Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, NY, is an old collection in a new home, well, its home since 2013 when it moved east from Jobs Lane in Southampton several miles east to a former farm site just north of Route 27, or Montauk Highway as the locals call it. The grounds are nice, the architecture a bit too passive-aggressive-minimalistic for my taste, however, the collection is strong, but the lighting - to the detriment of the art on display - is weak.
One of the lesser hallmarks of this Obama era of diversity / sustainability is the encroachment of weirdo social causes into an area formerly designated as ‘art'. If you don’t believe this conservative writer, consider one of the silly exhibits listed on the Parrish web page, ‘RADICAL SEAFARING', about a houseboat personifying sustainability and other alternative communities on the water. I don’t see that as art, and quite frankly, it is precisely this miss-use of ‘art’ to create some kind of ludicrous whacko message, which is turning people off.
It’s great art that matters to people interested in the art market, it’s great art that sells to people interested in the art market, and it’s great art that people want to see and appreciate in Museums.
Maybe a fruit-loop statement from an annoying millenial with too much time on their hands, but museums are at their very best when they correctly show off their visual splendours within, or entertain, but that’s another subject. Art and entertainment, that’s what museums should do, not radical seafaring.
Back to showing off splendours.
The museum’s collection is strong as it melds 19th century Hudson River, American Impressionism and then seamlessly floats (excuse the pun) into modern. It’s a great collection and the local abstract expressionists are represented very well, in particular with lesser known names.
As part of their screwball mission creep hijacked towards “sustainability”, the lights are few; a few skylights provide most illumination, and God forbid if one visits on a cloudy day. Then you’d be at the utter mercy of those horrid L.E.D. fixtures which claim to have real wattage, but the bandwidth is so narrow, it spits out a feeble white grey light that makes the fluorescent tubes of years ago seem like nuclear powered halogen fixtures. This writer is surprised few in the industry have brought this up, because it takes a certain amount of skill to show off such great art with such bad lighting, as they have in this museum.
Given the paintings by William Merritt Chase, John Twatchmann, Childe Hassam and Fairfield Porter are absolutely superb, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the lighting installed would match the calibre of work on display. Any time one has to squint to look at a great William Merritt Chase (and they have quite a few) there is something seriously wrong.
Chase and the museum founder Samuel Parrish, created the East End of Long Island as an artist colony, first with the Chase Shinnecock School of Art, then after he left, Chase school supporter Samuel Parrish created the museum which to this day bears his name. The Mission of the museum is to show artists of the East End of Long Island, so its about art, great art, and great local art. A visit is not, and should not be about “sustainability.” Is New York City sustainable by commy water melon (green on the outside - red on the inside) environmental standards? No. Is Long Island with its 12 m population sustainable by commy standards? No. So let’s not get cute and gild (or even foster) the lily here.
No longer in their original location, Parrish Art Museum is still a great place to visit, if only they would fix those damned bulbs and do the art justice, because that is why people visit museums.
279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, NY 11976
Coediting: Elliot Lee & Alex Boyle
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