ÆRENA Gallery & Gardens founder Michael Polenske discovered his love of art as a young boy. Growing up in Washington D.C., he was a regular at the Smithsonian, where he would purchase from the museum shop postcards representing his favorite exhibits. Those postcards constituted his first curated art collection. He still has the postcards somewhere in his keepsakes. After a successful career in finance (he was a founding investor in New York’s storied Soho House), Polenske continues to curate art. Only these days, he’s curating for others.
His ÆRENA galleries (located in St. Helena, Healdsburg, Downtown Napa, and Mill Valley) are filled with finds from both his own world travels and those of his adept team: paintings, sculpture, photography, and decorative pieces inspire those who enter each gallery space. His clientele is a mix of visitors who seek a vacation remembrance, global collectors who have come to trust the provenance and quality of each item, and locals who appreciate the breadth and quality of the assemblage. A current focus on mid-century modern furnishings has garnered a new fanbase of those seeking ÆRENA’s highly curated and valuable pieces.
ÆRENA also provides Napa’s Auberge du Soleil and Sonoma’s MacArthur Place with outdoor and monumental sculptures, each work available for purchase. Auberge’s expansive .7-mile Parc du Soleil loop is filled with ÆRENA’s whimsical sculptures; the resort used to provide a detailed map of the various pieces, but each is sold so quickly to guests that the map soon becomes obsolete. “Our long-standing relationship with ÆRENA Galleries adds a wonderful dimension to our guest experience,” said George Goeggel, managing partner at Auberge du Soleil. “Together, we’ve created one of the largest outdoor sculpture collections in Northern California. And because most of the pieces are available for purchase, the display is constantly evolving, which gives our return guests something new and different to discover each time they visit.”
Polenske’s personal art collection veers towards Bay Area figurative works by artists such as Diebenkorn and Thiebaud; he’s been collecting since long before the opening of his first gallery in 2008. And while ÆRENA’s collection is based on the evolution of Polenske’s tastes, he is driven by what his clients seek, the mid-century modern furniture collection being a great example. His skilled ÆRENA team of gallerists, designers, and logistics experts (required by the monumental nature of some sculptural pieces) are regulars at art fairs locally and abroad. The team keeps a ready eye and ear open to what is popular and desired (such as modern masters like Warhol, Basquiat, and Koons), is open to client referrals to particular artists of interest, and is also able to consult and advise.
Said Polenske, “15 years in, we are grateful that our clients return year after year as they have developed trusted relationships with our amazing team.”