Last weekend in East Hampton, a man in a gorilla suit rallied support for an art movement and exhibition as colorful, unique and out of place as its conspicuous mascot.
The internet-born brainchild of East End artists Eric Ernst and David Gamble, the Artists Secret Society (ASS) opened its first show in the former Town and Country Photo store on Park Place on Saturday. Their mascot—crouching, jumping and generally behaving like a gorilla—directed people inside the impromptu gallery where the shuttered shop’s torn and stained rugs, mirrored plexiglass walls and general disrepair played second fiddle to an array of arresting images and sculpture by successful and lesser known East End artists.
“I was a little worried people wouldn’t be able to see through the funky space,” the show’s curator, Catamount Mayhugh, said on Sunday, reflecting on the positive feedback he’d received on the show. Though the former retail space seems at first glance to be an inhospitable backdrop for an art exhibition, Mr. Mayhugh said it’s growing on him. Good art can transcend a “crappy space,” he added.
Mr. Mayhugh, 34, cut his curatorial teeth during his four years working at Glenn Horowitz Booksellers and art gallery, putting up exhibitions and selling some of the artistic and literary treasures there, but he left that business in October. While there, he met Mr. Gamble, 55, a British artist and now ASS president, and the two maintained a friendship, often meeting to discuss art and exchange ideas.
“He was a natural fit,” Mr. Gamble said this week, explaining how his young friend came to curate the current show. ASS began last summer as a website where Mr. Gamble and Mr. Ernst featured their work and promoted guest artists who excited them. Mr. Mayhugh, a computer artist, became instrumental in shaping that site, according to Mr. Gamble, who said the curator worked as a liaison between him and the site builder, helping make his ideas a digital reality.
“We couldn’t have done it without him,” Mr. Gamble said, after noting that “the idea of this show was to have a manifestation of the dot com.”
Along with a series of colorful totem poles based on African tribal imagery by Mr. Ernst and Mr. Gamble’s large photographs with painted red shapes and negatives manipulated with fire—including one of the Dalai Lama—works by six guest artists are featured in the ASS exhibition. A former employee of the photo lab where the show now hangs, Peter Ngo, told Mr. Mayhugh about the space when the curator was searching for a venue earlier this summer. Two of Mr. Ngo’s surreal graphite portraits of beautiful women are included in the exhibition. One of the striking and realistically rendered heads grows out of a human heart in “The Gifted Heart”; in the other, “Anchors Away,” a woman’s neck connects with an anchor, evoking the area’s maritime history.
Large black and white silk-screened abstracts, “Potential Difference” and “Increasingly Implausible” by Steve Miller take up much of the space’s rear wall, and Jameson Ellis has used an ejection seat from an F-111 fighter plane and scraps of rusty metal to sculpt a large insect, straight out of science fiction and art history alike.
To the right of Mr. Ellis’s creation, a discolored section of the rug that was already in the storefront prior to the exhibition seems to suggest a blood stain. Around it, Mr. Mayhugh and Mr. Gamble have created the outline of a human being in white tape—the chalk outline of the victim the artists imagine might have created the suspicious mark.
Across from the putative crime scene, Sag Harbor artist Thomas D’s piece, “Rubble,” re-creates a filthy squat photographed in Spain in a large scale print of the space on three strips of wallpaper, hung together, with a battered trunk, radio and a pair of children’s toys positioned on the floor in front of it for added three-dimensional effect.
Although he works as an assistant to world famous artist Richard Prince, Mr. D, who is still early in his own art career, has created paintings that don’t feel derivative of his mentor’s work.
“Skulls,” a silk-screened montage of skull and crossbones and hearts, and “Guns,” a purple canvas with two actual golden guns, barrels attached at the ends, round out his display. Single pieces by up and comers Liliya Lifanova and Jesus Bravo are also included in the exhibit.
Mr. Gamble said he and Mr. Ernst developed ASS to go against, and transcend, the established hierarchy in East End galleries. “There’s sort of these different levels,” he said, explaining how difficult it is for a young artist to break into the gallery scene and how it’s often unacceptable for established artists to experiment and move away from the work they’re known for and galleries expect.