The Hamptons Art Scene Is Shrinking—and That’s a Good Thing
With Art Hamptons and Art Southhampton canceling this year, the smaller art fairs seem primed to take over the East End.
When it comes to the art scene in the Hamptons, bigger may not be better.
While there has never been any doubt that major events like Art Hamptons and Art Southampton attract hordes of well-heeled visitors, questions continue to surface about how commercially successful these fairs actually are. The notion that these events draw casual gawkers rather than serious buyers has been reinforced with recent news that both fairs were being yanked from the summer calendar this year.
But have no fear: in the month ahead, there is no shortage of lively art programs for Long Island’s East End—they’re just smaller in scale.
“Last year was our best year to date in terms of being able to convert attendees into buyers,” Fishko said in a phone interview. “Obviously we’re very optimistic about the marketplace. We’ve been there for a long time and seen what the potential is.”
Alex Benrimon, director of sales for David Benrimon Fine Art, is participating in Market Art + Design this year after a stint at Art Southampton in 2016. “The Hamptons is a great community and scene to be a part of,” he said. “This is a great regional fair; it doesn’t need to be a mega-event.”
Eastern Long Island, in particular Montauk, “has such a rich cultural and art history,” dealer and Half Gallery director Bill Powers noted. Icons like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Peter Beard, Richard Avedon, and Andy Warhol resided or spent time in the East End. This year for the first—and possibly only—time, Powers is launching the Upstairs Art Fair (July 14–16) in a barn on the edge of Amagansett. “My center of gravity is a bit further east,” he said. “I hope to recentralize it as an art hub.”
The list of participants at Upstairs Art Fair includes buzzy Lower East Side galleries that Powers says “share the same spirit” and got involved in the fair through what he describes as a “casual invitation process.” Among those participating are Ceysson & Bénétièrre, James Fuentes, Harpers Books, Joel Mesler’s recent transplanted Rental Gallery, Rachel Uffner, Karma, and more.
“We’ll probably just hand-draw the map for galleries that Saturday morning, just keep it lo-fi and simple,” Powers said. “Everybody gets 10 feet of wall space by seven- or eight-feet high, so you can either show one thing or rotate things out.” According to Powers, the lower level of the barn currently houses a surfboard-shaper. He was interested in renting both floors, but a bike shop already had dibs on the lower level. “Hence the name,” he said.
For some of the dealers, the Hamptons offer a welcome counterpoint to more sales-focused shows in the city.
For the third consecutive year, Johannes Vogt Gallery is presenting the Barn Show (July 28–August 28) on private property in East Hampton. This year’s exhibition, titled “Unquestionable Optimism,” is curated by Lindsay Howard and features roughly 20 artists, including work by Trudy Benson, Petra Cortright, Austin Lee, Hannah Perry, Jon Rafman, Tabor Robak, Rachel Rossin, Addie Wagenknecht, Wendy White, and others.
“It’s not the case where people come in and grab works off the wall,” Vogt told artnet News. “They come in and just enjoy it. For me, it’s just a very big space, and the exact opposite of what I do in the city.”
Speaking of his decision to join Upstairs, Joel Mesler admitted he is “green” to the area after years on the Lower East Side. The gallerist said he has been amazed at the amount of traffic that has come through the gallery in the first month.
“People are always looking for an excuse to head out East,” Mesler told artnet News. “A collector is always a collector. Decisions happen at a slower pace out here. That informs and affects us for the good.”
In other words, the art fair as “mega-event” might just be out of place at the Long Island summer mecca, despite being Manhattan’s summertime backyard.
Asked about the decision to cancel Art Southampton after six editions, director Nick Korniloff told artnet News there are things that “have to change for us to come back out there.” Korniloff said the most important factor in suspending operation was to focus in on his firm’s core fair, Art Miami in December, which is moving to a new location this year.
Korniloff admitted that size factored into the decision. “It’s not the easiest market to operate in—operational costs of the galleries are very high,” he said. “The market is limited in its size. It needed to be larger, and the location did not allow for it.”
Fishko also believes price points played a role, and that contemporary art is an easier sell than top-priced secondary market works. “If people are going to buy an amazing Al Held painting, they’re not going to do it in a tent in the Hamptons,” he said. “I’m not suggesting you can’t sell things. This forum [Market Art + Design] lends itself more toward drumming up interest and business for contemporary artists and less so for big-ticket modern works.”
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