M arried duo Emmanuel and Christina Di Donna have worked together for over fifteen years, first at Sotheby’s and later at Di Donna Galleries. In 2020, they founded Sélavy by Di Donna, an online salon of art and design. This is the second year that Sélavy by Di Donna has taken residency at Sotheby’s Palm Beach gallery, where they’re organizing an exhibition that brings together the legacy of the historic auction house and the ethos of Sélavy by Di Donna.
Sélavy will present a unique showcase, with works by Joan Mitchell, Giorgio Morandi, Andy Warhol, Giorgio de Chirico, Katharina Grosse, George Nakashima, Louis Cane, and Pierre Chapo, among many others. Speaking to the city of Palm Beach’s storied history of art collecting and reputation for sun and leisure, Sélavy’s exhibition includes vignettes that combine blue-chip works across time periods, mediums, and cultures with modern design items — all arranged to reflect an inspiring interior display.
In advance of the exhibition, which runs from 25 February to 13 March, 2022, we chatted with Emmanuel and Christina to learn more about their curatorial ethos — and get some tips on how to live like a local in Palm Beach.
How did Sélavy come to be in Palm Beach? What about the region makes it exciting for a new gallery?
My [Christina’s] parents have had a home in Palm Beach for decades, and more recently our family has also had a home here. Palm Beach was a natural choice for a Sélavy residency, not only because we have friends in the community and love spending time here during the winter, but also because we saw that there was such an appetite for the collecting approach that we showcase at Sélavy’s permanent location in Southampton, which we opened in 2020 — an approach informed by unexpected pairings, mixing works of art and design from different styles and time periods. Many of our same friends and collectors who responded to this approach in Southampton also spend time in Palm Beach.
Christina, you grew up in Florida, and now you and Emmanuel have a second home in Palm Beach. Can you tell us a bit about your place? What are you most excited about now that you’re spending more time in the area?
Palm Beach is a very happy place for us — a place where we can spend time with family and friends in the sunshine. There’s a gentle energy to Palm Beach; even though it has some of the most beautiful and luxurious homes in the world, the atmosphere is laid back and pleasantly informal.
Our home in Palm Beach is very contemporary and beachy, with a focus on contemporary artists and a proliferation of color — works by artists like Katharina Grosse, Marilyn Minter, Richard Prince, and Eileen Quinlan. In fact, the “oldest” piece in our collection in Palm Beach is a work by Andy Warhol. That’s a contrast to our home in Southampton, which has a more traditional architectural vernacular and truly reflects the “mix” that is the hallmark of Sélavy, with works by modern artists like René Magritte and Man Ray mingling with contemporary artists like Sterling Ruby or Tara Donovan.
Our presentation in Palm Beach showcases that eclectic layering and the juxtaposition of different eras and mediums, as well as vibrant color — from a dazzling suite of unique, color screen prints from Andy Warhol’s Sunset series to a stunning painting by Joan Mitchell.
What are some of your favorite things that someone who’s visiting Palm Beach for the first time should do?
Take a walk or bike ride on the Lake Trail, a five-mile public trail that has the most beautiful views, with the Intercoastal Waterway on one side and the homes on the waterfront on the other.
Play one of the many golf courses. I [Christina] have a soft spot for the public Par 3. My dad, Raymond Floyd, redesigned the course, and my mom, Maria, designed the clubhouse and restaurant. Together, they raised the money to make the project happen.
Go to Pizza al Fresco on Via Mizner, one of the quaint courtyards known as “vias” off Worth Avenue.
How would you describe the Palm Beach aesthetic and where would someone go to get it? Is there a place you would say really characterizes or defines the Palm Beach “look”?
There isn’t a uniform Palm Beach aesthetic; it’s a textured mix of very formal and traditional residences next to hyper-contemporary homes by renowned architects next to Mediterranean-style villas complete with red-tiled floors. The art reflects that diversity of styles: you’re as likely to see a Renaissance tapestry hanging in a traditional Spanish-style home as you would to see a Harold Ancart painting hanging in a more modern beach house.
What institutions or private collections would you point to as the artistic pillars of Palm Beach?
The Norton Museum of Art, which grew out of the private collection of two local collectors in the early twentieth century, has really elevated the level of art in the region. The museum just underwent a major renovation by Foster + Partners. We recently saw their stunning exhibition of works by Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and other Mexican modernists.
The Flagler Museum, housed in a 100,000-square-foot Gilded Age mansion that once belonged to Henry Morrison Flagler, holds a special exhibition each year showcasing works from the late 1800s, including paintings, sculptures, and material culture, such as board games, jewelry, cartoons, and fashion.
The Society of the Four Arts presents events, including concerts, art exhibitions, workshops, films, and programs for kids. In addition to a concert hall, it has an art gallery, library, a children’s library, and a beautiful botanical garden.
Palm Beach has a significant history as a home for art collectors. Where does that culture start and where does your gallery fit within this history?
Palm Beach has always been a desirable destination because of the beautiful weather, pristine landscaping, stunning views, and intimate scale. For one hundred and fifty years now, people from New York City, Boston, Chicago, and beyond have been drawn to Palm Beach, making it their second home or their permanent residence. Each person who came down and built a beautiful home also brought their own distinct taste and aesthetic. We’re trying to celebrate this idea of a unique personal aesthetic — juxtaposing unexpected influences to make a cohesive but idiosyncratic collection — which is uniquely well-suited to the history of Palm Beach.
We’re trying to celebrate this idea of a unique personal aesthetic — juxtaposing unexpected influences to make a cohesive but idiosyncratic collection — which is uniquely well-suited to the history of Palm Beach.
You must encounter many clients who are new to the area — perhaps who relocated to Palm Beach during the pandemic. How do you work with collectors who are expanding their collections to a new location, in an area with such a storied history?
There are some remarkable collections in Palm Beach, some of which are very classic and others which started with twentieth-century art and have been updated over the last two decades with post-war and contemporary art. Color seems to be a defining characteristic of some of these collections, as well as an interest for indoor and outdoor sculpture.
Your gallery’s displays have a really intriguing concept — you exhibit different kinds of objects together in vignettes, such as a Keith Haring painting alongside a Pierre Chapo bookshelf. This is a really compelling way of showing how art and design complement each other, as well as visualizing how these objects can function in a home. How do collectors respond to this mode of display? What can you tell us about how you organize these works?
By arranging works in vignettes, we have seen that collectors who typically focus on modern works have been inspired to branch out and pepper their traditional collections with contemporary art and design. Conversely, some newer collectors who tend to be interested in contemporary works have discovered that they respond to artists of a previous generation when they encounter those works in context, side by side with more cutting-edge works. We have also been pleasantly surprised to discover that some collectors are so taken by the layered contrasts of Sélavy that they acquire a complete vignette — from the lights to furniture to paintings to tabletop items — and install it in their own home.