First Impressions: New Parrish Art Museum

One day before opening its doors to the public for the three-day free admission weekend, the Parrish Art Museum opened its brand new Water Mill facility for a special preview on Friday.

The long concrete museum building appears a bit stark driving by on Montauk Highway, and even when approaching its ample parking lot, but all that changes moments after entering. The lengthy halls, white walls and gray concrete floors take nothing away from the vibrant art that hangs throughout, yet high, arched and lustrous wooden ceilings—and expansive windows and skylights—give the space an identity and its own beauty, not to mention excellent natural light.

Work from the Parrish permanent collection is displayed throughout the museum in various open rooms, most named for museum benefactors, and in the main hallway, which stretches along the length of this impressive building. The first room featured a well-considered selection of modern and contemporary works, mostly large square paintings, by the likes of Louise Nevelson, Donald Sultan, Ross Bleckner, Eric Freeman and Dan Christensen. Across the hall, the museum’s feature gallery has a quirky and exciting exhibition of paintings, sculpture and prints by Bellport artist Malcolm Morley through January 13.

This extensive collection is rife with images and objects featuring World War I and World War II fighter planes, boats, motorcycles and even an odd armored knight for good measure. Morley’s approach is loose, humorous and colorful, while also examining the artist’s various obsessions. It’s Morley’s first show in years, according to museum staff, and this exposure should ensure that he is asked to do many more in the coming months.

A brilliant series of Morley’s lithographs featuring paper airplane models also fills one side of the hallway outside. It’s followed one gem after another by artists including Chuck Close, Alice Aycock, Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Dash, Dan Flavin, Dan Rizzie, Joel Shapiro and many more greats.

One of the most striking spaces in the museum, the Harriet and Esteban Vicente Gallery is a wide-open break in the hallway with work by East Enders Richmond Burton, Billy Sullivan and April Gornik, among others. “Tambourine Frappe,” a monolithic 2010 sculpture of crushed cars by John Chamberlain is the room’s most stunning addition, and tall, crystal clear floor to ceiling windows appear like doors to the outside, giving the space and the work within in it plenty of light and breathing room.

Next, the Robert Lehman Foundation Gallery includes a brilliant collection of landscapes spanning three centuries, from iconic William Merritt Chase scenes of Shinnecock Hills and the work of Frederick Childe Hassam, to paintings by Fairfield Porter, Nicolai Cikovsky, Sheridan Lord, and even a video installation by Peter Campus. The adjoining Susan Weber Gallery has more landscapes and portraits by Chase, followed by the Century Arts Foundation Gallery loaded with works by Porter.

The Peter jay Sharp Foundation Gallery across the hall has an extensive array of Vicente paintings and sculpture, and it flows into a sparsely hung gallery with Flavin’s light sculpture “Three Nominal Poles” and an iconic 1983 oil by Willem deKooning, as well as pieces by Jack Youngerman and Keith Sonnier.

The Parrish is off to a good start with its permanent collection and the Morley exhibition. The art alone is well worth the visit, but the museum is offering so much more. Check out the café and the interesting books and treasures at the gift shop, and look out for a host of quality cultural events, including films, talks and educational programs.

Admission is free during the long weekend, Saturday through Monday. For a list of events and more information, call 631-283-2118 or visit www.parrishart.org. Check out the photos here.

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