Tag Archive | "Parrish Art Museum"

Students Offer Their Take on Portraiture

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By Emily J. Weitz

For the past six weeks, the Parrish Art Museum has showcased “American Portraits: Treasures from the Parrish Art Museum.” With portrait paintings spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, the museum delves deep into the riches of its own collection.

But on the tail end of this exhibit, another body of work will be revealed. Inspired by American Portraits, school age children across the East End have created their own portraits, and these wildly colorful and energetic pieces will be on display in Students View American Portraits, with an opening reception this Saturday, December 3 from 3 to 5 p.m.

Laurie DeVito, art teacher at Sag Harbor Elementary School, adores this opportunity to work with the Parrish.

“We have such a rich artistic community here in Sag Harbor,” she says. “And it’s a great opportunity to tap into some of our resources.”

DeVito believes that when the students go to the Parrish and other cultural institutions on the East End, they are inspired in their own work to then go back to the classroom and create; the creative juices flow.

It’s one thing to go to a museum and look at the work on the walls. But with an effort like Students View American Portraits, “The experience is interactive,” says DeVito.

After visiting the museum, Sag Harbor Elementary students went back to the art room to make their own portraits. Each grade tackled a different assignment. Kindergarteners utilized shells and seaweed and other treasures that Meg Mandell, the other art teacher, had gathered on the beach.

Mandell gestures to the dozens of giant clam shells on one table in the art room.

“I’ve been going to the beach to collect things since the summer, knowing we would use them for our projects,” she says.

The students decorated the clam shells to make little faces, complete with seaweed hair, stone noses, moustaches, and googly eyes. Older kids worked on more traditional portrait paintings, or sculptures, or collaborative pieces. All the projects fall under the umbrella of portraiture, and the students were able to explore different interpretations of that idea.

In the art room at Sag Harbor Elementary, students’ work is bursting from the walls, filling the tables, and standing in the middle of the room. Their work is displayed throughout the school.

“And at the end of the year, we also have an opportunity for the kids to show their work in the school, when we invite parents to see what they’ve been doing,” says DeVito.

But this is different. The Parrish is a real museum, where work of some of the greatest artists in history has been showed.

For the students, “This is a real sense of pride,” says DeVito. “When they see their work displayed in the museum, it gives them a lot of confidence.”

Mandell chimes in that “It’s an affirmation of what they’re doing.”

Students’ work will be carefully shipped over to the Parrish in time for opening day, at which time students, families, and friends will be invited to a free reception to view the work on display for the first time.

“The kids always run right over to see their work, first, of course,” says DeVito.

In addition, there will be food, drinks and entertainment, including a juggler, face painting, and other kid-friendly activities. This event is open to the public, and it’s a chance to see the work that Sag Harbor students are doing as well as kids from other districts.

“We definitely get ideas from other schools,” says Mandell.

“And they get ideas from us,” adds DeVito. “I think it’s a great time to see the amazing work our students are producing. We’re a very artistic community and that is evident in the work.”

This exhibition was open to all Pre-K through 8th grade students in Riverhead, Southampton, East Hampton, and Southold townsips. In another upcoming exhibition, high school students from Brookhaven, Riverhead, East Hampton and Southampton will have work on display, and there will be a competition for high school seniors.

The student art show is “one of my favorite exhibits that the Parrish does,” says DeVito. She adds slyly that she’s “not at all biased. But seriously. It is so incredibly colorful and creative. It’s a lot of fun.”










Sicilian Marionettes Have a Story to Tell

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By Emily J Weitz

As long as there has been language, there have been stories. Passed down from generation to generation, these stories are the legacy of our ancestors. One family, which came from Sicily and thrived in New York, became remarkably good at telling stories in a unique way, and therefore, they kept their heritage alive.

Since 1918, the Manteo family has told and retold their stories through meticulously constructed marionettes. These nearly-life-sized puppets, some of which stand five feet tall and weigh 125 pounds, come to life under the guidance of a skilled puppeteer.

The stories they tell are the universal tales of good and evil.

The values that the marionettes demonstrate are about “fighting the demons of the world, fighting for love or honor, the triumph of good over evil,” says Tony DeNonno, award-winning TV producer-writer-director and historian who has studied and worked with the Manteo family extensively. “The elements in these stories are timeless.”

DeNonno points out that the puppeteers who created these marionettes and who told these stories again and again were “Not only great actors; these marionettes are also works of art. The puppeteers could carve and paint faces, they could draw scenery and bring characters to life. Audiences were enchanted with the characters and the believability and the drama.”

The stories were told again and again by several generations of the Manteo family in Little Italy, from 1918 until the late 1990s. The family has since dispersed to Florida and other locales, but historians at the Italian American Museum and devoted folklorists and filmmakers like DeNonno have committed themselves to keeping the tradition alive.

“The marionettes are part of the Italian American Museum now, and we are in the process of preserving the tradition,” says DeNonno. “We’re preserving the librettos, and translating these timeless priceless stories. These are the only librettos in the world of this amazing Sicilian marionette tradition, and we are working with folklorists and historians to learn to translate these librettos and re-present them.”

In the meantime, DeNonno devotes himself to making the Manteo story known. His award-winning documentary, “It’s One Family: Knock On Wood,” was nationally broadcast on PBS and captures the story of five generations of the Manteo family making marionettes and performing together in New York City. He travels to museums and other venues around the country sharing the story.

Even though the Manteos started performing in New York in the early 20th century, the tradition reaches back centuries earlier.

“The origins are from Charlemagne,” explains DeNonno. “He was a legendary emperor known for his benevolence, and the legends of Charlemagne (Carlo Magno in Italian) became part of Sicilian tradition. The stories were told by troubadours in rhyme and verse, and they captivated people. The troubadours brought these stories to life up until the emergence of Sicilian marionettes in the 18th century.”

DeNonno will be coming to the Parrish Art Museum on Saturday, September 24 at 3 p.m. to share his film, “It’s One Family: Knock on Wood,” to do a short marionette presentation, and to speak about the subject. His presentation is made possible by the Speakers in Humanities Program of the New York Council for the Humanities.

“It’s not a lecture,” he explains. “It’s geared towards young children. I engage them in the process by bringing the marionette to life.”

The marionette he’ll bring with him on Saturday is one that was made by the Manteos in the 1980s, although some of the marionettes in the Italian American Museum are up to  120 years old.

“If there are young people in the audience, I bring little marionettes for them to manipulate and work on,” he said. “I engage the audience to make them a part of the story.”

The goal is really to make people aware of this precious form of storytelling that has carried stories through generations.

“The European Union just designated marionettes as a priceless art form and treasure and they are preserving them,” says DeNonno. “I am trying to get this preserved in America too. To bring these sagas to life because they are timeless stories that tell aspects of great works: the stories are eternal. The marionettes are captivating.”


Parrish Art Museum at the Halfway Mark

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By Claire Walla

I’m standing with Terrie Sultan, director of the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, on top of loose soil, while wearing a hard hat and close-toed shoes. No more than 30 minutes prior, the ground beneath our feet was a shallow ditch where electrical conduits had recently been placed.
“Things change so quickly here!” Sultan exclaimed.
It’s Tuesday, July 19, one year to the day since the Parrish Art Museum broke ground here in Water Mill at the site of its future location.
With a skeleton largely in place and concrete walls and flooring already poured, Sultan said construction is “more or less” where they had planned for it to be by now. Though she admitted this winter’s prolonged bout of snowstorms halted construction longer than site managers had projected, the project is still on-track for completion by summer 2012.
The grounds are still more dirt than anything else, and stray pieces of building materials — wood, nails, concrete slabs and Styrofoam — lie in piles waiting to be placed. But, the steel frame of the 12,300-square-foot long structure hints at what the final product will eventually look like.
Sultan takes me on a tour of the barren building while narrating form onto its steel ribs with a description of what the museum will entail.
“One of the points of the design is to actually show the process of how the building is put together,” she said.
Once we step around to the long, northern wall and stand where the main entrance to the structure will be, Sultan points to where the inside walls meet the ceiling. This is where the construction crew is placing light-colored perlins, practicing with ways to transition from what will be white, sheet-rocked walls to a ceiling composed of exposed wooden rafters and the corrugated metal that makes up the roof.
In addition, Sultan explains that a long, rectangular window inside the main entryway will not only peer into the museum, but will create a view that bisects the center of the structure and continues through the south wall and out onto Route 27 and the fields beyond.
“One of the major directives of the building design was to continue to emphasize the relationship of the inside to the outside, which was a major part of the architecture of the early East End because the light and the atmosphere is so beautiful here,” Sultan continued.
The original blueprint for the project called for several smaller buildings, all of various shapes and sizes, a concept that finds its roots in the potato barns that were once almost superfluous here, but eventually came to function as studios for many artists. Sultan said members of the museum’s board traveled to the working studios of such local artists as Fairfield Porter, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Chuck Close, Eric Fischl and Julian Schnabel.
“We wanted to absorb the atmosphere of how these artists work,” she said.
While the original concept of building several separate studio spaces was largely quashed by the down-turn in the economy (it included 64 walls of varying sizes — the current plan only has four), Sultan said the same concepts are still present throughout.
Plus, with this new model, the new Parrish will have what’s now being referred to as The Spine Gallery. This long corridor — literally, the spine of the museum space — will be used as the main artery channeling people and paintings through the museum, but it will also be used for exhibition space. In all, the museum will have about 12,300 square feet to use for gallery space, as opposed to the 4,500 it currently has in Southampton Village.
“The real dream has been to have the opportunity to work with the [museum’s] permanent collection and to demonstrate to this community just how much a part of this community we are,” Sultan continued. “And it’s happening.”
For her part, Sultan cannot seem to begin to express the level of enthusiasm she has for this project.
“This is better than everything I’ve ever done,” she exclaimed. “I’ve been in the museum business for more than 25 years and I’ve worked with some of the world’s great artists; and I have to say, nothing compares to this project, for the joy of the creativity involved. There are all these great minds … and I don’t just mean the architects or the landscape architects. It includes the builders and the structural engineers and the concrete people, everyone came to the table and talked about how this building was going to go up.”
“It’s a large-scale work of art,” she continued.
“This is every museum director’s dream, somehow: to have the opportunity to realize something that’s lasting,” she added with a smile and an air of appreciation. “Long, long after I’m gone, this building will still be here. And it will still be a part of this community.”

Rethink the Parrish

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Parrish Sceme C

Scheme C: The third concept for the Parrish Art Museum property envisions the creation of a horticultural center and greenhouse, as well as a 350-seat theatre space, courtyard and large multipurpose rooms connecting to the existing Parrish Art Museum building. A fourth scheme was also presented showing two additions at the rear of the property, connecting to the building via pergolas through the arboretum.

by Kathryn G. Menu

Southampton Village officials unveiled plans last week for what it hopes to do with the village-owned Jobs Lane property currently occupied by the Parrish Art Museum. That property will become vacant next summer when the museum moves to its new home in Water Mill.

The “Southampton Center for the Arts” is conceived as a visual and performing arts center. Combined with a conservancy dedicated to the preservation and improvement of the existing Parrish arboretum, the development as a whole is meant to nourish and celebrate the history of art and culture on the East End. It’s also designed to draw in artists of all disciplines from around the world to Southampton Village.

On Thursday, July 7 the Southampton Village Planning Commission held a forum meant to update the public on proposed plans for the Jobs Lane property.

Working with consultants Webb Management Services, planning commission chairman Siamak Samii said the village and a founders’ committee formed last year to look at the future of the property. The aim was to present a project that could address the needs of the village as a whole.

Duncan Webb, president of Webb Management Services and Douglas Moss of ForeSite Facility Planners presented four scenarios for the development of the property to the planning commission and a large crowd gathered at Thursday’s meeting.

Webb said the meeting was intended to gain community input on the concepts, all of which involve adding new structures to the Parrish Art Museum property.

In all four schemes, the existing 9,000 square-foot building would be restored and renovated and feature three entrances, a grounds exhibit, espresso bar, gallery space, a lobby and an exhibition gallery as well as a multipurpose room at the rear of the facility.

The village envisions a separate conservation organization would also be created, no matter which project is selected, aimed at preserving and improving the existing arboretum on the grounds.

The first concept presented was the smallest in scale, showing the creation of a 3,000 square-foot horticultural center and greenhouse in the northwest portion of the property. Directly adjacent to the horticultural center would be a 7,500 square-foot outdoor amphitheater.

Moss called this scheme “very minimal.”

The second proposal is larger in scale, calling for a two-story 25,000 square-foot addition in the same northwest corner of the property. That addition would house a 350-seat theater space, as well as a lobby, theater support room, multi-purpose room and horticultural center. It would connect to the existing building via a large plaza that Moss said would be shaped so it could also operate as an amphitheater.

The third concept calls for the horticultural center and greenhouse, which would connect via a walkway to a large two-story addition at the northwest corner of the existing building. That building would host the theater space, a theater support room, two multi-purpose rooms surrounding a courtyard, as well as a lobby.

The last scheme presented shows three new structures on the property. First, in the northwest corner sits the horticultural center. Next to that a 20,000 square-foot building would be constructed to host the theater, theater support room, a multipurpose room, classroom and a catering support room. Next to that building, directly behind the existing Parrish Art Museum, would be an outdoor performance space. On the other side, a 5,000 square-foot building hosting a multipurpose room would sit on the northeast corner of the property.

The two structures would be connected to the existing building, said Moss, through pergola walkways.

Moss added the disadvantage of the last scheme is that the structures begin to close off visual access to the arboretum, something the village is trying to promote, not detract from.

While Duncan and Moss did not present financial figures, on Monday Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said the project would likely cost around $20 million, with $10 to $15 million needed in the renovation and expansion of the site and an additional $5 million meant to cover the operating costs of the facility for five years after it opens.

A capital campaign would be used to raise the funding privately.

The facility, according to Epley, would be run wholly by the not-for-profit Southampton Center for the Arts, which has already been incorporated, and is in the process of filing for not-for-profit status. It would rent the property from the village.

Residents at the meeting were divided in their support of the plan, some stating its necessity not just economically for Southampton Village, but also to make the village more of a destination. Others feared it would be in competition with existing organizations like the Southampton Cultural Center, Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theatre and yes, the Parrish Art Museum.

“We don’t want to be in competition with the Parrish Art Museum or any other existing organization,” said Epley on Monday. “We have no desire to do that, which is why we are trying to create something a little different.”

Epley said the multi-disciplinary arts organization could host not just visual arts, but theatre, dance troupes and even technological art.

“Another component I would like to see is space for traveling exhibitions,” he said. “We can host different shows there, programming that involves not just art, but history, sports. We can develop relationships with organizations like The Smithsonian.”

Epley noted the founders’ committee has already been successful in reaching out to groups from New York City like Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Public Theatre and Shakespeare in the Park. They have all expressed excitement at the prospect of being able to bring programming to a space like this in Southampton, he said.

Locally, the center could also partner with groups like the Southampton Cultural Center, the Hamptons International Film Festival and even the arts program at Southampton College.

“There are so many different things we can do here,” said Epley. “And it’s extremely important we do something. This is the centerpiece of the Village of Southampton. We must have active, viable entities occupying this space 365-days a year. The idea is to create a destination point, which will be an economic driver for the village.”

The Parrish: What Have You Got When It’s Gone?

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By Helen A. Harrison

The thump of Governor Paterson’s shovel breaking ground on July 19 for the new Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill must have sounded to the Southampton village elders like a wake-up call. The very next day, they announced the creation of an “arts district” in beautiful downtown Southampton, embracing the Cultural Center, the Rogers Memorial Library, Peconic Public Broadcasting, the Historical Museums and the Parrish, which is its anchor and raison d’etre. The district’s first annual fall festival, billed as its “coming-out party” and dubbed Arts Harvest Southampton, is now underway, and not a moment too soon. That line, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” from the old Joni Mitchell song, comes to mind. What happens to the arts district when its chief attraction leaves town?

As reported in July, the arts district is a key element of the village’s so-called vision plan, which recommends making art “a defining characteristic” of Southampton. So now the planners and officials are scrambling to figure out what to do with the building when the Parrish vacates it in 2012. They should have thought of that back in 1998, at the time of the museum’s centenary, when ambitious expansion plans were unveiled. That proposal, which called for an aggressively modern glass pavilion and demolition of part of the Job’s Lane garden wall, was met with hostility from several quarters, including the village board. No construction could be done without their approval, and not only because of zoning restrictions.

The village actually owns the Parrish’s building. Originally called the Southampton Art Museum, it was deeded to the village by Mrs. Samuel Longstreth Parrish, the widow of the museum’s founder. In short order the collections of art and antique furniture were relegated to the basement and the galleries were used to store plumbing fixtures (the mayor at the time was a plumber). When it was learned that the next step was to demolish the building and replace it with a parking lot—shades of Joni Mitchell again—a group of concerned citizens formed a private non-profit board of trustees and revitalized the museum, renamed in Parrish’s honor, in 1952.

But although the collections, governance and funding are private, the trustees can’t touch the building without the village’s say-so, and that wasn’t forthcoming. Hence the decision to move, first to the Southampton College campus, and when that fell through, to the Water Mill location.

On a smaller scale, this echoes the struggle to relocate the Barnes Foundation from its original home in Merion, Pennsylvania to Fairmont Park in Philadelphia, although in the opposite direction—from in town to the outskirts, whereas the Barnes will move from the suburbs to downtown. If you’ve seen the film, “The Art of the Steal,” you know that this plan has caused a titanic controversy, fueled in part by charges of mismanagement that bear no resemblance to the Parrish’s situation. But what strikes me as similar is the turnaround of the good people of Merion. For decades they wished the place would disappear, prevented it from expanding, and resented its parking problems, litterbug visitors and annoying tour bus traffic. Now that it’s leaving, however, they’re wringing their hands, howling in protest and passing resolutions demanding that it stay. Too little, and way too late.

Like Merion, Southampton is soon going to have a big, beautiful but very vacant building in the heart of town—not exactly a tourist attraction. Mayor Mark Epley has acknowledged that the Parrish’s departure will “leave a hole for a long time,” unless some alternative is found, preferably one that’s compatible with the arts-district concept. One proposal is to make it a multi-use facility for visual and performing arts, a kind of village cultural center. Oops, wait a minute, isn’t there already one of those just down the block? Let’s think again.

Remember the Long Island Automotive Museum that used to be on the highway, next door to the tombstone shop? That was so cool. Why not revive it, and put it into the Parrish building? I think it could work. They had an Avanti in the transept gallery not long ago, and it looked pretty good in there. Roll in a few dream boats and cream puffs for visitors to drool over, show car-chase movies in the concert hall, and problem solved. Not a good fit for the arts district? Anyone who thinks cars can’t be works of art didn’t see that Avanti.


Veering From Pop Art’s Traditions

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web "Portage" by Scott Anderson

By Ellen Frankman

Pop art simply isn’t what it used to be. At least not according to David Pagel, Los Angeles art critic and adjunct curator at the Parrish Art Museum. Pagel curated this month’s “Underground Pop” exhibit at the Parrish, assembling 35 works by 10 artists who all share a quirky new perception of the Pop tradition, a development that is in fact the inspiration for the show itself.

“I was noticing a dark tone or kind of a dark strand running through a lot of work I was looking at,” recounts Pagel. “I think Pop is getting kind of streamlined and slick and corporate and prepackaged.”

Pagel chose the pieces based on his recognition of their “greater emotional range,” despite their existence within a genre of art notable for its glossy, rather shallow aesthetic produced admist a craze of consumerism in the ’50s and ’60s.

Pagel noticed that much of this nouveau-Pop he was drawn to, despite all having been made in the last five years, in fact reflected back in artistic history – to early Pop and beyond early Pop, but also to folk art.

“They found that freedom in folk art where it was more handmade, more experimental,” explains Pagel. “The freedom and the idiosyncrisy in the individuality that comes with folk…I think that’s what I’m most interested in.”

For Pagel, the dark brooding mood that first intrigued him appears to be a product of this freedom, quietly lurking behind the “scrappier, funkier, more playful” tradition of folk art.

As a result, a sense of slowness emerges, a low-tech drawling composure that can’t be captured by computer pixels. “I think people are increasingly impatient to know things and to get results and I think a lot of the artists in my show are interested in slowing that process down,” says Pagel.

In choosing the works to include, Pagel didn’t discriminate according to medium. The exhibit showcases collage, bronze sculpture, oil on canvas, acrylic on canvas and even a projected video, exhibiting a range of artists while still allowing the viewer to get a sense of each artist’s individual aesthetic.

“I think it emphasizes the openness, it’s kind of anything goes. The meaning doesn’t reside only in the material, but what one does with the material,” Pagel says.

His only requirement was that the work captivate him and that the range in art be diverse.

“I had to be keenly interested in the work and I didn’t want any of the artists to be showing something similar to another artist in the show. I wanted everyone to be doing their own thing.”

And with an end goal in mind of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, Pagel appears satisfied with the collection. He loosely grouped the works by artist, but ultimately arranged to look best in his own mind. “I wanted to give each piece its own space so it didn’t look crowded, and I wanted each piece to talk to its neighbors.” In this careful attention to placement, Pagel finds the works resonate most strongly.

Though he insists he cannot take credit for eliciting any greatness not already within the art, as a curator Pagel feels he can “bring out” what may be hidden. “I can make a viewer see something he may not have expected to see,” he says.

Though the audience’s reception is kept first in mind, the process also brings joy to the curator himself. “One of the things I most enjoy is that I’ll put things together and I will see connections between the artists that I hadn’t seen before,” Pagel shares excitedly.

“My great love of Pop art is its accessibility. I’m interested in art that you don’t need to get a PhD to understand,” he laughs. “I would just hope that people take the time to look at it and think about and enjoy it – it’s a pretty fun show,” Pagel shares before chiming in finally, “and also a dark show!”

Parrish Set to Break Ground for New Museum

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The Parrish Art Museum is expected to break ground on its new — and long-awaited — expansive museum this coming Monday, July 19. The $25 million building, which echoes the barns and artists studio’s that dot the East End, is designed by celebrated Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron and will be located on a farm field just east of Duck Walk Vineyards on Montauk Highway in Water Mill.

The building allows for three times the amount of exhibition space as is available at the Parrish’s current location on Jobs Lane in Southampton. The 34,500 square-foot building is the first art museum to be built on the East End of Long Island in more than a century. Among the amenities are a café, gift shop, offices and climate controlled storage areas.

The future of the Job’s Lane space in Southampton is undetermined.

A timeline for construction is expected to be available at Monday morning’s groundbreaking.


Artist Captures What’s There and What’s Not

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web 110th and Broadway, Whelanís from Sloanís, 1980ñ81

By Vee Benard

Rackstraw Downes, the British-born, American-based, Yale-educated artist creates paintings that both celebrate and transcend notions of time and space. Downes’ unique oil panoramas of unlikely urban scenes as well as wide open rural vistas are curious depictions of static “moments” in American landscape, as though machinery of the scene has ground to a quiet halt.

The paintings are as notable for what is depicted as for what has been left out. They seem evacuated—if not of people, then of purpose—that is, of apparent purpose. The end result of Downes’ beautiful work is a kind of layering that simultaneously suggests present and past, new and old, familiar and strange, here and gone.

Terrie Sultan, director of the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton — where a collection  of Downes’ paintings are currently on exhibit —  considers the Parrish to be the perfect place to showcase the artist’s work, and first thought of his work for an exhibit here when she assumed leadership of the museum two years ago. She says she recognized the “real intellectual association to be made here.”

According to Sultan, Downes creates “images [that] are so amazing they stuck in my head in a way [that] they wouldn’t let go.”

After much time and effort, this union has been achieved — this first-ever retrospective exhibition of Downes’ work, is on view through the end of the summer at the Parrish. This past weekend at the opening of the show, “Onsite Paintings, 1972-2008” Downes and curator Klaus Ottman led a guided tour of the exhibition, followed by a discussion which included Sultan.

Downes began his training at Yale University, studying under abstract painter Al Held. He soon departed from abstraction, however, explaining that he “got stuck and had to do something about it.”

He then went to Maine to work through this frustration.

“I expected to go up to Maine to do abstractions, but what I found myself doing was going outside twice a day to draw,” explains Downes.

He adds that the most difficult part of the transition from abstraction to realism, and also the development of his distinctive technique, was loosening his style.

“I needed to teach my hand to tremble. It needed to tremble to create a shimmer around the edges of my subjects,” says Downes.

These exacting works seem hyper-realistic at first, silent and still, until the viewer notices some expressive irregularity, like an expressive undulation in the horizon line. And, indeed, it is the manner in which Downes bridges realism and expressionism that makes his work so indelible.

The paintings exhibited at the Parrish were all created onsite and en plein air, and they range from tiny detail depictions of the Texas landscape to vast panoramas of landfills, lumber yards, and New York City street corners. Downes’ technique yields imagery reminiscent of photography—and yet he admits to neither using photographs as a basis for his work nor even owning a camera.

Instead, upon finding a site, Downes will return to it day after day until the painting is completed, often working on several pieces at a time. For scenes involving human subjects, Downes will hire actors and models to pose while he works, painting one subject at a time.

“That man,” Downes said, pointing at one of the pedestrians in his cityscape “110th and Broadway, Whelan’s from Sloan’s,” “must have mailed his letter at least 40 times … I had him pack a change of clothes.”

Recipient of the 2009 MacArthur Foundation Genius Award, Downes presents us with a conceptual view of the world that veritably goes beyond the limits of both painting and photography, the intrinsic nature of his brushstrokes instilling both history and agency into often overlooked subjects.

Downes describes himself as a realist, primarily interested in “the man-made or the man-modified.”

“There is a social story going on in those paintings of mine,” he says, “one that I have great interest in.”

Downes’ paintings feature nontraditional subjects, especially for the realm of landscape painting. From oil fields to scrap metal processing plants, Downes chooses to depict not what we expect to see, but rather what he feels we need to see.

“Oftentimes people ask me why I choose to paint such banal things, garbage dumps and manufacturing plants,” says Downes. “I say how can you not? We all contribute.”

The social commentary so present in Downes’ paintings reminds us of our presence and effect on our world.

“Onsite Paintings, 1972-2008” will be on view through August 8 at the Parrish Art Museum, 25 Jobs Lane, Southampton. A special lecture, “Turning the Head in Empirical Space,” will be held at the museum on Saturday, July 17 at 6 p.m. A screening of the film “It Don’t Pay to be an Honest Citizen,” in which Downes appears, will be offered on Friday July 16 at 8 p.m. For more information call 283-2118 or visit www.parrishart.org.


Parrish Art Museum: Porter in the Raw

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web Untitled (Man Seated near Lamp), 1980.10.91

By Marianna Levine

When the Parrish Art Museum unveils “Fairfield Porter Raw: The Creative Process of an American Master” on April 11, the public will get a rare chance to view Porter’s work in progress. Porter a 20th Century painter, who resided in Southampton from 1949 until his death in 1975, is famed for his realistic landscapes, interiors, and portraits of family and friends. It was the show’s curator Klaus Ottmann’s intention to exhibit not only the finished, framed “master works” of Porter’s, but also to enhance visitors’ appreciation and understanding of his work through the showcasing of his unfinished canvases and drawings.

 “Porter’s studio was a stone’s throw away from the museum, and when he died, his widow gave the Parrish everything that was in it,” Ottmann explained. “This included rolled up canvases, boards with sketches on it, and notebooks as well. I was really taken with the unfinished works, which look quite contemporary and are more abstract. As a whole they are very fresh looking. Normally one wouldn’t show unfinished works, but I thought why not highlight the creative process by showing this work side by side with the finished paintings.”

Through exhibiting Porter’s work in all its many forms and stages, Ottmann states that the show comes close to recreating the experience of visiting an artist’s studio. This is an experience which may be familiar to people working within the arts such as curators and art historians, but not necessarily a common one for the general public. Ottmann decided he liked the idea of democratizing this type of creative encounter.

Parrish executive director Terrie Sultan completely agrees with Ottmann, as she explains “We’ve been trying to present works and do shows from a different perspective (at the Parrish). I think we live in one of the strongest, most active artistic communities in the country, and it seems appropriate that we try and reveal what creative artists go through to get to a finished work.”

Both Ottmann and Sultan would like people who view the show to see and understand that art is not magic but rather another form of work. It is an experience Sultan says she strives to create whenever contemplating what to present to the community.

And yet Sultan is quick to emphasize that this more realistic encounter with art doesn’t have to exclude the transcendent experiences one might have through a communion with a painting or drawing. However she hopes an exhibit like “Raw” will assist people in understanding that there is a real human being behind the works they see on display.

“In most museums the person gets lost in the creative process, and I think the creative process is something everybody should have access to. I feel it’s an important message to give, that there is not a huge gap between our creative community and the rest of us,” Sultan said.

Ottmann, who is showing the unfinished work unframed, and often leaning up against the museum’s walls on specifically installed picture ledges, also thinks seeing the works in progress in all its different guises will inspire people.

“It’s nice to see how an artist will paint on all these different materials. One sees how eager a creative person is and what a strong need they (artists) have to express themselves. You realize Porter used whatever he found around him for his work,” Ottmann says, while explaining that some of the drawings and watercolors are on corrugated cardboard or Masonite boards. Others were even painted on aluminum or asbestos boards.

Ottmann has made sure to leave the raw edges of the unfinished pieces exposed so that people get a chance to see the materiality of the work, which he finds to be very important in experiencing the art.

Throughout his life Porter was very aware of all the experimentation going on in the art world, as he was an art citric as well as a painter; however he made a conscious choice to continue painting in a more traditional and figurative way. Ottmann admires how he “stuck to his guns” despite all that was happening around him during the 50s and 60s.

“He was aware he was a bit of an odd man out, and yet he did publicly say that he was very influenced by the work of de Kooning,” Ottmann notes, while also mentioning that Porter, who was good friends with Willem de Kooning, was very interested in the process of painting. Something that is associated more with abstract expressionism than Porter’s genre of painting.

Both Sultan and Ottmann hope the show will travel to other venues around the country once the exhibition finishes its run here on June 13, but for now this show at the Parrish will be the only way for people to view such a unique cache of Porter’s work. For those who want more information on the show and Porter’s work, the Henry Luce Foundation will also publish a book in conjunction with the show that will be on view and for sale at the Parrish.



The Parrish Rethinks the Modern Museum

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No doubt about it — these are difficult times in which to begin any large building project. And for non-profits that rely on fundraising to finance their efforts, times are doubly tough.

It’s a good time to re-prioritize — and that’s exactly what the Parrish Art Museum has done in recent months.

Having long outgrown their current space in Southampton Village, which was built in 1890, the Parrish purchased 14 acres in Water Mill next to Duck Walk Vineyards a few years back with an eye toward building a new facility. The original plan for the museum, designed by Herzog & de Meuron architects, called for a series of inter-connected buildings — replicas of the studios and working spaces of some of the East End’s most famous artists – both past and present.

But given the economic climate, the museum has decided to re-visit its original concept and allow for an economy of scale which, Parrish director Terrie Sultan explains, will not only give the museum the space it needs, but allow construction to begin sooner, rather than later.

“When I came to the museum a year-and-a-half ago, we had a good discussion on proceeding with our capital project,” says Sultan. “We have a reasonable board and although we had raised a good amount of money, we agreed we wanted 80 percent in hand before we began the project, which has stood us in good stead. We didn’t have 80 percent but quite a lot and we knew we had to wait until we proceeded.”

Then the economy went south and Sultan and the board realized that raising the rest of the money needed for the original design was going to be extremely challenging in the current climate.

“The board acted responsibly and that’s how we got to this point,” says Sultan. “We knew we could not push forward with this. We based it on what we had and what we could raise.”

So Sultan and the board went back to Herzog & de Meuron.

 “It all happened very fast,” admits Sultan. “In March, the board and I met with the architect to let him know the economic climate was making it impossible to move forward with the original plan. We desperately need a new building and something we can afford to build. What can we do? Do you want to work with us to find a solution to this problem?”

Herzog & de Meuron, notes Sultan gave their response in the form of an enthusiastic, “Yes.”

Sultan points out, the redesign is largely a matter of economics as well as flexibility. While the original plan called for some 65 exterior walls, the new design is a single building based on 1,000 square foot grids with just four exterior walls. Structured like a long twin barn with two peaked roofs, the building is 600 feet long and 91 feet wide. It features a central spine which will act as a corridor and provide cross over points from one side of the building to the other.

“There’s nothing in this building except useable space. It’s a very streamlined process and a building that is more flexible, in truth, more sustainable and far more economically sensible,” notes Sultan who stresses though the design of the building has changed, the concept behind it has not.

“We didn’t abandon the artist’s studio concept,” explains Sultan. “Two things about the original concept were the desire for northern light and the allusion to artists in their studio. The way it was to be created the first time is different now, but the core concept and values are still in the plan. We’re alluding to the experience, rather than the space itself.”

“We’re not going to emulate or create spaces that are very specifically certain studios,” she adds.  “We’re looking more for the experience. A lot of that has to do with the north facing skylights and high ceilings and light washed walls. Instead of being so specific about any one person’s studio, this is a grand gesture about what the experience of being in that studio is like.”

One of the key features of the new plan that Sultan is particularly excited about is the large porch that will wrap around the entire building and a covered terrace at the western end that can be used to host outdoor performances.

“It’s an aspect of being inside and outside at the same time and the vernacular architecture of the East End,” says Sultan. “It’s a place to sit outside the building and a real smart way of incorporating the idea of a breezeway and open spaces you often see in the houses out here. You can take a sketch pad out there and draw and get a snack at the café.”

The new design comes in at around 37,000 square feet, slightly less, says Sultan, than that of the phase I design, but with much more functional space. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two designs, however, is the price tag.

 “The original plan was a total of $80 million — now we’re looking at $20 or $25 million,” says Sultan. “And we do have 80 percent — which means we can push forward.”

The Parrish is now beginning the permitting process and hopes to get the project underway in the near future. Sultan feels that by taking into account both economic and environmental efficiencies, the new plan represents the future of museum design.

 “You can do a beautiful and architecturally significant project for that budget,” she says. “The architects have proved it. I think it’s the new paradigm for museum architecture in the foreseeable future.”

“There are also things about the economic downturn that we’re hoping to take advantage of,” adds Sultan. “Cost of materials has gone down. We also want this community back to work — our artisans, contractors, steel and concrete people. We’re going to move as fast as we can. We still have some money to raise and want this to feel like a community project.”

The community is invited to two upcoming sneak peak previews of the design presented by Terrie Sultan and Philip Schmerbeck of Herzog & de Meuron. The first is Wednesday, September 9 at 5:30 p.m. and the second will be offered on Saturday, September 12 at 10:30 a.m.  The presentations will be held in the Parrish Art Museum Concert Hall, 25 Jobs Lane, Southampton. To reserve a seat, call Becky Zaloga at 283-2118, ext. 12.