The culture of the Hamptons has been formed, in part, by the broad strokes of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Rick Friedman, president of ArtHamptons and an East End resident, became an avid art collector about 10 years ago and was struck by the historical and cultural significance of the area. As his collection grew and his preferences took shape, Friedman noticed that many of America’s most treasured artists had a connection to the Hamptons.
“It started to hit home,” said Friedman, “that some of the most famous artists in American history, and certainly of the 20th century, lived in the neighborhood. It was startling to see, and I thought it was really special.”
As he collected de Koonings, Pollocks and Krasners, Friedman felt he was not only buying a piece of history, but also a piece of home. Then he discovered Hamptons Bohemia, a book by Helen Harrison, director of the Pollock-Krasner House. He was moved by the images, stories and relationships of the artists and poets who played and worked here in the 50s, 60s and 70s. He thought the link between international significance and the local community would make this a prime setting for an art fair. Thus ArtHamptons was born.
Each year the event honors an artist with local roots linked to the post-World War II era. Past recipients have included Larry Rivers, Mary Abbott and Jane Wilson. This year, Jane Freilicher, 90 years old and still working, will be honored for her lifetime achievements. She’ll have her own retrospective wall entitled Jane Freilicher Near the Sea.
“Jane was a part of a new vanguard of urban bohemians who escaped to the Hamptons in the 1950s,” Harrison said. “She was among the small but influential group of artists who revitalized the landscape tradition that was the art colony’s original raison d’être.”
This year, ArtHamptons’ overarching theme is escapism. Whether it’s escaping through art, or escaping to the beach, Water Mill in the thick of summer is an appropriate destination. The specific setting, under a massive tent in the sculpture fields of Nova’s Ark, brings attendants even further from the ordinary.
“This is a place where one can separate and meditate,” said Friedman. “We’re situated on a 95-acre sculpture park which we share with a polo field. There are sculptures 4 stories high, horses grazing and a 50,000-square-foot pavilion with sunsets to take your breath away.”
On Sunday morning, the Southampton Polo Club will have a match. Those attending the fair can partake in the sport of kings. Sunday morning will also welcome families with art classes for kids and family-focused tours. Throughout the weekend there will be a variety of offerings, making it more than just a group of galleries showcasing together.
“We’ll have parties, lectures and activities to keep it inspirational and educational,” Friedman said. “Topics range from art as an investment to an artist spotlight with cartoonist Jules Feiffer. We expect 3,500 to 4,000 people at our opening night gala, which benefits Guild Hall.”
ArtHamptons has become an important event to the galleries that participate as well. What started out as 40 or 50 galleries in 2008 now numbers more than 80, and about 15,000 people are expected to attend. This makes it the second-largest event in the Hamptons, according to Friedman.
For one, the Richard Demato Gallery of Sag Harbor will participate for its fifth year—gallery owner and collector Richard Demato wouldn’t miss it. “It’s the first art fair to come to the Hamptons,” he said, “and they do the biggest and best job. They provide the galleries the best return for efforts and time, and provide collectors with the most cutting-edge art on the market early in the summer.”
Many collectors have told Friedman that they wait all year to make their art purchases at this event. With a dazzling array of sculptures as well as paintings, photography, drawings and prints, there is something for everyone. And the price range is wide, with pieces starting around $2,000 and reaching the hundreds of thousands. (The average price ranges from $5,000 to $30,000.)
As a collector, Friedman draws great pleasure from the 200 or so paintings he’s acquired. He describes how sometimes, late at night, he’ll walk around his house and feel the greatness of the artists whose work hangs on his walls. His hope is that ArtHamptons connects people to that profound resonance as well.