The Parrish Art Museum hosted its last official event in the old building at 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton last Thursday. The museum remains on track to open its new state-of-the-art facility on Montauk Highway in Water Mill the weekend of November 10 to 12. “We’re down to the details,” museum director Terrie Sultan said last week, noting that primary construction is complete in Water Mill and the crew is currently working on interiors, including millwork for the shop and reception, benches in the lobby and lighting for the black box theater, one of the many exciting new additions to the museum.
Sultan said creating the new facility is the highlight of her career, and the crowd at last Thursday’s PechaKucha night reinforced her understanding of just how needed it is. Some 150 people came to the event Sultan describes as “cultural speed dating,” which included 10 presenters from all walks of life—artists, musicians, baymen, chefs, academics, etc.— showing slides and speaking about what they do for seven minutes each. She said looking at the many attendees that night brought to mind a famous quote from the movie Jaws. “We’re going to need a bigger boat,” Sultan thought, adding last week, “We’re getting one.”
For the first time, the new building will allow the Parrish’s permanent collection to remain on view year-round in 7,300 square feet of exhibition space, while an additional 4,500 square feet will be used for special exhibitions. Sultan said the Jobs Lane building, which was built in 1898 to house Samuel Longstreth Parrish’s art collection, also has 4,500 feet of exhibition space, but no room to display the permanent collection. “The space is challenging,” she said, pointing out that the new facility’s area for special shows feels twice the size.
More than just the added space, Sultan said the new Parrish is finally updated to meet the needs of a modern art museum. They now have a loading dock, a café, skylights facing true north for the best natural light, excellent parking and climate control, which makes it possible to borrow and exhibit masterful artwork from major museums that would have been a liability in the outdated 1898 construction.
The permanent collection includes major works from some of the East End’s most legendary artists. Important pieces by Fairfield Porter, Roy Lichtenstein, William Merritt Chase, John Chamberlain, Thomas Moran, Larry Rivers, Hans Hoffmann and Richard Avedon, among many, many more will now remain on display. Leading up to the new facility opening, the Parrish had a series of shows featuring work from the permanent collection, and it became quite clear that keeping these treasures in storage was a huge disservice to the community and, really, the broader world of art lovers.
“People were surprised,” Sultan said, explaining that very few had any idea how much wonderful art the Parrish had sitting unseen for so many years. “It will be a life-changing experience to be in that museum,” she added, anticipating the public’s reaction toward the new facility. “It certainly has been for us.” The first show in the new Parrish will be “Malcolm Morley: Painting, Paper, Process” and there’s much more to come. “We’ll be announcing a series of events pretty soon,” Sultan said. Having the permanent collection and the special exhibitions up at the same time, she noted, allows for connections or a narrative between the two sections. “This gives us a lot more opportunities to be creative working with the visual arts,” she said. “That’s really exciting to me.” Sultan also pointed out that the black box theater makes other options available, including showing movies, plays and individual performances.
In addition to being open on Friday nights, the museum will be expanding its educational programs with the new facility as well. While exhibitions had to change four times per year before, now local teachers can build a curriculum around the work on permanent display without having to worry it will be gone the following year. “You can build programs from one year to the next,” Sultan said. “We have everything the community needs in this building, and everything we need to provide those [educational] services.”
Sultan said the Parrish would continue to show contemporary work and make acquisitions. Thanks to many “magnificent gifts” from donors, she added that some new acquisitions might be revealed soon, though the original Parrish collection will remain with the old museum.
The building itself and Samuel Parrish’s collection of Italian Renaissance art and reproductions of Greek and Roman statuary—including the busts outside—are the property of Southampton Village.
In May, the Village established a nonprofit—Southampton Center for the Arts—in order to raise funds and maintain a cultural presence at the former museum. “We’ve done a lot of work with that,” Mayor Mark Epley said, explaining that the Village is developing relationships with outside organizations, locally and in New York City, toward creating a lecture series and other programs.
Epley has not hidden his disappointment that the Parrish chose to move, but he is hopeful the Southampton Center will help drive profits for the Village. “We’ve had some nice donations coming in,” he said, noting that he’s aiming to raise $3–3.5 million for restoration of the building and grounds, and to build a multi-use outdoor pavillion with an elevated stage and seating, which could be used as an ice rink during the winter. The Southampton Center is planning its first season for the summer of 2013.