E mmanuel and Christina Di Donna, the duo behind New York’s blue-chip Di Donna Galleries, introduced an innovative new art salon in Southampton and online during the summer of 2020, entitled Sélavy. Sélavy, the last name of Marcel Duchamp’s alter ego in origin, nods to the artist’s experimental, Dadaist nature, and that spirit pervades their Southampton space. Here the Di Donnas curate high art and design objects into livable rooms, where everything is for sale. The rooms are “layered, textured and unexpected,” as the couple notes, and present “a mix of different mediums and periods” – which in turn captures an entirely unique salon experience. Sotheby’s is excited to collaborate with Sélavy to host a joint selling exhibition at Sotheby’s gallery Palm Beach. Styled as an inspiring interior, Sélavy at Sotheby’s presents the eclectic vision of an imagined collector, juxtaposing Surrealist, Modern and contemporary paintings, prime examples of American and European mid-century Modern and contemporary design, and whimsical objects by some of the most influential artists of the past century. Prices range from $10,000 to over $10 million.
Here, in advance of the partnership, we sit down with Emmanuel and Christina Di Donna to discuss their individual curating styles, Sélavy and the art that inspires them.
How did you both begin working in the art world?
We both started our careers at Sotheby’s – Emmanuel in Paris and London, and Christina in New York. We met in 2005 when we were both picked to be part of the auctioneer training program in New York.
How many years have you been working together?
We’ve worked together for over fifteen years, starting with our time at Sotheby’s. When Emmanuel started his own gallery, specializing in Modern and Surrealist masterpieces, in 2015, we joined forces again.
What was your most memorable project that you collaborated on as a team?
The inaugural exhibition at Di Donna Galleries’ new gallery space at 744 Madison Avenue, Paths to the Absolute, brought together half a billion dollars’ worth of art of the highest quality, with fourteen rare paintings by contrasting European and American Abstractionists like Kandinsky, Mondrian, Rothko and Pollock. It was a real accomplishment to find these pictures and arrange them for a museum-caliber show, the first in our custom-built gallery space.
How do your collecting and/or curating styles complement each other?
Christina is drawn to more contemporary works and photography, and Emmanuel likes more classical and sculptural works – but we don’t restrict each other’s collecting. No one has veto power – if one of us doesn’t like a work, the other one still has the ability to buy it, which lends itself to the diversity of our collection. It also means that there are no compromises: at least one of us is deeply passionate about every work in our collection. It also leads to unexpected pairings – a Marilyn Minter stiletto painting behind a Lalanne gorilla next to a Man Ray painting.
What is Sélavy, and how did this new initiative come about?
Sélavy is a shoppable online salon of art and design that presents curated vignettes that combine fine art and design spanning mediums, time periods and cultures. We always liked the idea of a salon setting, where we could curate a mix of mediums that appealed to us and show art in the context of an interior rather than in a formal gallery. The vignettes are installed in a storefront vitrine that we opened in Southampton and are available to explore and purchase online. We had been thinking about this idea long before the pandemic, but the moment – especially as more people were spending time in the Hamptons, and also appreciating their surroundings in a new way – allowed for it to become a reality.
How do Sélavy salons complement or differ from your Madison Avenue gallery?
While Di Donna’s New York gallery is known for its biannual museum-quality exhibitions of Surrealist and Modern art, Sélavy by Di Donna presents an eclectic mix of objects and artworks. A strong Di Donna gallery exhibition has to have parameters – whether that’s a theme or a thesis – whereas the Sélavy salons are much looser and reflect how a collector might live with diverse works that he has acquired over time.
How are you accommodating clients and visitors safely during the pandemic?
The Sélavy space in Southampton was designed specifically around pandemic conditions: the entire salon is viewable from the outside through wraparound plate glass windows. We have QR codes that allow visitors to view all details and prices, and to even make a purchase, without stepping foot inside. We are also open by appointment, with only one group of visitors allowed in the space at any given time.
How would you describe the design ethos for the rooms you’re crafting?
Layered, textured and unexpected – a mix of different mediums and periods that reveal how works of a certain caliber work beautifully together, even when they’re very different. For instance, grouping an African mask with a contemporary painting and a mid-century chair.
Can you describe the collaboration with Sotheby’s?
Sotheby’s is a place that feels like home for us, as we both started our careers there. Two children and two galleries later, it still feels like home. We were flattered when Sotheby’s invited us to collaborate in Palm Beach.
It’s also a homecoming to be in Palm Beach. Christina is from Florida, and we have a home here. Christina’s parents, Maria and Raymond Floyd, lived in Palm Beach for 20 years and were very much a part of the community. We’re excited for our friends in the community to discover works that we love.
What are some of the art and design highlights that will be part of the Palm Beach salon?
We’re particularly excited to present an iconic flower painting by Georgia O’Keeffe, a stabile by Alexander Calder in his signature red, white and yellow, and a pair of fur Jean Royère chaise longues. These three works embody the mix that is the hallmark of Sélavy. The artworks change seasonally, with three to four salons a year.
The theme of your autumn salon was "Icons Through the Age,” how was that realized and what’s in store for this year?
For our fall salon, Icons through the Ages, we included Roman and Greek antiquities, to show how these ancient works looked elegant and modern alongside Picasso paintings and contemporary design.
We curated our winter salon with the Florida homeowner in mind for a vibrant and at times whimsical mix of art and design – think Lalanne monkey tables alongside an effervescent de Kooning painting.
Come spring, we look forward to returning to our Southampton gallery space and introducing new takes on living with art and design at our Jobs Lane location.