Emily J Weitz
When it comes to supporting the Whaling Museum, many of Sag Harbor’s most successful artists are eager to help out. That means the upcoming “Whale of a Show,” co-curated by artist Dan Rizzie and gallery owner Peter Marcelle, boasts a lineup including work by Donald Sultan, April Gornik, Eric Fischl and many more artists willing to throw their weight behind a cultural institution.
The idea for the “Whale of a Show” began from a conversation between Marcelle and Rizzie.
“I’m not sure who came up with the idea,” says Marcelle. “Dan came up with the name, and the idea was to get artists to come up with different interpretations of whales, since it’s for the Whaling Museum.”
That was the only guideline the artists were given, and from there they could go in any direction they chose. What has resulted is a varied show in which each piece really reflects the artist’s style.
“When you look at the art,” says Marcelle, “you look to see if the artist has made it his own. I don’t look at subject matter so much; I look at the style. It doesn’t matter what Sultan paints, I’ll know it’s a Sultan. It just happens to be a whale. It would be no different whether it was a whale or a bush or a tree, it’s just their interpretation. I chose these artists because they are so recognizable.”
But in this case, the subject isn’t a bush or a tree, because this show is about Sag Harbor and supporting the museum, home of much of the village’s heritage and history.
“It’s so very Sag Harbor,” says Rizzie who adds that he rarely does figurative work like this.
“I’m primarily an abstract artist,” he says. “I wouldn’t ordinarily do a painting of a whale. But this gives us an opportunity to present local artists in a local place in a different perspective, by following the theme to our shows. It makes people step up to the plate in a different way.”
Every artist involved created an original work for the show, and many, like Rizzie, went completely out of their normal range to do so.
“I made a wood collage of a white whale,” says Rizzie. “I took an old frame that reminded me of a pub sign or something.”
Inspired by stories of whalers coming home from a long stint at sea and heading right to one of the many pubs in the village, Rizzie’s piece has texture to it.
“I was trying to evoke a feeling – the old-time feeling of the town. Word is that Sag Harbor was a pretty rough town back then,” he says. “Those guys were out there risking their own lives.”
Other artists took the theme in a totally different direction.
“Donald Sultan did a beautiful black and white watercolor of a whale,” says Rizzie. “April Gornik did a gorgeous watercolor of a whale breaching. Everyone stepped up to the plate and I think it’s going to be one of the best shows we’ve done.”
Rizzie echoes Marcelle’s sentiment that each piece, while inspired by the same subject, is identifiable as specific to the artist who created it.
“The piece I did looks like my work,” says Rizzie. “It made me approach the subject in a different way, which I thought was great. I think it’s great for the artist and for the audience.”
Greg Therriault, who is the new site manager at the Whaling Museum, believes an important role of the museum is to integrate the history of Sag Harbor with the present day. While whaling is part of the village’s heritage, art is an integral part of the present community.
“So we asked a group of artists,” says Therriault, “to use the theme ‘A Whale of a Show’ to use their creative imaginations to celebrate marine life and the whale and Sag Harbor. We are so fortunate to have artists of the caliber that are participating. They are friends of the museum and internationally recognized artists who care deeply about Sag Harbor.”
The hope, he adds, is that by bringing out the big artistic guns, everyone will come to the Whaling Museum and support the staff and board’s efforts to maintain and improve the building, and recognize the need to protect its legacy.
“Our dream is that the whole town will get involved,” says Rizzie. “The museum is an integral part of our town and an important part of our history. This is for Sag Harbor. When we have an important part of our town that is falling to pieces, we have to get together and support it.”
“A Whale of a Show” opens with a reception this Friday, May 24, 2013 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum, 200 Main Street. The show will be on display until June 25. Call 725-0770 for more information.