Between 2019 and April 2021, nearly 105,000 New Yorkers migrated to Florida for good—or at least for long enough to swap out their license plates and get their own place if they hadn't already. And that doesn't include the thousands more who already spent several months a year here prior to the pandemic that have since made The Sunshine State their primary residence.
There are few places in Florida where this is as true as Palm Beach, the elegant resort town that exudes midcentury glamour à la Jackie O. and Slim Aarons. But it's not just New York City's most discerning residents that are moving here in droves—it's also their businesses, favorite dining spots, and beloved art galleries.
The Great Migration
Like many residents of the East Coast's biggest cities, Studio 94's Allison Raddock headed south at the onset of the pandemic and decided to stay. The former art liason to Judy Chicago ended up being tapped to join Pace Gallery, another Manhattan institution, in opening a pop-up in Palm Beach last fall and has never looked back, only forward.
"Taking advantage of of this opportunity with Pace as they continue to champion artists and their program here at this satellite location just made a lot of sense," says Raddock, now the Palm Beach outpost's director. "South Florida is home to a sophisticated community of collectors, museums, and other arts spaces, and our goal last season was to try to devise a way to keep this energy going and to engage with the public in a safe setting. We had to be nimble and creative because it paid off, and we sold out for all our exhibitions in 2020 and decided to open for a second season."
The "season" in Palm Beach usually begins around Thanksgiving and for many, no longer just extends through the winter, but often through Easter. These days, the season is extending on both sides, with many part-time residents arriving as early as late October to soak up the Florida sun and enjoy its many perks for as long as possible. And as more and more prominent companies either open up locations or relocate entirely (think: Goldman Sachs and Blackstone), the restaurants, shops, and galleries that served those high-end clients are creating outposts to serve them on both ends of the East Coast year-round.
The Mall At the Center Of It All
While the term "shopping mall" has begun to feel as outdated as Walkmans, Sears, and bottom-lid eyeliner, Palm Beach's Royal Poinciana Plaza is far from irrelevant. The stunning midcentury structure was designed by John Volk and inspired by Paris's Palais-Royal and is home to some of the city's chicest New York outposts, high-end retail spaces, and exciting events. Not only is Pace's satellite location there but Acquavella, Sotheby's, and Lévy Gorvy all have outposts.
Sarah Gavlak's namesake gallery also resides in Royal Poinciana Plaza among other tenants adored by New Yorkers, like Sant Ambroeus and Soulcycle (open seasonally), but the gallerist saw Palm Beach's potential as the next great art community nearly 20 years ago, long before the resort town became the best of Manhattan. And, as Raddock says, with 98 percent of Palm Beach's one percent visiting Royal Poinciana Plaza while in town, it's the perfect place to grow and stretch the resident's appreciation for contemporary art and to foster a deeper community of dedicated collectors.
"The restaurants here are great and for me, it's all about convenience," says Gavlak, who also has a gallery location in L.A. "Collectors will be having lunch here and we are right next to [Palm Beach] Grill and The Honor Bar, so while people are waiting for a table, they can drop by with a glass of wine and talk shop. One thing that is a bit rough is that we do have to be open seven days a week here, but Sundays have actually ended up being really good days for us here and we've made good post-brunch sales, which is unique to this destination. Maybe when you think of Monaco or another place where people are more relaxed in general you'd have that experience, but you won't have that anywhere else."
Raddock says another major part of the appeal is that Royal Poinciana is so highly curated to be able to provide the ultimate upscale shopping and dining experiences in such comfortable, breezy setting. She says people that they normally would have otherwise seen at Art Basel or another art event a few times a year are now regulars in the gallery, offering a much greater opportunity to discuss art, acquisitions, and inventory. Palm Beach's short season also means quick turnaround for exhibitions—most of Pace's last for two weeks—often allowing the artists themselves to be present and further build the arts community here with exclusive access.
The Future of Art in Palm Beach
Since opening Gavlak Gallery in Palm Beach in 2005, the gallerist has watched the Palm Beach art blossom, and she has been at the forefront of the city's growth as a collector community. The Gagosian Gallery alum was still working there in New York City at the time and was intrigued by the style of pieces being sent down there, when she'd expected it would mainly be works from Old Masters and other pre-1930s pieces.
Gavlak trusted her gut and took a chance, first opening up shop in West Palm Beach as one of the area's first real destinations for younger, contemporary art and settling in Royal Poinciana Plaza three years ago. The gallerist also took a chance on the type of artists she was showing, namely underrepresented creatives long before it became en vogue, especially in places outside of L.A. and New York.
"I had people tell me that I'd never be able to do that kind of work here, and two years after I opened, Jane Holzer invited me to open up a space on Worth Avenue and then I headed to the Plaza," says Gavlak. "And last year, all these galleries started popping up, but I welcome more colleagues and more vibrancy. They're all learning what I have: this is a great community for collectors."
In 2018, Gavlak stretched the arts community here one step further by launching New Wave Art Wknd, a three-day event designed to highlight the incredible collections of locals and celebrate the flourishing arts scene in South Florida. Taking place during the first week of December each year, New Wave Art Wknd is perfectly suited to attract residents who have just arrived for the season and art aficionados who are nearby at Miami's Art Basel. The weekend's events include gallery receptions, round tables and panel discussions with key players in the contemporary art world, and even exclusive tours, lunches, and dinners at the homes of private collectors in the area—all in support of New Wave's artist-in-residence program which is geared towards elevating emerging artists from underrepresented backgrounds.
"[New Wave Art Wknd] started as a way to realize my own personal dream of wanting more artists around here," says Gavlak. "I know that other galleries who have been doing pop-ups have signed up for another year or longer, and I would love to see them stay and make a long-term commitment to the community. I think that's a possibility these days, which is exciting, and as New Wave grows, we are attracting amazing collectors from around the world, bringing in people to see and the experience the beauty and collecting community I've been a part of for so long. For the most part, the galleries that have come down are collaborative in spirit by nature, and I'm hoping we will all now lift it up together and keep creating and growing."
Palm Beach's Best Art Destinations
From the onset of Pace Gallery's Palm Beach pop-up opening last fall, Raddock says that the goal has been to engage with the local arts scene and Pace participates in New Wave Art Wknd and supports the newly refreshed Norton Museum of Art, helping to cultivate a culture of collaboration within Palm Beach's burgeoning arts community. Norton currently features a stunning exhibition of Mexican Modernism centered on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera from the Gelman collection, and more special exhibitions continue to show up at this museum.
Besides Norton, Raddock says Beth DeWoody's contemporary collection at The Bunker, which rotates each season, is a must-see, as well as a trip to The Society of the Four Arts (save time to stroll the stunning botanical gardens). Gavlak says there's always so much to see on Worth Avenue from Leta Austin Foster's interiors shop and Kassatly's Inc. boutique that first opened in 1923 to modern art galleries. She also suggests popping into The Church Mouse, the ultimate upscale vintage destination for those who love the thrill of the hunt. Our editors also love perusing Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, the Gilded Age manse that resides next to Royal Poinciana Plaza, to get a taste of early life in Palm Beach as well as West Palm Beach's Antiques and Designer Rows.
"Palm Beach still feels like a bygone era at times, and I love the juxtaposition of pushing comfort zones in terms of art and ideas," says Gavlak.
Beyond Palm Beach
Though Miami is the established hub for the arts in South Florida and Palm Beach the arts community on the rise, other cities like Boca Raton and Delray Beach are other nearby areas with diverse art scenes are are worth making time for when doing an arts and culture tour of the region. Boca Raton Museum of Art is a must-see, featuring diverse permanent and special collections as well as a sculpture garden and art school. Machu Picchu And the Golden Empires of Peru is currently on display at the museum and features a fully immersive experience, including an innovative virtual reality space that offers a glimpse of what the future of exhibitions may look like in the next few years.
Delray Beach is home to the soothing and inspiring Morikami Museum and Gardens, Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, and Arts Garage. We can only expect to see Palm Beach County as a whole continue to blossom as a premier destination in the years to come as more people from around the country—and world—discover the bliss of life in South Florida.
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