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.
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.
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
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
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.