Although it has been cited so much as to be a cliché, the light here has been an inspiration for artists of any generation dating back to the 19th century when painters such as Thomas Moran and William Merritt Chase and members of the self-styled Tile Club first colonized the area and brought with them their own artistic families or students, further spreading their influence and igniting the legend that still attracts some 1,000 working artists to this day.
Until the Thomas Moran house on East Hampton Village’s Main Street is renovated, Jackson Pollock’s house and studio is just about the only artist’s home on the South Fork that has been given over to an institution and is open to the public. It is a place where the artist’s spirit and creative drive are palpable, and it does not look much different from the time he lived there.
Pollock’s studio floor, on which visitors are required to wear foam booties to protect it from wear, has remnants of his poured and splattered masterpieces, an artwork in and of itself. Not too far from the house is the Green River Cemetery, which contains the remains of Pollock, his wife, Lee Krasner, and a number of first and second-generation artistic luminaries, including Willem de Kooning, Stuart Davis, Alfonso Ossorio, and many others. It is Springs’ own version of the Pere Lachaise burial ground in Paris, and not any less significant.
Also in Springs is Ashawagh Hall, which has served as home to exhibitions of working artists since the Pollocks and de Kooning helped pioneer the area for the New York School in the mid-20th century. Blending in with the local Bonackers at events such as the Fisherman’s Fair was as much a part of those artists’ ethos as their need to paint and sculpt. Many of them, like the Pollocks, became accepted life-long full-timers in a community that use the term “from away” as one of disdain.
On the South Fork, any manner of significant paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and architecture are represented from the 19th century to the present. For a well-considered survey, the new Parrish Art Museum, in critically-acclaimed digs designed by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog and de Meuron in Water Mill, has enough examples (and is working on acquiring more) to tell the story about the great artistic heritage that surrounds us. It also brings it up to the present with displays of art from those whose studios are only miles, if not yards, away.
The museum at Guild Hall in East Hampton Village has temporary exhibitions of a more current nature. It brings at least one contemporary art star to its galleries each summer and balances the rest of its time with related shows and contributions from its members, the community, and its own considerable permanent collection.
Dia’s Dan Flavin Institute in Bridgehampton has a permanent installation of the artist, known primarily for his fluorescent light sculptures, in the upper reaches of an old chapel just north of Main Street. The downstairs gallery is devoted to an exhibition of related art that changes yearly.
While not a working studio, the museum founded by Gerson and Judith Leiber on their property in Springs is another side trip worth making. In it, one can see the famous Leiber handbags, carried by many a first lady on Inauguration Day, as well as the accomplished artwork of Mr. Leiber, and the couple’s collection of Asian art and artifacts. They are housed in a state-of-the-art facility that has a bit of the flavor of small European art collections.
In addition to the nonprofit spaces, there are also plenty of commercial galleries worth a visit. A few in East Hampton include the Drawing Room Gallery, Eric Firestone, Vered, Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, Halsey McKay, and Harper’s Books, the last two known for their exhibits as well as their rare and atypical volumes devoted to art, photography, and literature. In Amagansett there is Ille Arts and Neoteric Fine Art.
In Bridgehampton, Peter Marcelle and Kathryn Markel are offering good contemporary shows. Mark Borghi is representing the 20th and 21st century in displays that combine his cullings from the secondary market with the occasional South Fork contemporary popping up as well. Julian Beck shows a mix of old and new too, from a substantial collection. In the summer, Silas Marder not only brings engaging art from regional and international sources, but also presents an outdoor film series that blends foreign and classic titles in the open air with beach chairs and blankets, wine, and picnics.
For the past two summers, ArtWalk Hamptons has been offering periodic guided tours of the galleries in many of the South Fork’s commercial districts. It is best to check the listings to see what tours may be available in a given week.
Finally, there are plenty more options listed weekly on easthamptonstar.com and we encourage you to partake in every one of them. There are few places in the world where the scenery and recreational possibilities are matched by such cultural riches.