By Annette Hinkle
On Tuesday, the Parrish Art Museum officially announced that it will open the doors of its new home to the public on Saturday, November 10, 2012.
The project has been years in the making. But in recent months, motorists passing the 14-acre parcel on Route 27 in Water Mill have bore witness as the 34,000 square foot barn-like structure has taken root and grown in a former field.
The new museum, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, is on 14 acres next to Duck Walk Vineyards. Despite its low (and long) profile on the landscape, when completed, it will have far more exhibition space than the Parrish’s current Jobs Lane home in Southampton.
For Parrish Art Museum Director Terrie Sultan, the new facility means her staff will be able to offer much more — not only in terms of temporary installations, but in their ability to highlight the sizeable permanent collection and serve the community as well.
“It’s more complicated than a barn, but it has the feel of the agrarian architecture of the East End,” explains Sultan while leading a recent walk-through of the new museum. “The biggest change is we’ll have 12,000 square feet of gallery space versus the 4,500 square feet we have now.”
Of that space, 4,600 square feet will be given over to special exhibitions while 7,600 square feet is to be dedicated to the museum’s permanent collection of 2,600 works dating back to the 19th century. Due to space constraints, some of these pieces have never been publicly displayed in the museum’s 115 year history. Now they can be.
But just as important, notes Sultan, is the fact the museum’s curators will have the option of utilizing the permanent collection to advance themes featured in special exhibitions.
“We can have different aspects on view that relate to a specific show,” explains Sultan, “and bring pieces up from the collection to contextually tie in with an artist whose work we’re showing. It might be people who taught with the artist, worked with him or were students of his.”
“It’s a deeper context and probably the biggest change,” she adds.
While there is still a good deal of work to be done between now and November — Sultan donned a hard hat while conducting this tour — inside, the galleries have taken shape and several appear to be nearly “art ready.”
Sultan explains that the galleries are sized in increments of 500, 1,000, 2,000 and 2,500 square feet to accommodate intimate as well as large exhibitions. The new facility is large enough to allow some galleries to remain open while shows are installed in others.
The galleries all lie off a central corridor, and doorways between them allow visitors to wander from one to the next without re-entering the corridor. While the high walls are window-free to allow for flexibility in mounting work, rows of north facing skylights built into the pitched roofs allow for abundant natural light.
It’s a feature that particularly impresses Sag Harbor artist Dan Rizzie, who came along for the tour.
“Today’s overcast, but look at the light,” said Rizzie as he gazes up an expansive gallery wall to the skylights overhead. “The saturation is great, but there are no hot spots. It’s an incredible feat of architecture and design. That’s amazing to see. The building is made to accept light.”
Rizzie notes the new museum is not one that has been designed just with directors and curators in mind, but artists and visitors as well. As a member of the Parrish’s advisory council, Rizzie explains he and other artists have had input into what the new building should be.
“It’s part of Terrie’s vision,” explains Rizzie. “She’s interested in what artists think. She involves us and it brings you closer to the community.”
“Now they have adequate space and can do anything here,” he adds. “As an artist, it’s an opportunity for me to be able to show anything — from video to sculpture, enormous to small paintings. It’s unlimited instead of limited. You can have any kind of show you want. It’s a win/win all the way around.”
While the galleries are the centerpiece of the facility, Sultan truly expects the museum to become a community gathering place. She walks through the building’s main entrance to a self contained gallery that will act as a transition space —bringing visitors from the outside to the inside. A doorway leads to the separate admission area and, behind that, a gift shop and a café that will serve coffee, salads, sandwiches and desserts, as well as beer and wine.
The lobby adjacent to the café will offer comfortable seating and serve as a meeting place — and as an Internet lounge (the building is fully wired). The café also opens onto a 6,000 square foot covered terrace, where the public can relax when the weather’s nice. The area can also be used for receptions, workshops, festivals and performances.
Merging the outside with the inside spaces was a major goal of the design. Massive windows dominate public areas not given over to gallery space. There is a total of 13,500 square feet of covered outdoor space surrounding the building and long concrete benches built into the walls line the north and south facing expanses.
“The way the building is sited in the landscape, it feels as if you’re inside and outside at the same time,” says Sultan. “The concrete bench worked better than I thought. It’s comfortable and beautiful — an example of vertical meeting horizontal.”
“This is my favorite feature,” grins Rizzie as he makes himself comfortable on a section of bench which melds into the exterior wall of the museum. The exterior walls — cast in place concrete — retain the pattern of wood forms used during the pouring process — referencing the barn vernacular with a modern twist.
Sultan notes that 66 percent of the new building is public space — a high ratio for a museum. In addition to areas for kids art workshops, one of the key features for hands-on programming is a 2,400 square foot black box space at the north end of the museum. A projection booth and acoustic wiring will allow for film screenings and lectures. But the design, by intention, is flexible. Chairs can be brought in and out as needed, as can a stage. A large north facing window acts as a backdrop to the landscape beyond.
In that landscape are plantings consisting entirely of native species. Designed by landscape architects Reed Hilderbrand, the selection references the natural environments of the East End — meadow, wetlands and scrub woodlands with expansive views of both sky and horizon.
For Sultan, it all adds up to the successful outcome of a long-held vision.
“It’s the right building and the right plan,” she says. “This is a thrill. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a great curatorial experience.”
“Now its up to [curators] Alicia [Longwell] and Andrea [Grover] and their energy to see what we can do with it,” she grins.
“It’s fantastic and a dream come true for local artists,” adds Rizzie. “There’s nothing like this out here. This is the big Lebowski.”
In addition to the installation of the permanent collection, the Parrish Art Museum will present as its inaugural special exhibition “Malcolm Morley: On Paper,” which will be on view from November 10, 2012 through January 13, 2013. The community is invited to join in the landscaping effort by purchasing a tree or shrub for the new museum for as little as $30 or as much as $2,200. Call 283-2118 for details.