East Hampton is one of the last places you might figure for an artists' colony — last week, a museum there was advertising a party at Martha Stewart's house. But despite being one of the most prohibitively expensive corners of the country, this section of Long Island has housed some of our most major art movements and artists.
Since the 1870s, day-tripping tourists and idle wealthy folks from New York City have flocked to East Hampton for weekend getaways or to second homes. Money from their patronage has allowed the likes of Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and Thomas Moran to work in the area.
Guild Hall, a museum, theater and community center, is at the area's artistic heart, and a portion of its 2,000-piece permanent collection recently arrived at Pueblo's Sangre de Cristo Arts Center. Guild Hall: An Adventure in the Arts, features 73 works by 61 artists and follows nearly 120 years of American art.
Manhattan's UBS Art Gallery first hosted the exhibit in 2005, and Pueblo is its sixth stop, with three more to follow.
"I wanted it to be a historical view showing East Hampton as the arts colony," says Guild Hall museum director and chief curator Christina Mossaides Strassfield. "I started in the 19th century and picked works of art from every period where we had artists out here."
The oldest works, traditional landscapes of the area from Hudson River School painter Moran and American Impressionist Childe Hassam, hail from the late 1870s. The 1940s and '50s brought the biggest-name works, as Abstract Expressionists spread out of New York City. Artists such as Pollock, Willem de Kooning and their wives, artists Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning, respectively, moved to Long Island for peaceful retreats.
The de Koonings and Pollocks settled near East Hampton and lived in the area for decades (Krasner stayed after Pollock's death). Today, the Pollock household and studio stands as a museum.
"Artists today still come out here," says Mossaides Strassfield, "and even though the cost of living is quite expensive, they're still willing to sacrifice to be in this beautiful environment and to be in an environment where there's a lot of intellectual stimulation."
Chuck Close, the most famous artist of the photorealist movement, has lived in nearby Bridgehampton since 1975. His "Phil/Manipulated," a 1984 portrait of composer Philip Glass, highlights the show: It consists of wads of handmade paper pulp arranged on a wire grid, and stands as one of several portraits of Glass that Close created throughout his career.
He began with traditional paint, then reworked the portrait with an ink pad and fingerprints. The paper "Phil" now at the Sangre shows the progression of Close's popular experiments in optics and portraiture, in which he creates realistic portraits out of "pixelated" fragments.
Guild Hall arrives at the Sangre as one of six shows in its summer exhibit, Warhol & Friends: Famous Artists to See Before You Die, which includes solo shows and broader collections featuring local modern and contemporary art. Included are exhibits for neo-Colorfield painter Virginia Maitland (of Boulder) and painter Orlin Helgoe, a Pueblo fixture described by the Sangre's Caroline Mead as a "shaman of the prairie." Colorado Moderns, a collection from the Kirkland Museum in Denver also stops in for the summer.
Many of these exhibitions, in one form or another, have already hit the museum circuit in the Springs and Denver. For example, an Andy Warhol "Silver Clouds" installation (a room filled with shiny square balloons lilting in the air) was a memorable feature of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's pre-expansion Warhol exhibit several years ago.
But the caliber of artwork comprising Guild Hall rarely travels — usually if you want to see a Pollock, you do the traveling. So this show gives Pueblo the chance to host what the bigger cities missed, something that before now, had yet to make its way out west.