“Art who?” Artists would joke in Soho “in the old days.” Somewhere, hipsters may still be asking what — or who — is Art? But, for the rest of us, Art is Richie Rich: big money, big ideas.
Back in the day, artists repurposed lofts, often illegally, into bare boned live/work studios, filled with welding materials or paint. Toilets were raised. Plumbing exposed. Bohemia soon became bourgeois. And Tribeca became one of the highest priced ZIP Codes in America.
Last year, those residents were first out the door. The neighborhood drugstore started a GoFundMe page. Then, it started selling pepper spray. Multi-million dollar lofts became landing pads for doctor visits and closet refuels as collectors discovered their Hamptons McMansions were comfortable year-round.
“Whither thou goeth I will follow,” said the auction houses to their clients. After all, big ticket estates need big ticket art. Phillips and Sotheby’s got their Hamptons homes last year. Christie’s opened their space last week. There were two private soft openings for their first show, fittingly of Hamptons bluechip artists.
There were the ’50s Abstract Expressionist partners-in-paint Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner; landscape artists Willam Merritt Chase, Thomas Moran and Fairfield Porter; Pop icons Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, Peter Beard, Larry Rivers and Eric Fischl — truly the state of our art.
It was the brainchild of Sara Friedlander, Christie’s Deputy Chair Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art. She conceived the show, then set about finding the pieces. Experts discreetly reached out to collectors all over the world. No one refused that siren call. Why not take your profit and reinvest in the next big thing? So, like many other children during quarantine, the paintings returned home.
The show also features pieces from Carpenters Workshop, the international gallery that represents artists who skirt the boundaries of function, design, sculpture and fine art. Ashlee Harrison, their Director of Americas, walked me around. There were large scale sculptural seatings by Wendell Castle, father of the American sculpture as furniture movement, for $300,000 and $400,000.
A commanding organic sculpture by Nacho Carbonell, lit within, was priced similarly. Over-painted, ceramic vessels by the German (LA based) artist Roger Herman were perched on individual stands. Later, there was a loud crash of breaking glass. We had horrific visions of ceramic chards shattered on the floor. It turned out to be a tray of champagne glasses: definitely not one of a kind; definitely replaceable.
I was reminded of a different kind of functional art when I ran into decorator Sonja Caproni — a mausoleum door maquette Henri Matisse had drawn and photographed that I had seen in her apartment. Mary Lasker had hired John Caproni’s architectural firm to design a mausoleum for her late husband, Albert Lasker. John had been related to Matisse through his first marriage. He asked the artist to create a stained glass window and wrought iron gate for the monument. Mary rejected both designs.
The stained glass paper maquette, Ivy in Flower, was donated to the Dallas Museum of Modern Art, where it is considered one of their masterpieces. The gate maquette true-to-size photo is a centerpiece of the Caproni living room. Both were created in 1953, one year before Matisse died.
Friedlander walked me over to another masterpiece, The Old Man’s Boat and the Old Man’s Dog (1982) by Eric Fischl. Fischl and wife April Gornik lend so much support to arts-related charities out here, they are practically the face of East End culture. And he is known for putting the face back into modern art.
“It’s maybe one of his best paintings ever,” Friedlander told us. “When we envisioned the show I had this particular painting in mind, because it is was so revolutionary. It honors such a traditional story in some way, The Old Man and the Sea, looking at Winslow Homer. You have these wonderful figures lounging and enjoying one another on a boat, while the sea in the background could be ominous. This exciting psychological, narrative painting was really important in the 1980s, because for so long, figurative and landscape painting had been declared dead.”
The seven foot square painting came from a collector and can be yours for $5 million.
An accessory for multi-million dollar art collectors? How about a pair of sunglasses encrusted with diamonds, sapphires, and rubies, for $750,000? That’s the top of the line of the sunglass tiaras that Sotheby’s-educated art curator and jewelry designer Stacy Engman creates.
“I’m selling them here in the Hamptons privately and in collaboration with auction houses,” she told us. “Major collectors are snapping them up.”
Looking to spend thousands not millions? Snap up one of those black and white Andy Warhol photos taken during the 20 years he spent at Montauk. He bought the sprawling complex with filmmaker Paul Morrisey in 1972. It had limited appeal for him because the wind kept blowing off his hair piece.
Still, he entertained Halston, Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor, the Rolling Stones, Lee Radziwill, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; Julian Schnabel, Truman Capote and more in its five homes. Photos of Halston wrapped in a flag, Steve Rubell or Capote partying on the grounds can be had for four figures.
The opening took place in a former art deco garage in the intersection of Windmill and Jobs Lane — prime Southampton commercial real estate — that was lovingly restored by developers Simone and David Levinson.
The Levinsons were also instrumental in the creation of the Southampton Arts Center across the street, in the former Parrish Museum. Their cocktail party was the following week. Dubbed “Whimsy in the Garden,” it celebrated the outdoor sculpture exhibition, curated by Eric Fischl. (We told you he is everywhere!)
SAC Trustee Elyn Kronemeyer chaired. “I really feel we are carrying out the work of Samuel Parrish to bring the art of Europe to this community, to expand its consciousness and create a dialogue in Southampton,” she told the gathering that evening. “Our goal is to create exciting exhibitions and program around them …. We love this community so much. We’re here to support each other and make it a better place.” Their big gala, the Patrons Circle Dinner Dance, will be held on August 20th.
With the Parrish Museum relocating, Whitney Stevens, Simone Levinson and Village Planning Board head Siamak Samii all came to Southampton Mayor Epley with the same idea, to turn the newly vacated 1897 Grosvenor Atterbury designed building into an arts center. Robin and Kristi Avram and Thomas Knight joined the effort.
“We didn’t want to see this iconic building turned into a mall or a drugstore,” Stevens told me. “We believed it had to remain a cultural institution but … not a museum. We wanted to turn it inside out, make it East End focused, and leverage a partnership and homegrown model to deliver new and different programming, indoors and outdoors and concentrate on artists trying to drive change.” They opened its doors in 2013.
Friday night’s host committee included: Robin and Marc Avra, Paola Bacchini Rosenshein, Sissi Bohlen, Cricket and Richard Burns, Doris Castells, Marc Chiffert, Sue Devitt, Susan and David Edelstein, Peter Hallock, Elyn and Jeff Kronemeyer, Paula Lajaunie-Viscogliosi, Paige and Vivian Louthan, Ellie Manko Libby, Laura Moore Tanne, Charlotte and Andrew Pilaro, Fairley Pilaro and Joe Messina, Deborah Pirro and Hamilton Hoge, Aima Raza and Agha Khan, Tish Rehill, Kara Ross, Antonio and Michele Sacconaghi, Nicole Salmasi, Paul Schorr III, Mary Slattery, Stephen Squinto, J. Whitney Stevens, Peter Talty and Linda Stabler Talty, Linda Yarden and Chris Smith and Nancy Zink O’Connor.
They will close the summer with a Labor Day weekend (September 2-5) Fine Art Fair from ArtHamptons producers Rick Friedman and Cindy Lou Wakefield. Together Friedman and Wakefield have been collecting the same blue chip Hamptons artists as Sarah Friedlander assembled for Christie’s. They own six small, early Jackson Pollocks, “the most owned by a private collector,” he told us. “We also have the largest museum survey of women artists from the 1950s — the Heroines of Abstract Expressionism — in the United States.”
He looked around the grounds envisioning his fair: “This is going to be the de Kooning pavilion. That will be the Pollock Pavilion. We’re going to have the VIP lounge on the other side and booths in between.”
Our evening ended sweetly, with thoughts of dessert, chatting up the former Magnolia bakery magnate, Steve Abrams. He just sold the company and was taking a weekend in the Hamptons. He had taken the Greenwich Village cupcake store that “Sex and the City” made famous, into an international franchise.
“Bringing joy and sugar to the world,” he laughed, made him “kinda a rockstar. I was in the construction business. I built Graff’s (a sponsor of the evening) apartment, Shalom Harlow’s, homes for Annie Liebowitz, Samuel Jackson, Donna Karan in Turks and Caicos, and a big house for Bruce Willis in Parrot Key. But that was nothing compared to this. When you’re in cupcakes and sweets you’re part of everyone’s celebratory life.”
Banana pudding — not cupcakes — turned out to be his biggest seller. For cupcakes, vanilla/vanilla still rules. (There’s a punchline there.) The “Sex and the City” cupcake was vanilla with pink icing. But, Abrams represented for us chocoholics. “I go to their meetings,” he laughed. “I like to eat the top of the chocolate cupcake, right out of the oven, so hot you have to juggle it, like a ‘Seinfeld’ episode.”
And when you’re the Magnolia King, you can have your cupcake and eat it too.
Photographs by Rob Rich (Southampton Arts Center).