A Richard Serra on a front lawn in the Hamptons (via virtualglobetrotting.com)

The Hamptons have been heating up lately. While all the collectors are out of the city, and Chelsea seems relatively empty, Long Island is teeming with people. Despite being probably one of the only places in the world where you can find a Richard Serra on someone’s front lawn the ultra-rich beach town is also a Mecca for grandma art.

Image from the recent fire at art dealer Larry Gagosian’s Hamptons home (via easthampton.patch.com)

The locals have been doing their best to remarket the area as an exciting hub where visiting collectors can spend some of their cash. Art MRKT and Art Hamptons have stepped up their advertising games. Both fairs, which took place this month, had an increasingly strong web presence and have begun employing New Museum-esque banners in a bid to stay relevant.

I visited Art MRKT last Saturday and let me say with full confidence that the whole thing was a pretty epic fail. I love Damien Hirst prints and over the couch decorative paintings as much as the next guy (which is not at all) but the whole thing was pretty predictable. The fair was in a beautifully installed tent that in many ways was preferable to the building that houses the winter New York Armory show. The place also seemed to be teeming with collectors, what it lacked was the art. It felt like unwrapping the world’s fanciest looking candy bar to find out it’s a Charleston Chew.

A work by Ryan Wallace at the Morgan Lehman booth (photo by the author)

Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of solid booths. Muelensteen Gallery was there in force with a tongue-in-cheek display of drawings by Saul Chernick. Morgan Lehman Gallery was also there with an exciting group of young, mostly Brooklyn-based artists including Andrew Schultz, Ryan Wallace and the nature inspired styling of Laura Ball. Indeed, I don’t want to belittle the galleries that are doing good work on Long Island.

Muelensteen at ArtMRKT Hamptons. (photo by the author) (click to enlarge)

In general, despite the collective efforts to prove themselves and grab a piece of the pie, little has changed on the whole other than a bit of marketing pixie dust. Earlier this month the ex-head of Sony Entertainment, Tommy Mottola, held the grand opening of his new (and first) venture into the art world: Gallery Valentine in East Hampton. He told reporters at the Wall Street Journal:

There’s never been a serious gallery out here in the Hamptons.

According to WSJ the first show was “a slightly unfocussed selection of new work and blue-chip art.” The reality is that most of it was second rate secondary market material, much of it from Mottola’s collection. From painted late work by John Chamberlain (does anyone actually like these?) to some vaguely interesting Picassos none of the work in the show was particularly exciting. Together they formed a sort of half-hearted art world trophy room. If this is what constitutes “serious” then I give up. I think what the new gallery owner actually meant was expensive.

Images from Nose Job, including … Left: works by (left to right) Saner, “Fall Angel,” Jane Dickson, “Wheel of Fortune” and Swoon, “Untitled.” Right: Richard Prince, “Destroyer” (2011).

What’s funny is that there are actually a couple of interesting galleries in the area; it would probably be wise for others to take note. Nose Job, curated by Carlo McCormick opened last week at Eric Firestone Gallery in East Hampton. The exhibit is a riff on the tradition established by air force crews decorating the noses of their airplanes. The show features hand decorated nose cones by Richard Prince, Shepard Fairey, Swoon, Raymond Pettibon, Kenny Scharf, Ryan McGuiness and others.

A view of the Chris Duncan show at Halsey Mckay Gallery.

Smaller and less headline grabbing but equally exciting was a delicate installation of new work by San Francisco artist Chris Duncan at Halsey Mckay Gallery made me feel like I was being shot in the head with a laser full of rainbow color. The lesson to be learned here is that more expensive, bigger and faster don’t always equal better. If the arts community in the Hamptons wants to be taken seriously as a whole, they need to get “serious.”

ArtMRKT Hamptons tooks place July 14 to 17. Art Hamptons took place July 8 to 10. Nose Job at Eric Firestone Gallery ends on August 21. Chris Duncan at Halsey McKay Gallery runs until July 31.

2 replies on “Least Relevant Award Goes to the Hamptons”

  1. Art MRKT and Art Hamptons are run by artMRKT Productions and Hamptons Expo Group respectively. My understanding is that Max Fishko worked for Hamptons Expo Group but left early this year. Fishko then started up artMRKT. And artMRKT seems determined to compete head-to-head with Hamptons Expo Group. The first battle was in San Francisco in May, where both companies sponsored art fairs. The second was in the Hamptons. The third will be in the fall in Houston. Houston has never had an art fair, but because of the competition between artMRKT and Hamptons Expo Group, this year we’ll get two.

    Your post doesn’t give me great hope for the Texas Contemporary (artMRKT’s Houston art fair, October 20-23), but generally speaking, I’m pretty happy that an apparent feud between these two fair operators means that Houston will get two fairs. Their bad blood means more art for us.

  2. ” I love Damien Hirst prints and over the couch decorative paintings as much as the next guy (which is not at all) but the whole thing was pretty predictable”. HUH??

    Ryan Wallace ??? had to be one the slickest tackiest and decorative pieces in the Art Fair …but you missed some really good work but Im not surprised and yes the Hamptons needs to get serious but so do you

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