ART in The Hamptons — The Great, The Near-Great & The Great Pretenders

I’m not sure who was going to take the first swing at whom at Wolffer Estate during “Candlelight Friday,” last week, but David Buda, the tasting room manager, who watched my friends and me finish off our Cabernet Franc, quietly defused the situation by offering the three of us a little taste of Wolffer’s new 2009 Rosé table wine. We had been leaning in toward each other across the table, our voices raised. One of us had been wagging an annoying finger in the faces of the other two.
Vineyard Rose

One friend, a local artist (no names, please!) and author of several books that actually sell; the other friend, Maralyn Rittenour, the former director of the EH Historical Society and a woman who spent two years at Christie’s in New York City; and I, who had a roommate who slept with at least ten well-known LA artists, were arguing: Does all art in The Museum of Modern Art and The Whitney Museum of American Art deserve to be there? Do local museums and galleries around the country, such as The Parrish Art Museum in Southampton and Guild Hall of East Hampton, offer really great art — when billed as such — or are they just touting good art or, heaven forefend, actually displaying “bad art” promoted by fawning, opportunistic, inbred art buyers, critics and curators to attract wide-eyed, thumb sucking, parvenu clients and donors.

Whew. Quite a verbal slugfest.

Still smarting from the hissing and spitting the night before, on Saturday evening I headed for The Parrish Art Museum’s exhibit of “Fairfield Porter: Raw – The Creative Process of an American Master” to see “great art.” The plan was to hear a “spirited exchange” between philosopher, writer and independent curator Klaus Ottman and American painter and sculptor Eric Fischl, to have a little wine and cheese, hobnob, and to get to view not only Porter’s paintings, but his sketches, and drawings as well. After The Parrish, I’d slip over to Joe Strand’s solo exhibit and reception at 4 North Main Street Gallery, also in Southampton.

Porter

My friends and I would perform a postmortem on the weekend’s gallery openings and receptions at the next Wolffer Estate Candlelight Friday.

Flop Sweat at the Fairfield Porter Reception at The Parrish Art Museum

When 250 or so pieces of art are donated to a museum by the heirs of the artist, I’m inclined to wonder if the works have been dragged out from behind the old boiler in the basement and donated because it’s too much like work to tag sale them. Yet, who am I to judge the man “who produced some of the most lucid art criticism and commentary of his time” and was the “most important American realist painter from 1949 until 1975?” Right. I can’t. But what I can do is weigh in on the disappointing “spirited exchange” between Ottman and Fischl that took place before the wine and cheese were served. Trust me, it is a kindness to the participants to describe the exchange as deadly dull. Whoever selected this duo failed to make certain these smug guys did their homework. Their lack of preparation was an insult to the audience, some of whom might actually have been there for more than the wine and cheese. (I for one will think twice about dropping $100,000 on a Fischl because of his lack of respect for me as an artists’ groupie. Oh, wait, that was my former roommate.) Not only did Ottman admit within the first three minutes that he was no authority on Porter, but Fischl said he had never read anything written by Porter and that Porter hadn’t influenced Fischl one bit. Their half hour of awkward dead silences and banal time-killing gum flapping was torture for them and amounted to intellectual waterboarding for the audience. Fischl nervously licked his lips while Ottman squirmed and said to Fischl, “You’re not making this easy for me,” as the flop sweat puddled around their feet.

Thanks. I’ll glance at the 40 Fairfield Porter’s on display, take a sip of wine and a bite of cheese, and move on to my next reception for an artist with a pulse whose startlingly colorful digital collages make Fairfield Porter’s landscapes and family portraits look like they need a good Ajaxing.

Joe Strand’s “Second Chance” Exhibit and Reception

Joe

In contrast, nothing but bright lights and dazzling digital photography at 4 North Main Street Gallery! If I weren’t such a cheapskate, I’d buy a Joe Strand: Perhaps that choo choo train (Coming of Age, $1650) barreling through my study would be a good choice or maybe even the old Mercedes reminiscent of the 300 SL Roadster my father once owned (Gull Wing Mercedes, $1600) might work too among my eclectic wall hangings, one or two of which were donations from those LA artists. My JoeArt

argumentative artist friend from the debate at Wolffer Estate joined me and actually deigned to describe one of the pieces as good (Ghosts, New York City, Halloween, $2000): “Strand produced a work with an evocative figure in an evocative space that wasn’t reminiscent of something I had seen 100 times before. It was fresh.” Halleluiah!

Where’s the Secret Sleuthing Curator?

I know that the warring, er, competing Artists Alliance of East Hampton and The Artists and Writers of East Hampton offer studio tours for their members once or twice a year. Member-artists can throw open their front doors and actually attract a parade of art lovers, nosey neighbors and house snoops. Artwork does change hands. Which is why the show-stopping question posed at the Wolffer Estate last Friday night provoked a table-wide silence: “When was the last time a curator from Guild Hall or The Parrish Art Museum took the tour?”

I really don’t know the answer to that. Do you?

Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): When I was a group publisher of developmental product at AdWeek (The AdWeek Portfolios, AdWeek’s Winners Magazine) in NYC and traveled around the country to AdWeek’s various offices and expos, I occasionally issued an open invitation to local illustrators, photographers and graphic designers to bring their portfolios. (Head ‘em up and move ‘em out!) I would see the first 15 who responded. (After 15, everything became a blur.) Believe me, those days were long days for me, but very exciting for the 15 people who felt they had won the lottery. On occasion I was really surprised by the quality of a portfolio, and said so.

I feel really strongly that culling through what is called in publishing the dreaded slush pile, potentially pays big dividends, not only because you just might find a fabulous talent, but you prove you are truly part of your local artistic community.

18 Responses to “ART in The Hamptons — The Great, The Near-Great & The Great Pretenders”

  1. John D. Says:

    Not very PC, my dear.

  2. The Curmudgeon Says:

    There is no doubt in my mind that the “art” of the Hamptons (and New York City) includes many artists who are faddish or revered for reasons other than their art. Fairfied Porter and Milton Avery come to my mind. Much, but not all of the art shown at Ashawagh Hall is grossly inferior. But that is strictly the opinion of one person, and many disagree with me and admire them. They do not stand up to Heieronymus Bosch, but they probably don’t try to. It is truly a blessing, however, that Alec Baldwin does not paint or play the saxophone, like one second tier artist did.

  3. Carol H. Says:

    Lynne,
    Very well said! I became the “owner” of a piece from a recent family clearing of art similar to what you described and could not get rid of it fast enough. Keep telling it like it is!

  4. Eileen Says:

    Lynne, thanks for the kind words, astute viewing and refreshing honesty. I’m a big fan of Joe Strand myself – and you are not cheap! Eileen

  5. Bonnie S. Calhoun Says:

    I only remember the Hampton’s of the 70′s where they were borishly snobby and usually soused by 10 at those things! Bleck!

    I would buy a Joe Strand too. I like the one that looks like a raspberry colored bundt cake…LOL…it would go with my livingroom decor!

    Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Bonnie Calhoun is the Director of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance where she edits 200+ book reviewers. She is also the Owner/Publisher of Christian Fiction Online Magazine.

  6. Athos Zacharias Says:

    Dear Lynne,

    I agree with you about Joe Strand’s work. He is a true maverick! Porter’s work I’ve always felt was comfortable, but not groundbreaking. I have had a studio here in East Hampton since 1956, and yet no curator from Guild Hall or The Parrish Art Museum has ever visited my studio.They should be beating the bushes and coming up with great shows, but they would have to exercise their own taste and that’s dangerous.

    Zack

    Athos

    Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing(TM): Robert Long described Zacharias’s art as having great creative wit, as well as violence. And was “wrenched from life” . . . and “beautiful.”

  7. Shelby Werwa Says:

    We go to the Hampton’s every other weekend, so compared to the Wicked Witch, I’m a pretender.
    I have gone to many art exhibits out there. Although my opinion is strictly subjective. I must say very little of the art ever gets me too excited. I always look at these art gatherings as an opportunity to meet some new people and get a glass or two of wine and eat some cheese before I go off to dinner. So for me, debating good or bad art, well, maybe you’d be interested in getting Rolfed?

    Shelby

    Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing(TM): Shelby is a media production consultant. He was nominated for an Emmy as a line producer for “Garth Live from Central Park” and was one of the producers of Billy Joel’s “Last Play at Shea.”

  8. Gauguin Says:

    It would be such a kick if Alicia Longwell, Curator at The Parrish, and Christina Strassfield, Curator at Guild Hall, took a studio tour in disguise. Maybe leave a card on the way out.

    They should do it. Absolutely. But they won’t.

  9. Barb in PA Says:

    Dear Lynne,
    I applaud your article on the artists and their art. As a retired gallery owner and publisher of 15 years, I have dealt with a number of artists. There seems to be a theme in their lives. The Great and Near-Great have great moments of inspiration, but they also have the rent due at the end of the month, and that is when they become too prolific and slide into the great pretenders category.

    New
    Barbara
    New Hope, PA

  10. Lynne Says:

    Frank Wilson, former Book Reviewer for “The Philadelphia Inquirer,” has linked to this posting at Books, Inq. His Web site is the recipient of “The Sunday Times” 100 Best Blogs, 2009, award. Frank

    Jacketflap.com has also linked to this posting. Followers of Jacketflaps’ postings are published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers and publishers.

  11. real artist Says:

    Oooooh! To Barb in PA….a little reminder. All or most of the great artists that we know from the past aACTUALLY MADE A LIVING from their art.
    Sometimes they worked for the Church or a wealthy nobleman. The concept that having to produce to “pay the rent” somehow dimishes an artist is just foul.
    Someone is buying the art. I beleive in the marketplace, not the made up place. There is too much of an emperor with no clothes aspect to much of the “Accepted” art we see. I believe a child or any uneducated person can walk into a room of art and pick out the best pieces. That is why they are the best. They communicate something worth while or exciting to the viewer. Curators could learn from that!

  12. RWE Says:

    There is a Haim Mizrahi (should be Chaim Mizrachi) show at Ashawagh, with a reception and music 4-10PM tomorrow. If I recall, he has had some decent food in the past and rather eclectic art. I also read somewhere that there is a presentation, also at Ashawagh, about the dead people of the Springs, at 7:30Pm; how they can have both I do not know, and I do not remember where I saw the notice about the deceased.

  13. Maralyn Rittenour Says:

    Lynne:

    You’ve done it again! Dished up a lively, provocative brew of wit and spice.MR
    I particularly congratulate you on the colorful and yes, artistic layout of this blog.

    We could all go round and round for ever about what constitutes good art. On the whole “the real artist” made the best general statement.

    Happily, art in general is alive and well. Never in my longish life have I seen New York museums so full of visitors, and thanks to the recession, those vast and magnificent collections in storage are being brilliantly curated and shown to the public in lieu of expensive, imported, block-busters, e.g. Picasso at MMA opening next week.

  14. Anon in midwes Says:

    Real Artist –Barb the gallery owner knows what she is talking about. I’d like to paint what I want to paint, but no way anymore. Not with two kids in college. I paint what I hope will sell. I’m like a farmer who tries to second guess next year’s market. Real Artist is naked. So sanctimonious. Put your art up where your mouth is.

    Iwont even dignify marilyn’s asskissing statement.

    Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing(TM): Crikey, someone is having a bad day! Er, thanks for stopping by.

  15. Liddi Says:

    Forget the tour. The better question is: When has a noted curator last bought a work of art from an artist they recommended? Didn’t someone say, the medium is the message? I think it might have been Marshall McLuhan, not sure. Anyway, “real artist” comments are closest to the real world. Art doesn’t have a value to anyone until it’s bought. I ran a small art gallery for a short period and worked with many artists who I had great respect for and many had hundreds of works

    Phil
    hidden away in their homes. My resulting perception was that great quantities of worthy art is hidden away because of a lack of marketing. That is the major difficulty within the art world. Only a few curators set values. Only a few opinions. Only a few artists will ever become recognized. Perhaps artists and consumers need a better marketing structure to circumvent the curators domination over the world of art. Maybe the answer is a few bottles of Cabernet Franc and to buy what pleases us without the necessity of a confirming voice from “the experts”. By the way, the last fund raiser art show at our local private school turned art into $30,000 in two days. Many artists made money. To my knowledge, there were no curators present. Hmmmm!

  16. real artist Says:

    Liddi reinforces a point I was going to make. At least in this blog we are discussing QUALITY in art and how to determine what is good. THAT is a discussion the curators and museums need to be having alot more often instead of being slaves to some fashion imposed by whom????

    Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing(TM): With the artist’s permission, I am adding some biographical material: One-person shows include the Rockefeller Townhouse in New York and the Gregg Galleries of the National Arts Club. Group shows include the Newark Museum, The National Arts Club, Art Expo New York and galleries throughout the Northeast. The artist is the recipient of the Joel E. Smilow Foundation award for painting from the Silvermine Guild Juried Annual and the Salmagundi Club Award for representational Painting from C.L.W.A.C. Annual Exhibit at the National Arts Club.

  17. Sage Says:

    You’re article made me so turned off to you wine and cheese loving people that I have second thoughts about entering the art world. I’m a senior in high school, and have never read Porter’s art criticism, and yet am in love with his paintings. I noticed that you didn’t put any front-facing images of Joe Strand’s work so I went and looked it up for myself, and ok, it’s not bad at all. but Porter’s level of sensitivity so surpasses Strand’s as to be almost laughable. Next time you write an article like this, make sure you’re not just being angry for the sake of it.

    Note from Lynne W. Scanlon. Thanks for dropping by Sage, and leaving a strong comment. [Sage is a high school student at Crossroads School in Santa Monica, CA, class of 2011. She has self-published two books, one a book of poetry titled Sage Ryza and the other a book of photographs of herself, titled A Trip Through Time.]

  18. Wray Willliams Says:

    I’m looking forward to the day when I finally appreciate FP work completely – I like some things about it, but not enough to be enamored. I’ve never been able to love his colorful California counterpart David Hockney’s work either. When you base you work on realism yet can’t draw very well, it never quite rings true as the drawing is all on the surface.

    Sometimes a superficial empty quality in a painters work can dovetail with their subject matter. That weak drawing can convenience the lack of emotion (except maybe depression) in the artist painting ability by giving a false sense of emptiness in the subject. Superficially it’s like the artist captures some kind of questioning of the meaning of life in face of the people they portray, but really it’s just artificial painting.

    Admittedly a crude drawing ability can often lend a work personal style to the work (Alice Neel comes to mind), but for me crude artists never stop having that frustratingly promising quality of a painter in their twenties who might be good when they mature, but then over the years they only mature in age, not in depth of quality work.

    I may still get it one day- I like finally get Tapies, De Stael and Diebenkorn and a few years ago I’d have yawned. Still waiting to be trans-Portered.

Leave a Reply




Bad Behavior has blocked 1100 access attempts in the last 7 days.