“Welcome to Bohemia,” artist Steve Miller greeted me, as I entered The Church, the Sag Harbor hub for creativity and community created by April Gornick and Eric Fischl. We were checking out the Droll Ball, inspired by Iris Smyles’ latest book, Droll Tales. It was The Church’s first gala. Or shall we say, anti-gala. “We like our parties to be out of the box, kick your shoes off affairs,” Gornick told me. Droll attire was encouraged. Tarot card readers and magicians greeted us. A seance was promised.
And so, as night descended, we filed upstairs to help Smyles and our own Long Island Psychic, medium Monte Farber, summon her favorite author. “Marcel Proust, parlez-vous. We would like to talk to you!” We chanted.
It stayed equally tongue in cheek. Still, Monte, a John Edwards type, is the real deal. “I can’t believe they let us do this!” he laughed to me. Seems I was the one, not Gornick or Fischl, that goes to psychics. Knowing that, Monte’s wife, artist/fashion designer Amy Zerner, walked me over to tarot card reader Jane Lewis. “Stay loose in your writing,” she advised.
“The party was a chance to be with safe and creative others, who know how to have a good time without pulling out a gun,” Gornick deadpanned. When the HooDoo Loungers started up, the dance floor reminded me of an old-time, downtown party.
Eric and April had, in fact, sold their two Soho lofts to buy The Church, to worship art and ideas. It even has space for artist residences. It’s first tenants? The Martha Graham Company. These days, the Church holds exhibitions, dance and other performances, discussions and lectures.
“It was Eric’s longtime desire to provide a residency somewhere in Sag Harbor for aspiring artists priced out of the neighborhood,” Gornick told me. “The Church came up as a fire sale, and we jumped at it. The space had everything: 14-foot ceilings, stone walls and a lot of the work had already been done by the last owner. We worked with architect Lee Skolnick to make it our own.”
This is one more in a string of contributions Gornick and Fischl have made to the East End. She led the five year campaign to rebuild the iconic Sag Harbor movie theater when it burnt down. “We have a state of the art screen and an outrageous sound system,” she said, “so can screen everything from Top Gun Maverick to obscure art films.”
The same inclusivity philosophy applies to the Church. They seek to appeal to everyone from high achieving expatriate New Yorkers to locals who go back several generations.
These days, they can see “Threading the Needle,” the exhibit up until September 18th, where, says Chief Curator Sara Cochran, “the conceptual practices of contemporary art meet the skill and expertise of those involved in weaving and fabric.” Louise Bourgeois, Judy Chicago, Chuck Close, Laurie Lambrecht, James Rosenquist, El Anatsui, Nick Cave and Kiki Smith are among the 46 artists featured.
“Some of the oldest works we have are from that exciting moment in the ’60s, coming out of the civil rights movement, feminism and the struggle for queer rights, when we saw a lot of fabric in contemporary art,” Sara continued. “It came out of a conversation (co-curator) Eric and I had about historical female artists Ani Albers, Sonia Delanay and Sophie Tauber-Arp.”
Like Gornick, they were married to famous artists. So, I asked the obvious question. “The nicest thing about being married to an artist,” April replied, “is they understand your work process. It’s okay if you don’t show up for dinner because you’re on a roll in your studio. You can talk about art at length in a language you both understand and get excited about exhibitions together. And, of course, I love Eric’s work.”
But, even these simpatico relations are “not without its stresses,” she said. “In fact, it’s not for the faint of heart. I don’t know any artist who doesn’t have a competitive bone in their body.”
Then, there’s the general competitiveness New York fosters. “You make this work out of some pure place in your head,” April continued. “Then, everything is sort of sickeningly observed and reviewed. America has gotten crazy competitive. Art has become about how much things sell for. Oh my God, spare me!”
And don’t call her a WOMAN ARTIST! “That expression is so ghettoizing, why even go there,” she offered. “You’re an artist. He’s an artist. People are artists. When are we going to get over this gender thing?”
We moved thematically from husbands and wives to “Friends, Lovers, & Others,” the Christophe von Hohenberg retrospective at the MM Gallery, until August 21, and at Art Market Hamptons.
Among those at the opening were: John Paulson, Candace Bushnell, Elisabeth Rockefeller Strong-Cuevas, Catherine McCormick, Alina de Almelda, Maria and Christian Nagel, Philippe and Gigi Bigar, Sonny and Nancy Kotite, Edith Dicconson, Parker Gentry, Attilio and Camilla Brillembourg, Caroline von Gerry, Henry Buhl, Lawrence Cummings, Lana Jokel, Connie Collins and Debby Farrington.
And who better than an old lover to host the private dinner that followed? Interior Designer Carolina Von Humboldt (CvH Interiors) added a Martha Stewart touch, cooking everything herself … to perfection. Lanterns in trees lit expansive grounds. Servers kept wine flowing and dishes moving. Conversation spanned the pond, from negotiating the lack of air conditioning in Switzerland to the Autobahn in Germany to the detective lurking in the backroads of Sagaponack to ticket errant drivers.
“Christophe has been able to stay friends with his old girlfriends, probably because he’s such a gentleman,” Carolina told me. “A good relationship based on friendship, for me, will always last,” he adds.
She remembers, “At his Palm Beach opening, I told him, ‘Boo Boo you did pretty well: One flew in from Austria for your show. I flew from New York. One was already in Palm Beach. A fourth one? I don’t know but he had them all there.” All on good terms.
That attitude, like the guest list, is all very European and civilized, befitting the New York bon vivant. “I am a chameleon of sorts, blending in and out, from downtown to uptown,” he told me. “From Indochine to Bilboquet, the Mud Club and The Tunnel to Regines and Au-Bar. New York City is a bed of wild flowers. Now go and play and smell them all.
Of his beach photographs of the Hamptons he says, “I am a predator with a camera lost in an oasis of serenity. For 40 years I have walked the beaches from Southampton to East Hampton, trying to capture a reality that sees things NOT as they are. It is a perspective in front of us all which I try to isolate.”
He’s been walking these beaches for 40 years. But, this is the first month he’s managed to stay put in one place without the back and forth. It’s almost a vacation. But, that concept doesn’t exist for him. “Photography is my life,” von Hohenberg told me. “I’m always looking and figuring out new themes to photograph.”
He’ll keep up the back and forth through November. “The beaches are less crowded then.” Peaceful and ripe for the capture. Plus there are new things to see. “Seasons change. Plants change. People are in jackets not bikinis, fishing not swimming.”
OMIGOD: Is it time to start thinking about fall already?!