Don’t expect to find a Halsey or a McKay at East Hampton’s Halsey McKay Gallery. Since 2011, directors Hilary Schaffner and Ryan Wallace (whose respective grandmothers were Halsey and McKay) have been presenting progressive contemporary work in their two-floor space. They showcase emerging talents who aren’t afraid to experiment and who also happen to slip the notice of other East End galleries. For those whose artistic sensibilities run toward the non-traditional and innovative, the cutting-edge installations, assemblages and even performance art amongst paintings, photographs and sculptures will feel like home.
Friends Wallace and Schaffner have been involved in art for more than a decade—Schaffner primarily as a curator, Wallace as an artist. Though both live in Brooklyn, they were drawn to the East End by its history and the community of artists and galleries. “There’s always been good stuff out here,” Wallace said, “just never exactly this specific thing that we do…We look for work we don’t see anyone else doing, that doesn’t necessarily follow a current trend.” Their choices are very much instinctual, added Schaffner.
The gallery itself was an experiment. It started as an idea for a pop-up, with a plan for one exhibition, but quickly grew into much more. “Both of us had ties out East,” Wallace said. “My wife worked there in the summer, I was out surfing and making art. Hilary and I saw this as something the community needed.”
The two first met in an art class at high school. Ryan, who laughingly talked about being torn between art and professional snowboarding, studied at the Rhode Island School of Design to pursue a career as a painter. His work has shown in galleries in New York, California, Canada and Denmark. Hilary, who earned an MFA in photography from New York’s School of Visual Arts, found she enjoyed developing exhibitions more than creating art.
Their shared interests grew into Halsey McKay, which represents 17 young and mid-career artists, mostly from Brooklyn. Painters and photographers dominate the roster. Many of their works are grounded in nature—trees, animals, planets or plants—but then diverge into surprising juxtapositions of imagery and form. Photographer Hilary Pecis cuts her color photographs to shreds and then reassembles the pieces into jarring representations of reality. Timothy Bergstrom and Lauren Luloff both create elegant, organic, semi-abstract images of plants achieved through inventive materials like wire, gauze, dyes and stitching.
This month, the upstairs gallery displays West Coast artist Brion Nuda Rosch’s totemic, self-referential abstract paintings. In the rest of the space, eerie porcelain masks by Korean-American ceramicist Jennie Jieun Lee join with Patrick Brennan’s complex abstractions utilizing surprising elements like popsicle sticks to capture a spirit of exploration. “At first glance,” Wallace explained, “[Brennan’s work] is kind of brash. But the longer you spend with it, you realize there’s all these subtle and slow decisions that he’s making…Looking at art is one of the only things right now that requires you to slow down. It’s an experience that’s best had in person and with time.”
Paintings and sculptures by contemporary artists Patrick Brennan, Jennie Jieun Lee and Brion Nuda Rosch fill two floors at East Hampton’s Halsey McKay Gallery from June 6 through June 22, opening reception June 6 from 6-8pm.