Mary Woerner, is an art wrangler of sorts. After a stint in corporate life left her craving creativity, she pivoted into the world of fine arts. Now, with over 30 years in her cache, Mary Woerner Fine Arts is a verifiable leader as a purveyor of contemporary art. Representing a stellar group of working artists, Mary has found a specialty in recognizing up and coming talent and nurturing artistic careers. Among her stable are Paula Rubino, Aida Fry, and Jussi Pöyhönen to name a few. Located on the globally renowned Antique Row in West Palm Beach, Florida (and of course on DECASO), Mary is among the ranks of the world’s finest dealers. We were recently able to sit down with Mary and learn how she got her start, what catches her eye in a new artist, and what piece she couldn’t stand to part with. Read on to meet a true contemporary art tastemaker!
Can you tell us about how you got started in the world of fine art?
I was always creative and interested in art and design but never considered a job in the art world when I was in college. After a few entry level corporate jobs, I decided to try something more creative and took a position as an “art consultant” working with the corporate and healthcare sector. I was good at determining the client’s needs, finding the work, and seeing the projects through to completion. I loved the rare opportunity of working directly with the artists. Eventually, I decided to transition from consulting to dealing and focus on showing and selling a select group of artists: my tribe.
Can you share a bit about your discovery process for finding new artists to bring into the Mary Woerner Fine Arts family?
I show what I love and it’s important for me to have healthy business relationships with the artists I represent. I’ve had great success finding new artists via artists I know and respect. This is especially true of the artists I currently represent. They know my aesthetic and work ethic. And I find artists want to show with other artists that they admire. So I’ve learned to listen when one of my artists is urging me to look at someone’s work. Aida Fry has been part of my stable for more than 25 years and has introduced me to numerous artists, most notably Paula Rubino and Jussi Pöyhönen who then introduced me to Caterina Enni. I continue to represent all of them, Aida for 25-plus years, Paula and Jussi for 10 years and Caterina for 3 years.
How did you come to focus on contemporary, living artists and what is the relationship like with these artists as they are actively creating new works?
It’s very satisfying to watch and be involved in the creative process (I liken it to getting a massage!) And this is only feasible if the artist is alive. It’s exciting and energizing to hear about an artist’s idea for a new piece or a new series. I’m always interested in what motivates them and how the works will be executed. Some artists are private and prefer working alone. But I find most love and need to discuss their ideas.
Your gallery is located on the famed Antique Row in West Palm Beach, Florida. Has the rich and lively collectors’ market there influenced your artistic direction at all?
West Palm Beach’s Antique Row is a destination for designers and collectors from all over. The reality is a knowledgeable, sophisticated, global clientele. Whether they are looking at emerging, mid-career or established artists, they know quality. Formal training is a plus but not everything. Fortunately, a few of my figurative artists, in particular Paula Rubino and Jussi Pöyhönen, have become quite successful and sought after. This fact hasn’t necessarily influenced my artistic direction, but has given me the stamp of approval and the nudge to look for more figurative artists to add to my stable.
Who are some up and coming artists you’re excited about right now?
Paula Rubino is constantly amazing me with her work. Her contemporary portraits are quite compelling and often have a background story or historical reference which adds a whole new layer to the work. Jussi Pöyhönen is a master of light. His portraits and plein air landscapes glow.
Trish Beckham is a palette knife painter. Her contemporary architectural paintings look almost photographic from a distance with their uncanny perspective. But on closer inspection the paintings look almost abstract. And Tom Stephens’ abstractions are powerful, fun and joyous all wrapped in one!
Are there any memorable projects where pieces acquired from your gallery have been utilized?
I have placed so many pieces in so many different places, both commercial and residential. In recent years I’ve worked on a few projects that were “the bomb diggity.” One residential project in Florida required several large-scale works. The collectors chose paintings by Bruce Marsh, Trish Beckham and Sally Cooper. It was so satisfying to see the house become a home! And the clients and their designer were thrilled to see the artists and myself thrive financially. Instagram images for these projects called for the hashtag #Ilovemyjob.
Are you a collector yourself (beyond curating for your gallery). What makes the cut to be displayed in your own home?
I am an avid collector of many things including art. My personal collection is varied but I am drawn to portraiture and figurative painting. I have numerous portraits of myself and other family members and friends, but I also have portraits of unknown people by unknown artists in a variety of styles. One of my favorite portraits is of the artist Caesar Cirigliano by his student Aida Fry, both part of my stable of artists.
Have there been any pieces that were particularly hard to part with?There have been a few pieces that I’ve regretted selling over the years but generally I am so happy to help find homes for paintings. It is a win-win for everyone—artist, dealer and collector. A few years ago I almost sold a painting I loved to one of my collectors. As he got more interested in the painting, I knew I had to have it for myself. He still mentions the painting from time to time and has no idea that it is hanging in my bedroom! And I love it!
Feature photo: Urso Contemporary Abstract Painting “Perfect Storm”