Meet the Retirees Who Criss-Cross the Globe for Art

Amber Day

This is part of a collection of stories celebrating the many shapes retirement travel can take. Read more here.

When I was growing up, my parents traveled the globe working in the art world. My mother, Lynn Zelevansky, now 76, spent her career as a contemporary curator and museum director, focusing outside the classic New York and European spheres of that time on artists from South Korea, Mexico, and beyond. My father, Paul Zelevansky, 77, a visual artist and professor, traveled with her as often as he could, soaking up every culture like a sponge. When my mother was curating an enormous installation—constructed from church candles and cow bones—by Brazilian conceptual artist Cildo Meireles at MoMA, for example, feijoada brunches became a norm in our household. When my parents traveled back and forth to Tokyo as she organized a Yayoi Kusama retrospective at LACMA, Japanese techno became our daily soundtrack.

When my mother retired from working full-time at institutions and my father stopped teaching, I wondered what they might do.

Keep traveling—that’s what.

Their adventures have persisted as predictably as their omnipresent black wardrobe, whether they’re hitting the Venice Biennale every fall without fail, touring Spain’s Basque Country after an opening for an Ad Reinhardt show in Madrid, or meeting art world friends in Vietnam after a talk on minimalism, given by my mother, in Singapore.

Lured by a sense of intrigue, community, social connection, and multilayered cultural experience, a widening circle of retirees (and semi-retirees) are spending their newfound leisure time traversing the globe from Berlin to Morocco to Mexico City in pursuit of art, attending bustling art fairs, lavish parties, intimate artist studio visits, private gallery tours, and museum openings, not only to see and buy art, but also to connect and stay stimulated while immersed in beauty. “The art world is really a global community,” my mother muses.

Because the artistic sphere is both a social network and an industry, retirement-age people who travel for art are both former insiders and hobbyists. “The social element of the art world is very central to what it is,” says Paul. “And so you go to these events to meet people, reconnect, make new connections.”

It’s not just art in museums. I find art everywhere—the colorful doorways in Brazil, cool icebergs in Patagonia and Iceland, elaborate wrought iron signs in Madrid.

Simma Liebman

J. Patrice Marandel, 79, a Frenchman with an infectious smile, missed the ease of that social and professional overlap as well as the nearly constant travel to acquire work when he retired from being chief curator of European painting at Los Angeles County Museum of Art after twenty-three years in 2017. “I used to say that my real residence was the Frankfurt airport because I changed planes there so often,” he jokes. “After I retired, there were less opportunities to see the people who are more friends than colleagues.”

The only solution was to continue traveling in art circles, sometimes as a consultant for private individuals and institutions, and otherwise for pure enjoyment. As a retiree, he has freedom to pursue his own passions, jet-setting for a recent Frans Hals (a Dutch Golden Age painter) exhibit in London, to see 17th and 18th century French painting shows in France, and to explore a newer interest in Islamic art (inspired by long ago trips to countries including Afghanistan). “Before, my travel was based on what I was going to achieve and bring home,” he says. “Now, it’s about my pleasure.”

For art lovers of all ilks, aesthetics and exploration are inexorably linked. “Travel turns to art, art inspires travel and travel becomes art,” says Elizabeth Kahane, 63, a pioneering woman in male-dominated commercial real estate cum collector, patron, and photographer in her own right, known for her big personality and unapologetically bold fashion sense. “Art gives you the full picture and the full experience. It’s really all we do!”

Since her husband William Kahane, 75, a co-founder of AR Capital retired a year ago, the couple has been on the move in pursuit of art at least half the year, flitting not only between their homes in New York, Rhode Island, and Florida, where they are members of countless boards and committees, but all over the world. Most recently, as car enthusiasts, they procured a house in Brescia, Italy, outside of Milan, home to the famed Mille Miglia car race recently depicted in Ferrari—that adventure has an art-related bent as well. “I can take a train for the day to the Venice Biennale,” she raves. In 2025, the Museo Mille Miglia will showcase an exhibit of Elizabeth’s own photographs, featuring portraits of the race mechanics who she calls “the real stars.”

“Travel turns to art, art inspires travel, and travel becomes art,” says Elizabeth Kahane, 63
“Travel turns to art, art inspires travel, and travel becomes art,” says Elizabeth Kahane, 63
Amber Day

The Kahanes’ involvement in the art world is multi-tiered, including hosting cocktail parties for artists; visiting artist studios through nonprofit photography publisher Aperture, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Tate Modern; and attending galas, special dinners, and fairs everywhere from Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Arkansas (yes, Arkansas!) to ZonaMaco in Mexico City. Last year, after the Paris Photo fair, they drove to Galerie Julian Sander in Cologne, Germany, to see a show by 93-year-old photographer Rosalind Fox, before continuing onto the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart.

But there are many ways to gain special access during travel—you don't have to already be part of the scene. One way is to make a financial commitment to a museum. At a range of institutions, it can cost anywhere from $1,000 to millions to become a patron, committee member, and even trustee, garnering insider access to curatorial-led trips with different degrees of exclusivity. That's not always the case though. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York's Travel with The Met offers everything from cultural cruises to modernist adventures through Provence, ranging in price from $6,999 to $12,999—no membership requirement. Museum trips, membership or not, can be especially attractive to retirees, who gain access to the inner workings of the art world—meeting artists, visiting studios and private collections, going on intimate, exclusive tours led by lauded curators and early access to exhibitions—without the hassle of organizing.

Elizabeth has found great benefits to patronage, especially as she and her husband “only have so much wall space” for collecting. Special access has allowed her to connect with renowned photographers and personal heroes like Larry Fink and Tina Barney. “It’s about a deeper dive, getting to know the artist on a more intimate level,” Elizabeth says. “When you incorporate that into travel, it becomes that much richer.” Case in point: the Tate Britain offered the opportunity to visit the studio of famed Czech-French photographer Josef Koudelka, known for his raw depictions, which makes her emotional to talk about to this day. “In his studio outside Paris, you’re with greatness,” she impassions. “I had tears in my eyes.”

Like Elizabeth, Simma Liebman, 76, is both an artist and an art appreciator who is moved by beauty in travel. After retiring from a job in fundraising at Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C., Liebman—who has dark hair and watchful eyes, and radiates calm—returned to a previous passion for painting. “It’s not just art in museums,” Liebman says. “I find art everywhere—the colorful doorways in Brazil, cool icebergs in Patagonia and Iceland, elaborate wrought iron signs in Madrid.”

Once retired, she and her husband Ron, 80—a tall, affable novelist, who was a one-time assistant attorney for the district of Maryland, and then a partner at an international law firm—joined the board at the local Academy Art Museum (AAM) in the quaint town of Easton, Maryland, and began traveling with the institution. “What made these trips so special was the personal relationship AAM had with whomever we visited,” Liebman explains. On one trip to Los Angeles, the artist James Turrell—known for his work with light in various forms, including Skyspace installations that offer a glimpse of sky through apertures in the ceilings, and an honorary trustee of the museum—planned an unforgettable experience. “We had private tours with museum directors and visits with major art collectors in their homes,” she recalls. “And James Turrell arranged for us to watch the sun set in his LA gallery’s Skyspace.” The sight was arresting.

Betty, 80, a formidable and admired aesthete who has long opened her home and notable collection to visiting art groups, also appreciates the access to artist studio visits on museum-led trips, which she took largely with MOCA in Los Angeles for many years. “This typically takes us to a part of town, city, or country that travelers rarely see…off the tourist track,” she says. Among many unusual experiences, she was once served aquavit at 10 a.m. at installation artist Olafur Eliasson’s Berlin studio. On another occasion, in Moscow, she visited an old apartment across from the Lubyanka Building (and prison), where the most promising of four artists in residence was passed out in a drunken stupor, having succumbed to nerves. In an adjacent corner room, she saw a peephole and notebook abandoned by KGB agents who once surveilled the prison. “It was still there, unchanged, like everything else in the apartment,” she recalls. And then there was the visit, on brand new, empty highways, to Ai Weiwei’s Beijing studio, which he designed himself in the style of an East German socialist factory building (and which was razed by Chinese authorities to make way for development in 2018). The artist greeted them with “an ‘F’ he had shaved into the hair on the back of his head,” she says. “There was no question what the ‘F’ stood for.”

In more recent years, Betty’s interests have shifted to collecting Latin American work. “I simply found that I no longer got or cared about contemporary art as I once had. [After all], I was no longer contemporary,” she says. “I chose [to focus on artwork from] Latin America because…it gave us 20-plus countries to explore, interesting people to meet, and new places to travel.”

Retirement may provide the time and opportunity for travel, but the art will always be the pull. “Including art in our travel activities can be counted on to give us a more nuanced view of the places we visit,” Betty continues, “and enlarge our enjoyment of the world we encounter, wherever we go."

Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler