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Hamptons Life

Sep 7, 2008 8:31 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Ambitious arts undertaking in Westhampton

Sep 7, 2008 8:31 PM

Ted Kruckel has big plans for the art scene in Westhampton, and they are anything but boring.

His ideas for the gallery/conceptual art space/event hall named The Rook, an approximately 120-year-old Seville style castle located on Montauk Highway in the Casa Basso restaurant complex, are as ambitious and out of the ordinary as the statuary that greets visitors upon arrival. The unusual statues, attributed to Theophilius Brower after his travels in Spain, include a pair of swordsmen flanking the driveway, the god Neptune and a golden lion that stands guard at the front door of the building.

The Montauk Highway gallery is a distinctive space, and one that Mr. Kruckel said he hopes to cultivate into a real salon for all manner of art and culture. During an interview and tour of the site last Friday, he reported that his vision for The Rook was partially inspired by the now defunct eclectic Westhampton Beach-based Dandelion store that was open in the 1960s and 1970s and the DIA Art Foundation, a conceptual gallery located in Manhattan.

“There are some things that are missing from the creative scene out here,” Mr. Kruckel said. “I want to bring excitement and fun to the arts.”

The newly opened art space—the official opening was August 15—includes a melange of styles and concepts including a lightbox area for transparencies, several fine art areas, antiquities, a “bain de Van” (a bathroom dedicated entirely to the works of Vincent Van Gogh), a lending library and collectibles.

By Mr. Kruckel’s design, The Rook has a “Mediterranean castle-by-the-sea feel,” which he said he plans to modify and fine-tune with each new show that is mounted.

Artist Daniel Peddle, whose work is on view there, wrote this week in an e-mail that he endorses Mr. Kruckel’s ambitions for The Rook. “I love Ted’s idea of showing original art in a slightly unusual way, outside the context of a big white cube,” he wrote. “As an artist, I get tired of seeing work stripped of its humanity by cold commercial galleries with no soul.”

Currently the works of many of Mr. Kruckel’s friends, most notably artists Alexandra Penney, Jim Thompson, Cyril Christo, Helmut Newton, Mr. Peddle, Edward Brown, Gil Bensimmon, Patrick Demarchelier, Kevin Baker, Bill King and David Wojnarowicz are on display.

For his inaugural fine art exhibit, “Nature Morte: Fleurs du Mal et des Amis,” Mr. Kruckel said he was inspired by art that exemplifies nature and death together. Among the more than 100 works on display, the show includes a dead deer diptych by Mr. Peddle, a print of three buffaloes hurling themselves off a cliff by Mr. Wojnarowicz and even a taxidermy mako shark from his personal family collection.

There is also a “Fleurs du Mal” library of poetry and literature focusing mainly on the work of Vincent Van Gogh and writer Charles Baudelaire. Several giant floral photographs from Ms. Penney’s “Fleurs I and II” series also hang in the gallery.

Next up, in late October, will be a “Chinoiserie” show, inspired by French interpretations of Asian artwork. Mr. Kruckel said he plans to paint the floor of The Rook a glossy pink for that exhibit and will hang Chinese lanterns and other Asian-inspired objects around the space. “I want to make it more of an adventure,” he said of his ambitious plans.

According to Ms. Penney, her friend is a showman who has always had an eye and an appetite for the unique. “Whatever Ted Kruckel does—and it’s always unexpected and original—he does it with fabulous flair and style,” she wrote in an e-mail on Monday.

Mr. Kruckel said his efforts at The Rook have already begun paying off. He reported that, so far, “a couple hundred” people have been to visit the gallery and that he has sold eight pieces of artwork and countless collectibles already.

As for the collectible/decorative arts side of the business, glass pieces by Murano and Venini are available for purchase, as well as a line of leather accessories by Long Island custom bookbinder Aeon and a selection of vintage wines that are actually sold through Six Corners Fine Wines in Westhampton Beach. There are also linens, glassware, mirrors, vases and outdoor furniture for sale.

“I’m a shopaholic, I see something I like and I just have to have it, so I thought others might also like them,” Mr. Kruckel said of the plethora of items for sale.

Prices at The Rook range from less than $100 for some of the decorative objects to $7,500 for fine art.

Looking ahead, Mr. Kruckel said that he will offer free art classes to children at the gallery once he gets settled in. He predicted that the space will be open year-round, but with limited opportunities for viewing during winter months.

Mr. Kruckel said that he is cautiously optimistic that The Rook will serve a higher art purpose in the community, though it is just different and whimsical enough that even art novices will enjoy it. “Sometimes art is taken too seriously ... This is a place to experience culture,” he said. “But it’s not a temple of art, it’s a playground.”

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