From the Collection: Queerisms at Guild Hall - 27 East

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From the Collection: Queerisms at Guild Hall

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Matthew Nichols Ph.D., guest curator of Guild Hall's show

Matthew Nichols Ph.D., guest curator of Guild Hall's show "Ted Carey: Queer as Folk,” at the reception with artist Almond Zigmund. JESSICA DALENE PHOTOGRAPHY

Guests at the opening of Guild Hall's show

Guests at the opening of Guild Hall's show "Ted Carey: Queer as Folk.” JESSICA DALENE PHOTOGRAPHY

Matthew Nichols Ph.D., guest curator of Guild Hall's show

Matthew Nichols Ph.D., guest curator of Guild Hall's show "Ted Carey: Queer as Folk,” at the reception with artist Almond Zigmund. JESSICA DALENE PHOTOGRAPHY

Guests at the opening of Guild Hall's show

Guests at the opening of Guild Hall's show "Ted Carey: Queer as Folk.” JESSICA DALENE PHOTOGRAPHY

Ted Carey,

Ted Carey, "63rd Street Columbus Avenue Lincoln Center, NYC," 1980-85. Oil on canvas. 25 1/2" x 37 3/8." iGift of Tito Spiga. © GARY MAMAY

Ted Carey,

Ted Carey, "Boot Hill," 1982-85. Oil on panel, 18" x 26 ½." © TED CAREY/PHOTO BY GARY MAMAY

Matthew Nichols, Ph.D., guest curator of

Matthew Nichols, Ph.D., guest curator of "Ted Carey: Queer as Folk,” an exhibition running through July 14 at Guild Hall in East Hampton. SIMÓN ESPINAL

Frankie Kadir Vaughan on May 27, 2024

Artist Ted Carey was born in 1932 and raised in Chester, Pennsylvania. Like many young people eager to start their artistic career, when he was 23 years old, Carey moved to New York City. After serving in the U.S. Army Reserves during the Korean War, Carey earned his bachelor’s degree in graphic design from the Philadelphia Museum School of Art in 1955, and roughly two years later, grew to be close friends with fellow artist Andy Warhol after assisting him with a few commercial artistic projects.

Carey also had a home in East Hampton, and while living between New York City and the East End in the 1970s and 1980s, he produced a series of paintings that chronicle his life and relationships, including facets of queer culture. Several of the artist’s works from that era are on view now in “Ted Carey: Queer as Folk,” an exhibition curated by Matthew Nichols, Ph.D. running through July 14 at Guild Hall in East Hampton.

“I knew about Ted Carey because I’m an art historian, and I was studying the very early career of Andy Warhol before he came a Pop artist, when he was mainly known as a commercial artist in New York City,” said Nichols in a recent phone interview. “If you study that portion of his career, Ted Carey’s name comes up because [Warhol] and Ted Carey became friends in 1957.”

Nichols went on to explain that when Guild Hall digitized its permanent collection, a project spearheaded by Jess Frost, who is the executive director of the Arts Center at Duck Creek in Springs, he came across Carey’s work.

“I was looking through the permanent collection and discovered thumbnail images of the paintings,” he said. “And maybe I wouldn’t have looked more closely at them had I not recognized the name tag, Carey.”

In “Ted Carey: Queer as Folk,” the exhibition’s title pays tribute to American folk art, a style of painting which utilizes the visual languages of dimension, flatness and color to shift perspectives. Many folk art paintings depict landscapes, as well as portraits, though they remain two-dimensional within the physical appearance and tend to offer a third dimension in the background of the image. Carey’s work, though, is painted in a faux-naïf style.

“Essentially, he uses the visual language of folk art — he studied folk art, he collected folk art, and he sort of appropriated certain aspects of American folk art painting,” explained Nichols.

There are a total of nine Ted Carey paintings on view in this exhibition, all of which are from the permanent collection at Guild Hall and were gifted to the institution by Carey’s late partner, Tito Spiga. The two young lovers lived on Gould Street in East Hampton Village as well as in various apartments in Manhattan, and scenes from both places are featured in Carey’s paintings.

“The visual idiom of folk art that he uses to present scenes, whether it’s through portraying a handful of different gay men he was either friendly with or who he admired through that folk art language, or scenes in New York — and there are about four of these — I’m calling them portraits,” Nichols said. “But they’re really tributes, because they’re not straightforward portraits.”

Carey’s paintings feature scenes of landmarks near where he lived throughout Manhattan — the Museum of Modern Art sculpture garden and Lincoln Center are both recognizable, though Carey also leaves artistic clues to where he went after the sun went down, including Boot Hill, a gay bar on West 75th Street and Amsterdam Avenue which no longer exists. In another painting, “Paul’s Bridal Accessories,” Carey documents intimately the exclusion of homosexual marriages and relationships, which provoked reasons for gender performance and drag. A piece titled “Emak Bakia” brings together the artist, his mother, Ruth, his lover, Spiga, and four-legged family member Corfu in the backyard patio of a Harry Bates-designed home at 20 Oyster Pond Lane in East Hampton. While the artist finished less than two dozen paintings after living in the shadows of more prominent artists, his work is well-documented in this exhibition.

These paintings were exhibited once previously in East Hampton before being returned to Carey’s Gould Street home, later becoming part of Guild Hall’s permanent collection. From the East Hampton Star’s archive, Ted Carey’s obituary noted that his death on August 3, 1985, from complications from AIDS came just seven days prior to his exhibition opening at ArtViews Gallery, which was located on The Circle, a small side street off Main Street in East Hampton Village.

“Jeanne B. Schmidt, director of ArtViews, said it had been hoped that Mr. Carey, who was known to be gravely ill, would live long enough to see the show. The reception Saturday is expected to serve as a memorial.”

After a further investigation of what was exhibited at the ArtViews show, Nichols’ findings are revealing.

“I was able to determine from that exhibition in 1985 that 14 works of art were shown,” said Nichols. “I have since been able to locate one additional painting but, from what I can tell, he made probably 15 paintings in his lifetime.”

Three years after Carey’s death, his partner, Tito Spiga, tested positive for AIDS and died a tragic death in their home’s garage. In an East Hampton Star article, dated September 1988, police said his death was an apparent suicide caused by carbon monoxide asphyxiation.

“Tito Spiga arranged a bequest,” shared Nichols. “And that bequest was basically this large donation of money and art that he and Ted Carey had collected over the years. That all went to Guild Hall with the stipulation that they build a gallery at Guild Hall dedicated to the permanent collection.”

In conjunction with “Ted Carey: Queer as Folk,” guest curator Matthew Nichols Ph.D. will give a talk on Sunday, June 2, at 2 p.m. about the historical and cultural contexts of Carey’s life and work. The queer content of Carey’s New York paintings and his tributes to other gay artists will also be examined. On Sunday, June 23, at 2 p.m. Nichols and artist Anne Buckwalter will discuss aspects of the show and explore how Carey and Buckwalter share roots in southeastern Pennsylvania, draw inspiration from regional folk art traditions and address gender and sexuality in their paintings.

“Ted Carey: Queer as Folk” runs through July 14 at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton. For details, visit guildhall.org.

Frankie Kadir Vaughan is a graduate student at Purchase College, SUNY, earning an MA in Art History and MFA in Visual Art. He has two toy poodles.

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