The Enduring Lure of the Hamptons: a Place of Refuge for the Arts in Good Times and Bad

East Hampton Beach, Long Island (1874) by Winslow Homer

Wikipedia
East Hampton Beach, Long Island (1874) by Winslow Homer
There is a long history of an art ecosystem out in eastern Long Island. Today, a renewed interest in the area brings about a new generation of artists and galleries. 

There is a long history of an art ecosystem out in eastern Long Island. Today, a renewed interest in the area brings about a new generation of artists and galleries. 

Wikipedia

The Parrish Art Museum.

The Parrish Art Museum is one of the few American museums that presents work in natural light, creating a bright, open feeling throughout ten sky-lit galleries.

 

Long Island, a finger of densely populated land beginning at its far western boundary with the New York metropolitan boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens and extending eastward 118 miles into the Atlantic Ocean where it divides at Riverhead into a North Fork and South Fork, has long offered respite from Manhattan’s summer heat for the toney set. It also has a rich cultural pedigree.

In literature, the North Shore of Long Island is the setting of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby, In the mid-20th century, Abstract Expressionist painters, Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Lee Krasner (1908-1984), Mark Rothko (1903-1970), and Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) all established studios in the Hamptons, a series of villages along the south shore of Long Island that culminates at the Montauk Lighthouse. And long before that, the extension of the Long Island Railroad in the 1800s drew artists like William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) and Winslow Homer (1836-1910) out to the Hamptons. They relished painting languid figures en plein air on the white sands of the Hamptons beaches. Chase built his summer home there and in 1891 he opened Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art where he taught for eleven years. But Chase was not the first artist to build a summer home in the Hamptons. Before him, in the 1880s, Hudson River School painter Thomas Moran (1837-1926), known primarily for his dramatic landscapes of the American West, along with his wife, printmaker Mary Nimmo, built a home and studio in East Hampton where they usually spent half the year. The American Impressionist Childe Hassam (1859-1935) is best known for his atmospheric city scenes also painted on Long Island. He died at age 75 in his East Hampton home.

Students at Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art in Southampton NY, ca.1895.
Wikipedia

Students at Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art in Southampton NY, ca.1895.

By 1898, the cultural ground of far eastern Long Island was rich enough to support the founding of the Parrish Art Museum. For more than a century, the Museum has prospered and expanded—from a single exhibition hall in Southampton Village built by Samuel Longstreth Parrish to showcase his collection–to its relocation in 2012 to a light-filled, modern facility in the neighboring town of Water Mill designed by noted architects Herzog & de Meuron. The Parrish is one of the few American museums that presents work in natural light, creating a bright, open feeling throughout ten sky-lit galleries.

LongHouse Reserve is a 16-acre sculpture garden and cultural center in East Hampton. It offers a safe, largely outdoor setting for experiencing museum-quality art beyond the confines of museum walls. Its welcoming paths meander through a tranquil setting just two miles from the ocean. Founded by visionary textile designer and collector Jack Lenor Larsen (1927-2020), the year-round garden features works by such artists as Sol LeWitt, de Kooning, as well as a rotating selection of contemporary work from artists like Dale Chihuly whose self-explanatorily-titled piece Cobalt Reeds is installed in different places on the site throughout the year. Larsen was most interested in facilitating the survival of works made by hand while adapting to changes in production required in a mechanized society. He died at LongHouse in December 2020 at the age of 93.

Despite all this cultural activity, the area was primarily a seasonal scene with peak activities during the summer months while returning to a quieter less frenetic social scene after labor day. When COVID swept over New York City like a tsunami, things changed. From 2020 through 2022 a parade of high-end galleries decamped from New York City and headed out to the upscale south side of Long Island, from the Hamptons to Montauk. Hauser & Wirth, Pace, Sotheby’s, and a host of other art market heavyweights signed leases in the summer, during what used to be the commercial downtime for art sales, seeking the salt sea air, collectors, and a way to escape COVID-related mandates and shutdowns.

Willem de Kooning in his studio.
Wikipedia

Willem de Kooning in his studio.

Longhorse Reserve
Wikipedia

Longhorse Reserve

At the Seaside by William Merritt Chase.
Wikipedia

At the Seaside by William Merritt Chase.

TW–Fine Art
TW–Fine Art

TW–Fine Art

TW–Fine Art
TW–Fine Art

TW–Fine Art

TW–Fine Art
TW–Fine Art

TW–Fine Art

In 2020, two NYC gallerists and life partners, Adam Lindemann of Venus Over Manhattan and Amalia Dayan formerly of the gallery Luxembourg & Dayan decided to take a non-profit approach with their opening of the South Etna Montauk Foundation. Their intent was to bring a more relaxed, community-oriented approach inviting contemporary artists to Montauk to present their work in a legendary American town that has served as home and provided inspiration to artists across generations. In 2021, the Foundation launched an artist residency program that compliments other area residencies at the Elaine de Kooning House in East Hampton and the Andy Warhol Preserve Visual Arts Residency, a collaborative program with The Nature Conservancy. In 2022 South Etna presented solo exhibitions of revered African-American artists Robert Colescott (1925-2009), Faith Ringgold (1930-), and the 98-year-old Afro-Native American landscape painter Richard Mayhew who was born in Amityville, a village about 80 miles from the gallery.

The pace of new art ventures sprouting in the Hamptons and Montauk continued its momentum through 2022. In May, designer and art patron Lisa Perry opened ONNA House in East Hampton, just down the road from Montauk. Named after the Japanese word for woman, Perry was inspired by Peggy Guggenheim and painstakingly worked to restore her mid-century modern home built by noted architect Paul Lester Wiener. ONNA House’s goal is to offer a collaborative space to display and support the work of women artists and designers. In an interview about ONNA House for Vogue, Perry said, “It combines all my passions under one roof—architecture, design, art, and helping women.”

In August this year, a point when usually most Montauk galleries start thinking about wrapping things up for the season, TW–Fine Art, a for-profit company with galleries in Palm Beach and Brooklyn, opened their Montauk space in a formerly abandoned facility that had served the local community for the past 30 years as an auto body shop. Bringing new life to neglected areas is part of TW’s modus operandi. Senior Director of TW-Fine Art Ty Cooperman, in conversation with Art & Object, expressed unbridled enthusiasm about the support and welcoming atmosphere not only from the year-round residents but from the other artworld newcomers who are all tapping into the same hunger for aesthetic experiences. “We had over 200 people at the opening. We have great neighbors. With South Etna and ONNA House we’ve created a new art ecosystem, it’s a symbiotic, mutually supportive relationship. A rising tide lifts all ships.”

About the Author

Cynthia Close

Cynthia Close holds a MFA from Boston University, was an instructor in drawing and painting, Dean of Admissions at The Art Institute of Boston, founder of ARTWORKS Consulting, and former executive director/president of Documentary Educational Resources, a film company. She was the inaugural art editor for the literary and art journal Mud Season Review. She now writes about art and culture for several publications.

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