A Girl With a Watering Can

Like many children, Alicia Longwell visited museums with her Washington, DC classmates. Most at that age see art at a superficial level—drawn to the colors, poses and scale of the works. But for a few, the experience has a greater impact. And while it’s not clear right then and there, it becomes a first taste of that beloved thing a wise grandparent later advises you to pursue to avoid working a day in your life.

“I remember as a little girl seeing the Renoir ‘Girl with a Watering Can’ and being overwhelmed by it. So much so that I’d buy a postcard each time we went and bring it home,” said Longwell, now the curator at Parrish Art Museum, recalling a visit to the National Gallery. And though growing up the daughter of a congressman may have had perks, once Longwell decided to pursue art after college, success came the old-fashioned way as an entry-level cataloger at MoMA. While it was work, and far from curating, she was surrounded by art, literally. Once East End community revealed itself. “Fairfield Porter, William Merritt Chase, Jackson Pollock,

Willem de Kooning and so many others…there’s a reason why these artists congregated here,” she said. “There’s a special light and beauty.”

During a summer visit here Longwell learned that the Parrish was looking for a registrar. She got the job and never left. Nearly 30 years on, she has organized exhibitions that have challenged the art world, most of which focused on local artists. This summer Parrish is exhibiting artist Jennifer Bartlett.

Longwell said Bartlett’s singular aesthetic of combining abstraction and figurative art is what first drew her towards the work: “It’s accepted knowledge in the art world that figurative art and abstractions are polar opposites, which really isn’t true. And Bartlett has often said that she never understood the difference between abstraction and figurative so why not combine them?” Another exhibition focuses on Bellport’s modernist William Glackens, known as a premier prewar realist for his vibrant depictions of daily life. “He is part of a group of illustrators from Philadelphia that present the grittier side of urban life. And he’s also very influenced by French painting,” Longwell said. Glackens painted in Bellport for eight summers and a sizeable portion of the exhibit includes scenes depicting Long Island’s shoreline.

Longwell said the shows at the Parrish are intended to open anyone to the artistic discussion. “You just have to look. You don’t have to understand minimalism or post-minimalism or post-modernism. It’s just great art that’s beautifully installed, which allows the artwork to really speak in this space.”

See It:
Jennifer Bartlett: History of the Universe
Embodying ideals of the American way of life, using serialized geometric forms to create familiar objects that recall the home setting—a house, a tree, a white picket fence—along with literal painterly shapes, lines and brushstrokes.
Thru July 13.

The William Glackens exhibit traces the artist’s career from the mid-1890s to the 1930s, his achievements as a member of the radical group The Eight and his embrace of modernism.
July 20 to October 13.