By Annette Hinkle
In recent weeks, Christina Mossaides Strassfield and Kathryn Markel have been looking at art — and a lot of it. Three hundred and six individual pieces to be exact.
That’s because Strassfield and Markel served as jurors in an annual art contest to benefit The Retreat. Submissions came from near and far, and in the end, Strassfield, museum director and chief curator at Guild Hall in East Hampton and Markel, owner of K. Markel Fine Art galleries in New York and Bridgehampton, narrowed the 300 plus submissions to 25 works which will be featured in The Retreat’s 4th Annual Hamptons Juried Art Show opening this weekend at the Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery in Sag Harbor.
Richard Demato, who also happens to be on the board of The Retreat, has donated his gallery space for this two week show, which officially opens with a reception at 6 p.m. this Saturday, October 27.
On Friday, Strassfield and Markel will visit the gallery to see the work in person and select the “best in show” from the 25 pieces. The winning artist will receive a solo show at Demato’s gallery within the year and because he is donating his gallery space, the sale of all artwork, both in this show and during the winner’s solo exhibit, will be split evenly between the artists and The Retreat.
While it will be quite an honor for the top artist in the show, ultimately the real winner will be The Retreat itself, which provides services to victims of domestic violence on the East End — including a residential facility for spouses and children fleeing abusive homes.
“We had entries from all around the country and the world. All these artists are amazing in supporting our cause,” says Jeffrey Friedman, The Retreat’s executive director. “It’s a win win, not only for women, children and families in crisis, but the artists have an opportunity to have their work shown in the Hamptons in a well regarded gallery.”
“This event can’t come at a better time with what we’re seeing,” adds Friedman. “Unfortunately, with what’s going on in the East End and the economy, it’s having a direct impact on our work. We’ve seen an unprecedented level of need — there’s been a 96 percent increase in hotline calls in the last two years.”
“Events like this not only raise money, but people hear about it and come to it, and people in need of our service will reach out for help,” adds Friedman. “It’s the most courageous thing that they can do.”
Narrowing hundreds of works of art down to a representative sample of what they consider to be the top 25 pieces can’t be an easy task for jurors. But Strassfield and Markel report the process was a remarkably smooth one which began with images of all the work projected on a screen and Strassfied and Markel voting “yes” or “no” on each piece.
“Two yeses and we kept it,” explains Strassfield. “We eliminated more than half in the first round. From there we took out the images, spread them out and evaluated those which we felt were the strongest. When comparing several that were all representational we put them side by side. We really agreed right off the bat.”
“I don’t tend to like to judge with others, it’s often a compromise, but it went well,” notes Strassfield who adds that while photography was overwhelmingly represented, the work itself was quite diverse. “I like seeing that. It’s exciting, and so many people are working in their own unique style.”
And while it’s natural to assume part of the selection process might involve considering in curator-like fashion how a given piece will relate to others beside it when hung, Markel explains she veered away from that motivation.
“I like to look at art and ask what would I think of this in my Shell station with the pinups and calendar?” she says. “I’m an anti-context person. It’s a challenge. You have to look at art as a piece, not in context with what it will look like with other pieces. If it works, it works.”
“It’s when you hang the show that you will have to make those choices of what is next to what,” says Markel.
For his part, Demato joined in the selection process as well, bringing his expertise as an art collector. But, he explains, it was only to guide Strassfield and Markel in selecting work that was marketable — meaning The Retreat will be able to successfully sell it as part of the exhibit — a vital part of the fundraiser.
“They were making the final decisions, but I tired to help through the process,” says Demato who adds that some artists don’t read the fine print when submitting work. “They’ll price work at $20,000 or submit things that aren’t for sale, so the charity loses out.”
“Richard is the mover and shaker here – he corrals everyone to do their bit,” adds Markel.
So with three art experts involved in the process, was there much dissent when it came to selecting the final pieces?
“Richard’s sensibilities are different from mine, which are different from Christina, but we can all recognize a level of professionalism which we captured in the results,” says Markel. “Christina admitted when she recognized the work of some of the [local] artists, but we didn’t have any information about where they were from, so it made it as anonymous as possible, which I appreciate.”
Now, it’s up to Markel and Strassfield to select the winning artist this Friday. Strassfield notes seeing all 25 works of art on the walls at Demato’s gallery will be key to deciding on the top entry.
“That’s exciting,” she says. “When you’re awarding a one person show, you want to be 100 percent sure.”
The 25 artists selected for the exhibit are: Laura Benjamin, Ann Brandeis, Philippe Chen, Jean Cronin Connolly, Gregory DeLucia, Luci Gans, Charlie Jacobs, Janet Lage, Melissa Mandel, Phil Marco, Jeanette Martone, Mindy Mosher, Carol A. O’Neill, Kat O’Neill, Alyce Peifer, Stephanie Reit, Christie Schuerlein, Maxine Smith, Christina Stow, Eve Stuart, Jean Carruthers Wetta, Florence Wint, Terry Wise, Charles Yoder and Kim Zarney.
The 4th Annual Hamptons Juried Art Show to benefit The Retreat will be on view through November 5 at the Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery, 90 Main Street, Sag Harbor. The opening reception is Saturday, October 27, 2012 from 6 to 8 p.m. The best in show winner will have a solo exhibition at the gallery within the year. For more information, call 329-4398.