By Emily J. Weitz
After two years of construction, nothing, not even a hurricane, was going to slow down the crew at the Parrish Art Museum. The energy in the brand new barn-inspired building in Water Mill was buzzing last week in anticipation of this weekend’s opening events. Even though the phone lines were down and there was no Internet for days, the art was on the walls and the staff at their desks.
“If we could harness the energy of the staff,” said Terrie Sultan, Director of the Parrish Art Museum, “we wouldn’t need LIPA.”
The reason for creating the Parrish’s new home was, in part, to allow the museum to begin to showcase its permanent collection, much of it kept in storage when the museum was located in its Jobs Lane, Southampton Village home.
Now, in the spacious new galleries, there’s room for the collection to breathe and for patrons to appreciate the works in multiple shows running simultaneously.
“In this first iteration,” said Sultan, “we wanted to put our strongest, greatest, best foot forward. We’re thinking of how to demonstrate the breadth of our collection and to reflect the core idea of our institution, which is the legacy of the East End and how it impacts the world.”
To this end, the inaugural temporary exhibition will showcase a diverse collection by English artist, painter and photorealist Malcolm Morley.
“He’s an extraordinary, internationally known artist in his 80s,” said Alicia Longwell, head curator at the Parrish, “and he still lives on Long Island, in Brookhaven.”
“Malcolm Morley: Painting, Paper, Process” features examples of Morley’s working methods with paper throughout his career along with common threads, said Longwell, that connect the pieces together. At 81, Morley remembers London during the Blitz, and his work is infused with references to the airplanes and war heroes of his youth.
“He’s said there’s something of a catastrophe theme,” explained Longwell. “He depicts knights, Vikings, and motocross racers.”
Heroes, noted Longwell, classic and contemporary.
“To be a hero,” Longwell added, “[Morley says] you have to take risks.”
When patrons exit the first exhibition space, they will make their way across the spine of the museum, where works on paper by the likes of Chuck Close hang on the walls. The next gallery consists of many works that have never been shown. Pieces by Ross Bleckner, Dorothea Rockburne, and Donald Sultan are each given generous wall space.
Moving further down the corridor, the first permanent exhibition space sits at the heart of the museum, showing the work of artists like Alan Shields and Joe Zucker.
“All of these artists have strong ties to the East End,” said Longwell. “Some are of the ‘Process Generation’,” referring to a generation of artists blending art, creativity and space to come up with new mediums.
In the same gallery are displayed successors of the Process Generation, like painters April Gornik and Eric Fischl.
In addition to contemporary artists, Terrie Sultan and her staff knew they had to devote space to some of the first artists who discovered the East End. American Impressionist painter William Merritt Chase has a room all of his own for an exhibition entitled “A Life in Art.”
“Chase painted in his Shinnecock Hills studio,” explained Longwell. “He painted the ‘North Light,’ a metaphor for creative inspiration.”
One of the pieces on display, “Alice in the Shinnecock Studio,” shows his daughter looking at a painting within the painting.
“She’s the observer and we are the observer,” said Longwell.
Another heavyweight in the Parrish collection is Fairfield Porter, an American painter and art critic, who moved to the East End in the late 1940s, making a studio in an old hayloft in Southampton Village.
“He could see Southampton from up in the trees,” explained Longwell. “He was a realist painter, but he would say ‘Whole passages of my work are abstract.’ He did extraordinary still lives.”
Now Porter’s work is housed in a gallery adjoined to Chase’s in a show entitled “Fairfield Porter: Modern American Master.”
Continuing down the spine of the Parrish, you might be stopped in your tracks by photos by Adam Bartos or pastels by Bob Dash.
“Collected Conversations” is designed as a gallery space where the works of art are meant speak to one another, said Longwell.
Art by Dan Flavin, Willem de Kooning, Jack Youngerman and Keith Sonnier all have pieces adorning these walls.
“Flavin created astonishing art based on fluorescent light fixtures off the shelf,” said Longwell. “DeKooning painted with ribbon-like swathes of color. In Youngerman, you see the color and finish that resonates against de Kooning’s brush strokes.”
Sonnier’s neon piece, Longwell pointed out, is quite the opposite of Flavin’s “less-is-more” approach.
There is so much to see at the new museum, from the comprehensive Esteban Vicente exhibition to the 2010 John Chamberlain sculpture on loan. It’s difficult for Sultan to pinpoint which deserves the most excitement.
“Our new acquisitions are magnificent,” Sultan said. “We have a 2,000 square foot room, and people will be really surprised at these contemporary paintings and sculpture. And we’ve never had an opportunity to show this permanent collection in any way, shape or form. These galleries are so gorgeous: the light, the proportions. It will be a real treat for everyone to see.”
The opening weekend of the Parrish Art Museum will kick off with a VIP open house on Friday November 9 from 6 to 9 p.m. On Saturday, November 10, doors will open for members from 9 to 11 a.m., and non-members are welcome to join from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday through Monday. Admission is free. The new Parrish Art Museum is at 279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill. Call 283-2118 for information.