takes them on art vacations: trips to New York for auction and gallery previews, the opening of TEFAF and to Paris+ Art Basel.

The Four Arts show, Guild Hall: An Adventure in the Arts, features works by artists including George Bellows, Lynda Benglis, Chuck Close, Jane Freilicher, Adolph Gottlieb, Jasper Johns, Thomas Moran, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, and Robert Rauschenberg. The exhibit has been moving around ever since Guild Hall began a multi-year renovation.


Childe Hassam, Little Old Cottage, Egypt Lane, East Hampton, 1917. “Childe Hassam had been in France going to the Académie Julian,” Michel told me, “so he was very familiar with the Claude Monet and the Impressionists. Here, he’s painting a purely American subject in a completely French style: the brushstrokes, the light, the atmosphere, and a little touch of life in there.”

We moved from the Marjorie Woodhouse portrait to an allover abstract assemblage by Alfonso Ossorio, the artist/collector who famously lived in The Creeks in East Hampton before Ronald Perelman. “Ossorio was a friend of Jackson Pollock and very much influenced him as well as a generation of American Abstract Expressionist,” Michel continued.

Michel Witmer standing next to Alfonso Ossorio’s Compatriots (1966-67) at the opening exhibition of Guild Hall: An Adventure in the Arts at The Society of the Four Arts.

“The piece we have here (Compatriots) is from 1966-7. But, Ossorio knew Pollock in the mid ’40s before he was really doing the stuff that he’s famous for now; and they influenced each other. There’s also a strong Filipino influence here.” Ossorio hailed from a wealthy Manila family.

He collected the Abstract artists in his midst. Our favorite story involves the irascible Clyfford Still, who reviled the art establishment, called Rothko a sell-out for his Four Seasons commission, and only sold his own large scale works under financial duress.

Hearing Ossorio was about to loan one of Still’s paintings to an European exhibition, he stormed into the Creeks, while, it is said, Ossorio cowered upstairs. When Still couldn’t get it off the wall, he cut a hole into his canvas, removed its “heart,” and stormed out into a waiting taxi.

It can be argued that The Four Arts owes a small debt to the Norton Museum. They say, when Ralph and Elizabeth Norton founded a museum dedicated solely to the fine arts in 1941, it freed the other to expand.


Ronald and Danielle Bradley.
L. to r.: Giselle Parry and Suzanne Stoll; Marko and Cynthia Remec.
Rob and Anne Hummel-Kraus.
L. to r.: Susan and Martin McGinn; Linda Olsson and Michel Witmer.
Francine and Gregory Purcell, with Leslie Hindman.
Peter and Connie Geisler.

Last week, the Norton fundraised with two galas — a younger, hipper ArtBeat bash on Thursday and a Saturday night grand gala/art auction. Gala Weekend Chairs were Lorna James, Lisa Tananbaum, Silvia Zoullas, George Frederick Mead Merck, and Sue Wrigley.

The Gala Committee comprised Lori Gendelman, Nicki Harris, Josephine Kalisman, Nicola Marcus, and Amy Phelan (who had co-chaired the Boys & Girls the night before). Nicki Harris, Jane Holzer, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Waqas Wajahat, and Silvia Zoullas were the auction committee. Sotheby’s hosted the auction on its website, handling online and onsite bidding. All in all, the weekend raised $3.7 million.


Event chairs: Lorna James, Lisa Tananbaum, George Merck, Norton Director & CEO Ghislain d’Humières, Sue Wrigley, and Silvia Zoullas.

Storied collector Beth DeWoody brought Kenny Scharf into the fold. Years ago, DeWoody blazed a trail in West Palm Beach with her sprawling waterfront compound on the other side of the IntraCoastal. When her own collection and lust for the new overflowed her walls, she created The Bunker Artspace, a 20,000 square foot private showcase by invitation only.

For the Norton, Kenny Sharf spray painted a 1989 Rolls Royce (pictured above) during ArtBeat, the final installment in his KARBOMBZ! series.


Firooz Zahedi, Beth DeWoody, and Kenny Scharf.

“We did incredibly on Thursday for ArtBeat,” said DeWoody. “The Norton is an amazing institution and museum in this town. They do great art. They have great outreach to young students. And I love their director, Ghislain d’Humières. I’ve supported the Norton for a long time. This is a fabulous city and always a wonderful night.”

George Hamilton and Mathias Rastorfer.

George Hamilton has been supporting it for a shorter time. “I’m young at Art,” he laughs. He was with Mathias Rastorfer, whose Galerie Gmurzynska provided the untitled Louise Nevelson that sold at the gala auction. “He knows his stuff,” George said of the gallerist. “I try to learn from the masters, to see things I like, then understand why I like them.”

George moved to Palm Beach in October. “I grew up here,” he said. “My mother lived here. My family visited for years. And now, my sons visit. I see many old friends and many people who love art like I do. I’m totally happy living here.”

Rastorfer had introduced George to Marjorie Strider. “She’s a real discovery,” the gallerist said, “the only female pop artist in the ’50s on that same level. She inspired Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, was represented by the Pace Gallery, and has recently been acquired by the MoMA and the National Gallery in Washington.”

“Strider was a feminist,” George told me.

“And at the same time, did sexy paintings,” Rastorfer added.

“You can be a sexy feminist,” I pointed out.

“Absolutely!” said Hamilton.

And with that, dinner was served.


L. to r.: John Desiderio and Iris Cantor; Lauren Layne Merck and George Merck.
L. to r.: Eliza and Alex Bolen; Deborah Norville and Karl Wellner.
Kyle DeWoody, Samuel Camburn, Arden Sherman, and Kenny Scharf.
L. to r.: Brett Baier and Amy Baier; Jane Holzer.
CJ Jones and Lorena Rae.

Photographs by CAPEHART

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