There was a time, before collectors, parties, fairs, and celebrities, when artists were drawn to the tranquility and beauty of the Hamptons, the sense of community that could be created there. One of those artists was Dan Flavin, who began spending his summers in Bridgehampton in 1972 and bought a house in nearby Wainscott in 1980. Three years later, a small firehouse-cum-church in Bridgehampton opened its doors as the Dan Flavin Art Institute. Commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation, Flavin’s permanent installation fills various corners and the second floor of the institute with nine fluorescent light pieces and a single drawing. The first-floor gallery shows temporary exhibitions, several of which were organized by Flavin before his death, in 1996.
Today, the small house stands out in a changed and still-changing Bridgehampton. The town doesn’t seem to have yet succumbed to the new money in quite the same way as nearby Southampton, but ride down Ocean Drive to the beach and you’ll see plenty of tasteless mansions and gargantuan hedges built to deter unwanted eyes. Against that backdrop, the wooden planks and small scale of the Flavin Institute offer visitors a nostalgic dose of modesty. Inside, the bulk of the artist’s fluorescent artworks are arranged within a set of diagonal walls, creating an engrossing visitor experience and an incredible interplay of colors. The visuals dazzle — but with a kind of matter-of-factness and honesty befitting the building, especially its roots as a church. Downstairs, currently, a small exhibition of rare early works by John Chamberlain — metal paintings and a mini metal sculpture — shows a delicate side of that artist you may never have known. And at the welcome desk, if you’re lucky, a friendly local artist who’ll chat for a while, telling you about how Bridgehampton used to be.
The Dan Flavin Art Institute is located on Corwith Avenue off Main Street in Bridgehampton, NY. Visitor information can be found here.