An Artful Weekend, Hamptons Style

Artists, art lovers and arts journalists, like me, have long been drawn to the East End of the south fork of Long Island, known collectively, colloquially, and around the world as “The Hamptons.”  There are countless reasons to visit, but the lure of two art fairs bringing over 100 international galleries tipped the scales, and meant it was time for Adel Gorgy, my artist husband, and me to make a trek to New York’s summertime sixth borough.

The journey east can be accomplished by public or private transportation, and, unless you’re among those who can helicopter out, all will take between two and three hours from the city.  The Long Island Railroad offers service from Penn Station, and the Hamptons Jitney and other luxury bus lines pick passengers up in several Manhattan locations. We drove, and even that offers a few choices.  Traveling on the Long Island Expressway (the Distressway to locals) is fast but unlovely – four lanes packed with cars and trucks and little to see. But arriving at the end of the road means you can head south on Route 24 via the small town of Flanders and see the Island’s top roadside attraction, the Big Duck, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Built in the 1930’s as the storefront for a duck farm, the twenty-foot high canard convinced immigrant artist, Hedda Sterne, “that the United States was more surrealist, more extraordinary, than anything imagined by the Surrealists.” An alternate route, the Southern State Parkway to Route 27, closer to the shore and breezier, features mostly strip malls till you reach eastern Suffolk County, where it’s lined with trees and leads into the Pine Barrens, Long Island’s last remaining significant wilderness area.

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Corn fields and mansions line Montauk Highway, the main route through the Hamptons

Most of the island was settled in the mid to late 1600s. The Hamptons fight to preserve some of that sense.  The highways end at the western edge of Southampton, and rural roads and farms mingle with perfectly manicured hedges hiding luxurious estates.  Small towns feel homey and quaint.  300-year-old windmills, lovingly maintained, dot the sides of the roads, along with clapboard churches with pointy spires, the tallest buildings to scrape the clear blue ocean swept skies.  Everything is spotless, picture-book perfect.

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Historic windmills are a common sight in the Hamptons

The main streets of Southampton, Watermill, Bridgehampton, East Hampton, Amagansett and Sag Harbor all boast upscale shops and restaurants where it can be hard to tell the heiresses, movie stars and business moguls, many in flip-flops and shorts, from the organic farmers and local chefs.  But we were hunting different quarry: an extraordinary first-hand art experience.

Since the 1800s when William Merritt Chase opened a painting school here, the area has lured artists like Winslow Homer, Milton Avery, Jackson Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler and her husband Robert Motherwell, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, and Andy Warhol.  The area’s initial draw was, ironically, bargain-priced real estate, but it’s still home to art stars, like Richard Prince, Eric Fischl and his wife April Gornik, Julian Schnabel and Donald Sultan. A trip to either of the two stellar local museums, the Parrish Art Museum or East Hampton’s Guild Hall, will almost always reward with major works by local artists of the past and present. This summer, at the Parrish, Connections and Context highlights Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelley, Dorothea Rockburne and Donald Sultan among others, and, starting in August, Guild Hall’s museum focuses on Minimalism with a special exhibition including Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, and Gerhard Richter.

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Main Street, Bridgehampton serves up shops, galleries and out of this world pies 

Arriving well before the opening of the art fairs allowed us a walk up Main Street in Bridgehampton and stops in Kathryn Markel Fine Arts and Chase Edwards Gallery.  Both exhibit the work of contemporary artists, while Julian Beck and Mark Borghi Gallery offer museum-quality modern masters.

Since even artists don’t live by art alone, and a long night of art partying awaited, it was necessary to fortify our bodies to fuel the soul, i.e., time for something to eat. Bobby Van’s steakhouse is a popular spot, but we opted for a cozy booth at World Pie, which specializes in an extensive menu of wood-fired pizzas. A crispy, hot Patti’s Pie with mushrooms, onions and roasted garlic, mozzarella and tomato sauce arrived in minutes. The crust was thin and smoky, the cheese melted perfectly, and a glass of Italian red made us think we’d slipstreamed to Naples. Dinner for two, around $50.

As the sun slid behind the hedgerows and the blue of the sky deepened, we headed to Nova’s Ark, a 95-acre park featuring monumental sculptures by a local legend known simply as “Nova.” It brought to mind a grassy version of Monet’s Giverny. Though the property is open to visitors, its Cinderella moment is the four days each summer it hosts a Hamptons art fair. Crews arrive, gently coaxing horses and sheep off their usual grazing grounds, to raise an enormous, air-conditioned, museum-lit, catered construction that can only be called a tent if you’re willing to call the QE2 a boat.

Fabulously dressed Hamptonites tiptoed across the field to avoid what was left by the equine occupants and joined the VIP opening filled with music and noise, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. For some, people spotting and partying was the point, but for us, the payoff was lining the walls of over 70 room-sized booths where top-notch galleries from around the world presented their best.  We saw an extraordinary early painting by Robert Delaunay at London’s Trinity House Gallery, delicate watercolors of cranes and owls in flight by Karl Martens, sculptures by Jeff Koons and Lynn Chadwick at Taylor Graham, and a whole booth filled with fish paintings by Academy Award winning actor, Adrien Brody.  While opening night crowds may be raucous and fun, they don’t encourage thoughtful responses to works that artists have pondered, sweated, loved and labored over.  We decided to return the next day at a quieter time for the second of our targets, the Market Art + Design fair.

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A quiet Sunday morning in the Hamptons

If you’re lucky enough to have friends in the area as we are, nothing beats watching the night fall and a low hung crescent moon reflected on Peconic Bay as crickets chirped and fireflies put on a dazzling display.  If not, there are many charming, historic B&B’s in the Hamptons, or, if they’re not within your budget, Riverhead to the west and Montauk to the east also offer family-friendly motels at more down-to-earth prices.

A late breakfast or early lunch is easy to find at either one of the branches of Citarella, which has a great selection of baked goods and on-the-go meals, or the Golden Pear (one in each town).  Of course, it’s possible to dine your way through the Hamptons, but that would just keep us away from the art.

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Dia Bridgehampton, a one-man museum for Long Island artist, Dan Flavin

Before heading into Market Art + Design on the Bridgehampton Museum grounds, we stopped just across the street at one of the most moving, enriching, exciting and plain fun art experiences available on Long Island, or anywhere.  The Dan Flavin Art Institute, housed in a former Baptist church, just off Main Street, was built by the Dia Art Foundation in the 80s to exhibit some of Flavin’s greatest works.

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Fields of a different sort at the Dan Flavin Art Institute in Bridgehampton

His candy-colored fluorescent light sculptures create clouds of ethereal hues the viewer steps into, becoming one with art, drenched in their glow. It’s transportive and transformative.  Dia associate curator Alexis Lowry, said, “Part of the reason it’s not in New York City was to try to get you into of the mindset of going to travel to a site to have this dedicated experience.  It’s part of the package.”

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Market Art + Deisgin, 2016, over 40 international galleries and hundreds of contemporary artists exhibiting under one roof.   

Market Art + Design brought a smaller group, with over 40 exhibitors, but it was expertly curated to include international, national, and even local galleries presenting fine art and design under one roof.  Eclectic, energetic works from up-and-coming creatives contrasted with the more established artists seen at Art Southampton, and gave the fair a hipper vibe.  Even between two ends of tiny Bridgehampton, there was an uptown/downtown feeling of contrasting sensibilities.

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Compositions made of individually carved, one-of-a-kind signature stamps or chops at Able Fine Art NY Gallery

Sundaram Tagore Gallery opened the show with a strong collection of sculptures, photographs and paintings. Three outstanding gelatin silver prints by world renowned photographer, Sebastião Salgado were a highlight. At Able Fine Art NY Gallery, director Michelle Yu explained the painstaking process used by Kwanwoo Lee to create his Condensation series where a single image is composed of hundreds of unique, hand-carved stamps.  Hector Leonardi’s colorful abstractions at Walker Waugh were gently powerful and evocative.  At Galerie Fledermaus, Jerry Suqi presented a rare collection of collotypes by Gustav Klimt. They were created by the artist to document his paintings, in an edition of 230.  Miniature masterpieces, each perfectly reproduces a major work. To see Adele Bloch-Bauer, (the Woman in Gold) along with so many other iconic works all lining one wall, in a booth, in a tent, in a small town, on Long Island was mind-boggling, in itself.  It also offered a brush with history.

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A rare collotype from Gustav Klimt’s Das Werk at Galerie Fledermaus

We headed to the Hamptons hoping for a unique experience of art.  We left having had several. From pastoral fields, to a one-man museum, to tents filled with old masters to contemporary treasures, all were moving and exciting. The weekend had come to a close, and it was time to head back, though I’ve learned from sharing my life with Adel that you take the art with you.  As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Music is perpetual, and only the hearing is intermittent.”  Sometimes, a journey brings it closer, but it’s always there, if you listen.

All photos by Adel Gorgy

Top Photo:
Roy Lichtenstein’s Tokyo Brushstroke I & II outside the Parrish Art Museum announce your arrival at an enclave of art in the Hamptons   Photos by Adel Gorgy