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Hamptons Life

May 19, 2009 9:57 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Perspectives: Members' show at Guild Hall

May 19, 2009 9:57 AM

For those unsure of when the season actually starts on the East End—since such historical harbingers as a sudden onslaught of overpriced automobiles and artificially enhanced trophy wives are now sighted year-round—I figure good benchmarks are either the inaugural exhibit at a completely new gallery space, such as Christys Art Center in Sag Harbor, or the opening of Guild Hall’s annual Artist Members Exhibition in East Hampton.

Now in its 71st year and featuring works by more than 350 artists, this yearly event at Guild Hall is actually also a good introduction for newcomers to these climes into the length and breadth of the storied Hamptons artist community.

Offering a wide range of paintings and sculptures from practically every artist in the region, the show exposes visitors to images that capture the rapturous heights of local artistic excellence as well as those that are disturbingly illustrative of the concurrent depths of the region’s occasional creative mediocrity.

In addition, as is often the case with juried exhibitions of this sort, great fun can also be had by viewers attempting to divine what might have been the back story for the judge’s verdicts during the decision process. (The best reasons I overheard being uttered by others were: “Maybe some bad fish at lunch” and “You think they chose them with a dartboard?”)

Veering from such perfectly understandable choices as giving the nod to Dennis Leri for Best Mixed Media or an honorable mention to Grant Haffner for his small work, one can then, just a few moments later, be left intellectually flummoxed and droolingly slack jawed by other choices in different categories (no names here for reasons of propriety and an abiding interest in personal safety).

Nonetheless, perhaps this show accidentally proffers the idea that juried exhibitions too often reflect either personal bias or subjective judgments and perhaps may have outlived their usefulness for artists or museums. As the composer Bela Bartok once noted, “Competitions are for horses, not artists.”

Nevertheless, overlooked in the judging process but worthy of attention are works by Paton Miller, James Kennedy, Charles Waller, Pat Moran, Nico Yektai, Jim Gemake, Ruby Jackson, Tracy Harris, Bob Bachler, Dan Weldon, Goran Petmil, Karyn Mannix, Trish Franey, and Ruth Nasca.

Guild Hall’s 71st Annual Members Exhibition continues through May 30.

Meanwhile, Sag Harbor is the site of the inaugural exhibit at Christy’s Art Center, offering yet another portent for the onset of the season as along with evidence that, even during a potentially catastrophic economic period, art galleries continue to sprout on the East End like mushrooms after a spring rain.

Titled “Botanicals” and featuring works by 25 artists, of whom many would be considered local, the exhibition also includes pieces by such notables as Andy Warhol (barely local) and Marsden Hartley, Joseph Stella, and Charles Demuth (not local at all).

Of particular interest is Kryn Olsen’s “Offspring” (mixed media/acrylic on canvas), which continues this artist’s investigation of nature, focusing as much on mysterious and unseen processes as on the physical aspects of flowers and the environment that are visible to the naked eye.

Juxtaposing a ground that is balanced by warm earth tones and a subtle though insistent use of light that gains in amplitude as one moves through the canvas, the structure of the work is created by the abstract botanical image that pulses with a hidden energy in the center of the canvas.

While Ms. Olsen lays bare nature’s processes of physical engineering, Jill Musnicki’s “Red Tulips” (oil on canvas), on the other hand, also conjures certain mysterious atmospherics but arrives at that point through a significantly more subtle progression of imagery.

Presenting the central image as slightly blurred and almost floating in a dark, inky background, the flowers seem more dreamlike than real, the artist’s use of color creating a sense of drama and imparting a vibrancy to the interaction between positive and negative space.

Also of particular interest are works by Dan Rizzie, Steve Miller, Gavin Ziegler, and David Slater.

The exhibition at Christy’s Art Center in Sag Harbor continues through May 31.

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