Collector Regan Rohde supports emerging artists and is on a quest to bring new voices to the local arts community

As any Floridian knows, there’s ample inspiration to be found in the water. For Regan Rohde, who relocated to West Palm Beach from Chicago two years ago, inspiration struck while she was swimming some morning laps in her condominium’s pool. A woman nearby was bemoaning the misguided notion that the area was devoid of culture. Still a newcomer, Rohde took that surprising statement to heart and began brainstorming ways to bring new galleries and artists to Palm Beach County.

In December 2021, Rohde launched Arts & Conversations, with the goal of growing the local cultural community and demystifying the art world for collectors from all walks of life. For the 2021-22 season, Rohde invited four galleries (Kavi Gupta Gallery, Patron Gallery, and Engage Projects out of Chicago, as well as Moskowitz Bayse from Los Angeles) to bring curated selections to Studio 1608 on West Palm Beach’s Antique Row, kicking off each exhibition with an opening night salon and discussions with the gallerists, art world luminaries, and the artists themselves.

“Because of COVID I couldn’t bring dancers down, I couldn’t bring opera down, but I could bring young gallerists who have young emerging artists,” says Rohde. “Why not introduce them to this market and see how that works? It was really thrilling to me to have an idea and figure out how to help them in a meaningful way—not just a handout but through encouraging them to show their art.”

The opening night salons proved to be so popular that they soon moved into the gallery’s parking lot. Rohde also partnered with the restaurant next door, Table 26, enabling attendees to continue conservations with the speakers and forge relationships with fellow art lovers.

Rohde’s role as founder of Arts & Conversations is just the latest chapter in her personal narrative, which includes time spent as a professional ballet dancer, an actor, and a philanthropist. Throughout it all, art has remained a constant theme. She recalls the Impressionist art in her childhood home, as well as exploring museums, churches, and mosques with her parents on summer trips near and far. Currently, Rohde is part of the Emerge group at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago—which furthers the museum’s mission primarily through acquisitions of works by artists not already represented in its permanent collection—and she has also joined the Contemporary and Modern Art Council (CMAC) at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach.

Her personal art collection is an exciting grouping of international artists, with a strong representation of women. When curating for her home, she gives significant consideration to how the works relate to one another. “I feel that art has to be in conversation, especially if you are in an open space,” she says. “What pieces talk to each other? What pieces work [together]? What’s the energy of the artist? That’s very important to me.”

Rohde identifies a cultural trip to Cuba with the Art Institute of Chicago as a pivotal moment in her collecting journey. One day, she broke away from the group and encountered artist Daylene Rodríguez Moreno. One of Moreno’s photographs in particular spoke to Rohde. Entitled Broken Dreams, the heartrending image depicts an old woman whose face shows her years and the signs of dashed hopes. The glass fragments incorporated into the frame are a metaphor for the shattered dreams that might have been.

Rohde appears with <i>Familia</i> (2014), René Francisco Rodriguez, and <i>Christmas Roses</i> (2010), Valérie Belin

Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz

Born in 1978, Moreno lives and works in Havana. She approaches photography with a sensitive eye, creating intimate black-and-white images that offer insight into how the subject’s origins or circumstances have deterred their promise or the possibility of fulfillment. Broken Dreams, which now hangs in a guest room in Rohde’s West Palm Beach apartment, was the first work Moreno sold outside of Cuba. Just before COVID, Rohde also helped Moreno gain gallery representation in Boston.

“Translating her letter, I learned that she had taken her first vacation because I had bought a piece of her work. That’s transformative,” says Rohde. “The emerging artists market is for me because it hits all the whistles that I’m passionate about. I think if women don’t help other women there’s a problem. I don’t just collect female artists, but I think it is very important that you lend a hand if you can.”

Another woman represented in Rohde’s collection is Lalla Essaydi, a Moroccan artist born in 1956. Essaydi’s Moroccan roots, her years spent in Saudi Arabia, and her studies in Paris and Boston, where she now lives, have given her a global perspective on her own cultural background and experience growing up in an Arab society, especially as it concerns the role and perception of women in the Arab world. She likes to set her models in traditional surroundings to emphasize the private spaces that women are culturally required to inhabit. Her work also boasts elements of the Hurufiyya movement in which artists manipulate traditional calligraphy to express a unique visual dialogue within contemporary Arabic art.

Essaydi’s Bullets Revisited #34 caught Rohde’s attention while she was picking up another artist’s work at the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York. “Lalla’s [photograph] was peeking around the corner from me as I was discussing prices,” Rohde recalls. “I just could not take my eyes off her. So that was that. She found a home, and I loved her story.”

The image centers on a young Moroccan woman curled up on a bed. She dons a dress featuring a stylized Arabic calligraphy (typically created by men), which also covers her face and arms as a form of henna (a tradition carried out by women). Her gaze is directed at the viewer. The “bullets” referred to in the title are bullet shells Essaydi painstakingly cut into squares, pierced, and threaded together to form a heavy, glistening woven fabric. Each of these elements and the subject matter of her photographs fuse the influences of Eastern cultural symbols and the fantasy imagery of Western Orientalist painters such as Jean-Léon Gérôme, Eugène Delacroix, and John Singer Sargent. Bullets Revisited #34 is currently on view at the Norton Museum of Art through November 6 as part of a 10-year retrospective on Essaydi’s work called Lalla Essaydi: Un/Veiled.

In contrast to the carefully defined and detailed photographs by Essaydi and Moreno, American artist Grace Weaver (born 1989) uses thick paintbrushes to depict chubby-limbed, pink-skinned women in bold, broad, and unrefined loose strokes. Despite the differences in technique and medium, these artists share a similar theme: observing women in solitary moments, each in their own distinct world.

Weaver is represented at James Cohan Gallery in New York, and Rohde had already acquired a piece by her, Crying Up, before attempting to purchase another. “I had been following Grace for a few years,” says Rohde. “She sells very quickly, and when I tried unsuccessfully to get more of her work, I asked to reserve a piece before Miami Basel opened. She is evolving, and every collection is different. I believe she is one to follow.”

Untitled Woman (Weaver’s 2021 painting that is now part of Rohde’s collection) is a departure from her more cartoon-like work. Thinly applied bright colors pop against a dark background, and gone are the confining black outlines Weaver previously placed around her figures. The young, blond-haired woman casts a glance as she jogs across the large canvas. The painting is part of a series, 11 Women, wherein Weaver situated the titular figures in what she calls the “theater of public life.” Despite the hubbub around them, these women are alone. This sense of isolation is one most of us have become all too familiar with during the COVID era. The evening runs through empty city streets Weaver and her husband took at the height of the pandemic—and the eerie atmosphere they encountered—served as inspiration for the series.

“The scale is fabulous, and I only had one wall to accommodate her,” Rohde says of the piece. “But I trusted my eye when I saw her in person.”

This trust in her eye has served her well. When acquiring art, Rohde doesn’t set out with an agenda. Rather, she collects what she likes and does her homework. Her curiosity is not only reflected in her personal art collection, but in the Arts & Conversations series she shares with her new community in South Florida. The programming will continue this winter—and so will Rohde’s education.