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Artistic License

WITH THE BOOM of the past decade, the place of art in the home has been all but redefined. Collectors are now careful to put their paintings, sculptures, and photographs on a proper pedestal, giving them the dignity and ample space their genius—and prices—demand.

Judged by these pristine standards, the sunny 12-room Manhattan apartment of Beth Rudin DeWoody is unapologetically unruly. Within this blue-chip building perched high above the East River, in a graceful setting created 20 years ago by the architect Alan Wanzenberg, DeWoody seems to have, well, let all art hell break loose.

The entry gallery alone is the de trop riot of contrasting styles and materials. There’s a paper plate sculpture by Tara Donovan on an antique marble console, a giant papier-mâché rat by Tom Sachs on the floor, and a large graphic painting by Alexander Liberman. There are vintage pagoda-style Italian glass chandeliers, a bronze-and-enamel sculpture by Anselm Reyle, an Op Art painting by Francis Celentano, and a massive plaster-and-Lucite sculpture by Terence Koh.

‘I am actually a closet minimalist,” says DeWoody, who has curated several art shows. “But I can’t really be one because I love collecting too much.”

Who needs breathing room? The effect is so disarming you might think that DeWoody, a real-estate heiress with a well-known flair, was running some kind of day care-center for wayward artwork. But the truth is she has created one of the city’s most playful and charming setting for art, where it is free to be rather than confined in a corner.

“Her place is unbelievable,” says Anna Pasternak, president of Manhattan’s Creative Time, an experimental public-arts group. “It’s as if Beth, and all her interests, knowledge and experiences, just exploded and materialized into the most incredible—and incredibly diverse—objects. She’s really an artist herself, and this is how she expresses it.”

The prodigious passions of DeWoody, who has lived in her apartment for nearly two decades, run the gamut from midcentury Italian and French furniture to Pop Art pieces she’s recently started collecting. “There wasn’t a conscious effort to pull together something specific in my home,” she says. “This is the way I see things and the way they appeal to me, and I just wanted to put them in context.”

An unrepentant individualist with a keen eye, DeWoody has little patience for the art world’s shows of pretense. “I am very unscholarly,” she says. “I love difficult art, I love conceptual art, but I don’t do art speak.” She fondly remembers a show by the artist Andrea Fraser at American Fine Arts, a New York gallery operated by the late Colin de Land. “When you looked at the work on the wall, someone would come up behind you and start babbling in art-speak—that was part of the piece!” she recalls with glee. “I loved it.”

Three years ago she decided her art collection needed a new frame. “I really wanted the works to pop,” DeWoody explains, “and I wanted the apartment to look more modern.” She called on her friends Randall Beale and Carl Lana of Beale-Lana Interior Design, and together they came up with a simple plan: Keep Wanzenberg’s classical architecture, paint the entire place high-art white, and introduce a slew of white upholstery to match.

This stark but elegant foundation was the perfect strategy for unifying her eclectic collection, from the hall of photography that leads to her bedroom to the disparate art that rings the mirrored dining room table. It’s in the living room that the idea most masterfully comes together. Bold black-and-white artworks by Liberman and Vasarely are echoed in zebra-print chair and pillows. Silvery textures glitter on a skeleton bedecked in Swarovski crystals by Nicola Bolla, a steel-mesh chair by Ron Arad and Rob Wynne’s wall sculpture or poured mirrored glass. Bursts of color punctuate the space further, from a yellow-and-black diptych by Keith Tyson to a pair of red and blue 1950s tables by Philippe Barbier.

To DeWoody, it’s all of a piece—whether it’s a vintage console by Fornasetti, a Jeff Koons balloon dog, or a Frank Lloyd Wright chair that has been “redone” (scorched and then coated in epoxy resin) by Maarten Baas. As long as it’s in the mood to play, as DeWoody herself always is, it’s art. She’s forever bringing home a new piece to plug into the mix. “A real collector is never going to stop,” designer Lana explains. We’ll get a call from Beth saying, ‘I got something great and we have to place it.’ We won’t take something away; we just squeeze it in.”

And that, in short, is a valuable lesson on how to live with art—the more, the merrier.

Elle Decor, May 2008