By Annette Hinkle
“November 12 — that’s the turning point when we can look and say, what was November 12, 2012 like?” says Terrie Sultan. “Since last November when we opened, we’ve had nothing to compare it to. But we will have our second November 12 next week.”
You can’t blame Sultan, director of the Parrish Art Museum, for being philosophical about the organization’s first year in their Herzog & de Meuron-designed building on Montauk Highway in Water Mill. This has been a year of great excitement and the realization of reality after years of planning.
“From the minute the door opened, it’s definitely exceeded my expectations, not only how the community is responding, but even my own response to the day-to-day of being in this building,” says Terrie. “Honestly every day is so exciting, something interesting happens.”
But in addition to being a year of looking forward, the new space has also allowed the Parrish to reflect on its past by providing ample room to display an impressive array of masterworks from the museum’s permanent collection, many of which have never been on view due to lack of space at the museum’s former home in Southampton Village.
This weekend, the Parrish opens a series of exhibitions all built around works from the permanent collection. Everything which has been up for the past year has come down to make way for a whole new selection of art from the collection.
If there’s an overarching theme to the various exhibits, it’s about making connections. From “Changing Views: Painting as Metaphor” which offers variations on traditional landscape by artists including Howard Kanovitz, Rackstraw Downes and Fairfield Porter, whose never before seen city-scapes are on view, to “Esteban Vicente: In the Company of Friends,” an exhibit of drawings by Vicente and his colleagues, students or artist friends, there are, indeed, connections to be explored.
“In choosing for the new installation, even though you know we have the Rackstraw Downes and the Porters, putting them together opens new ways of thinking about things,” explains Sultan. “There are also new acquisitions – gifts we’re receiving because of the new building. People understand that if they give a piece of art, they know it will get what it needs to be seen and appreciated.”
Among those new acquisitions is “Splash Buildings,” a massive sculptural installment by Dennis Oppenheim which is on view in its own gallery.
“In this new iteration 200 to 250 pieces from the permanent collection will be on view — 10 of them were probably not even in the building last year,” adds Sultan.
Perhaps no one at the Parrish has had more fun with the new exhibit space than chief curator Alicia Longwell. The number of galleries, their various sizes and the presence of the center spine gallery provides an endless range of possibilities.
“To have the permanent collection, the beautiful expansive galleries and the way the galleries flow into one another is wonderful,” says Longwell. Any time we can connect the story and make those things come to the fore, we do. It’s nice to have a dedicated space to do that.”
“The challenge, but also the excitement, was to come back to the collection and think of new themes, new ideas,” she says.
Those themes include an exhibit connecting poets and artists, as well as “Porter and Dash: Between House and Studio,” which pairs the backyard and home views of painters Fairfield Porter and Robert Dash, a close friend of Porter’s who just died in September.
It’s not just the number of galleries which have allowed Longwell to luxuriate in the possibility of juxtaposition, it is also the massive wall space. A case in point is “William Merritt Chase: Portraits in Context” in which portraits by Chase share wall space with those of Robert Henri, a contemporary who was somewhat younger than Chase and whose work represented a changing of the artistic guard at the beginning of the 20th century.
Featured prominently in the gallery are portraits by the two artists which are more than six feet in height — Chase’s “My Daughter Dieudonnée,” which is positioned opposite a similarly sized portrait by Henri entitled “Lady in Black.”
“When looking at Chase and Henri in context, it’s instructive to look at what was going on around them,” explains Longwell. “Chase was a well known portrait painter, but it’s interesting to know what else was happening. Henri was a colleague and a fellow teacher, but he was younger and there was that generational divide which any painter that paints into his 60 and 70s will find when a young artist has a different way of looking at things.”
Henri’s different way was grittier than Chase’s and based on the Ash Can School that was emerging in the early 20th century and sought out subjects and scenes offering a less rosy view of life.
“It was the end of the Gilded Age and Chase’s work was so well known,” adds Longwell. “Both of thee are wonderful paintings and it’s interesting to look at them. There’s no question that Henri looked at Velasquez and the great Spanish and German figurative painters. Many of the same artistic ideas are there, but different feelings.”
In fact, Henri’s portrait of “Lady in Black” was of his wife, Linda, who was very ill at the time.
“She died within a year,” says Longwell. “He knew she was in bad shape, and wanted to capture that era, whereas the Chase portraits of his daughter have a much different feel to them.”
And its just these sorts of connections and contrasts that Longwell believes will build on the Parrish’s legacy, exposing a new audience to both the big and small details of the artistic history of the East End.
“This installation has stories that are new to people,” she says. “It’s a visual feast and includes the connections you know about, which is the proximity. But it also gives you a way to look at the paintings together which tells a whole other story.”
The Parrish Art Museum’s Anniversary Weekend Celebration runs Saturday, November 9 to Monday, November 11, 2013. A members preview is Friday, November 8 from 6 to 8 p.m. The museum is at 279 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. Call 283-2118 for details.
In addition to works from the permanent collection, also on view is “Artists Choose Artists” a juried exhibition in which well-known artists Laurie Anderson, Judith Hudson, Mel Kendrick, David Salle, Ned Smyth, Keith Sonnier and Robert Wilson selected up-and-coming artists to show their work.
Other activities this weekend at the Parrish:
Saturday, November 9 to Monday, November 11, 2013:
10 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily drop-in activities including family tours and art projects inspired by the works on view in the galleries. Also, “Artists Choose Artists” video on view continuously in the Lichtenstein Theater (30 minutes).
Noon to 2 p.m. Karlos Rodriguez, cellist, performs in the galleries on Saturday, and Richard Vaudrey, cellist, performs on Sunday.
2 p.m. docent-led public tour Saturday to Monday.
3 to 4 p.m. “Meet the Artists” in the galleries on Saturday and Sunday.