North Fork / South Fork: East End Art Now
Parrish Art Museum
25 Job’s Lane
Southampton, New York
Part I: May 23- July 18, 2004
Part II: July 25- September 12, 2004
This summer’s exhibition at the Parrish had a simple premise: to survey recent work by artists who live and work at least part of the time on the eastern end of Long Island. Figural imagery abounded: painted, photographed or painted but derived from photographs. In the entire 2-part exhibition 29 out of 44 artists fall into one of these categories. There were also several artists’ choice segments. Part 1 had a section selected by Elizabeth Peyton, which brought historical painters of eastern long island into the show, including Fairfield Porter and William Merritt Chase.
Because of this, Fairfield Porter’s beautiful, muffled portrait of John MacWhinnie inadvertently dominates Part 1. Though not photo-based painter, Porter absorbed the downbeat ambience of the box brownie snapshot, a standard image-maker in the fifties and early sixties. The MacWhinnie portrait looks back to the wan interiors of Vuillard and forward to the painterly photographs of William Eggleston. Peyton, represented by a landscape and a portrait, seems weak in comparison to Porter but Porter may have looked a little underdone at first, too. In fact, Peyton’s work, like Porter’s, reveals itself slowly. It is 2 weeks later as I write this and I can still clearly recall her landscape painting. That is the best test I know. It is made up of few marks, but they are amazingly deft ones. Peyton avoids the ‘Wow’. This may be the only job left for painting: to be unassuming and slowly establish a permanent intimacy.
Jessica Craig-Martin’s tough, intelligent photograph, “Parrish Museum Benefit, Southampton,” (2001) has a charm that belies its large scale, and is a reminder of Porter’s penchant for using just-after-dinner tables laden with flowers as a motif.
On a Saturday evening in July the writer and curator Klaus Kertess interviewed painter Jane Freilicher as part of the lecture series that accompanied the exhibition. She strayed from talking about her own work, (she had a large landscape of a Hampton construction site in Part One) to supply a few choice art historical mini-portraits: “Hans Hofmann was a combination of Santa Claus and Richard Wagner”. The poet and critic Frank O’Hara loved the studios of artists, “He even loved to stretch paintings”. She characterized Fairfield Porter as being “terse”: “He would show up in your studio out of nowhere and not say anything, then make one short comment, like, ‘that’s one of your side-to-side paintings’ and then disappear.”
In Part Two there was an abundance of sensually direct paintings. Worthy works of sculpture and installation were also on display, but what was ultimately striking here was cross-criticism among the paintings.
Billy Sullivan’s “Sirpa Milk,” a painting copied from his own photograph, depicts a nude woman breakfasting on a bed in a hotel room. The painting is predominantly white, but discreet intensities of color provide the image with a subtle structure. Delicate smears of transparent yellow enjoin details, such as the place between the pancake and the plate on the room service tray, the creases in the frame on the wall and the tuck of the towel around the neck of the nude figure. Sullivan’s decorative freedom, so amply present in this work, contrasts with the murky photo-based paintings exhibited by Chuck Close and Eric Fischl. These paintings underline the pitfalls in maintaining the “look” of the photograph to resolve the image.
Jane Wilson’s “Clouded Midnight,” depicting a brooding night sky, reveals, upon close examination, an electric orange underneath the dominant indigo clouds. Mary Heilman installed a polychrome painting with two chairs of her own design, rhyming one color from the painting with a color used in the objects. Heilman’s ensemble hit a note between seriousness and whimsy, casual décor and reductive aesthetics. Another kind of rhyming took place in the painting, “Everything,” by David Salle, where a collection of common objects, such as hats, flowers and fabric, established visual correspondences via similarities in brushstrokes and appearances. The painting was a ruminative essay of complex space, bright color and self-reflexive imagery.