East End Revisited: Art in the Hamptons
Traveling back into the influential community that once defined the Hamptons as a marker of American art.
Beneath the obvious connotations of a New York rivera, populated by the Wall Street and Hollywood set, the Hamptons have long been a bastion of creativity and even at certain points, a measure of American Art. Historically, this naturally-endowed peninsula was inhabited by native Algonquian tribes before Dutch and English settlers arrived in the late 17th-century to farm and fish. It wasn’t till the dawn of rail travel, two-centuries later, that city-dwellers established summer colonies along both Peconic Bay and Atlantic Ocean shores.
With them, came artists like Thomas Moran and the Tile Club. Throughout the 20th-century, much of Americas artistic and literary intelligentsia followed in progressive waves. Perhaps most notable where the European expatriates and American talents – who originally flocked to New York in the post-World War II era as it inherited the title of ‘world art capital’ from Paris – but who extended their reach to the East End, only 160km away. In the late 1940s, Artist like Max Ernst, André Breton and Fernand Léger were invited by grande dame patrons to conduct surrealistic acts on the pristine beaches at Amagansett while Jackson Pollock setup shop in nearby Springs. It was here that he first attempted a revolutionary drip-and-splash style that would later be codified as the ultimate representation of American freedom. Other Abstract Expressionist (New York School) painters, including Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell, arrived in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Springs became a mythical shrine for next generation artists like John Chamberlain, Dan Flavin and Larry Rivers, who followed suit (however minimalistic or figurative in their approach). Ross Bleckner, Eric Fischl, Denis Oppenheim, Richard Prince, David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol and even avant-garde theatre director Robert Wilson moved in throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Like their predecessors and many contemporaries, most came looking for something of an ethereal natural light, not found elsewhere, but perhaps also to leave the pressures of nearby New York behind. In fact, this artistic heritage – planting an undeniable mark on American art – became a draw for many summer residence as the last 30-years have shown: notoriety, saturation and soaring real estate prices have since stolen the spotlight.
In the guise of contextualising the experimental DNA of American creativity today last spring, TLmag ventured deep into the East End. The following photo series travels between a recently-erected performing art centre in Southampton to a make-shift tug-boat implemented summer art schools on the way to Montauk, with a short deviation at a top-secret archive. Employing the nostalgic treatment of 4×6 analogue film, powerful images hark back to a time of fruitful exchange and beach barbecues counting in the crowd, top New York art figures.