Inside Four Shows at East Hampton’s Guild Hall

The entrance of Guild Hall in East Hampton was packed last Saturday evening as art admirers flocked to the opening of four new exhibitions. From abstract art from the permanent collection, to contemporary artist Frank Wimberley’s luminous canvases, to John Berg’s masterfully designed record covers, to Fritz Leddy’s photographs of a bygone East Hampton, viewers could wander from gallery to gallery sampling or indulging in a variety of artwork.

Intent on seeing all four shows, I began making my way through, starting with the Woodhouse Gallery, the largest of the four spaces and home to Abstraction: Selections from the Guild Hall Museum Permanent Collection. The selection did not favor, in particular, their heavy-hitter AbEx painters like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, as one might expect, but rather diplomatically represented a handful of East End Abstract Expressionists, some of whose work is rarely on public display. One striking example was a small painting by Syd Solomon, “Coastal II,” 1960. The painting, as the title suggests, is a blue and grey geometrical abstraction of the coast, evocative of one of the rocky jetties you might see at an East Hampton beach. Equally intriguing was a bronze sculpture by Ibram Lassaw, “Caryatids V,” 1969, where areas of metal change color and take the shape of rolled paper inside of a box-like structure. More quintessentially Abstract Expressionist was James Brooks’ “Floxum,” 1955, which had a rough, matte surface and a sense of action painting behind the broad brushstrokes.

The transition from the Woodhouse Gallery into the adjoining Spiga Gallery was smooth, as contemporary American artist Frank Wimberely’s paintings carry on the tradition of his AbEx predecessors, exploring the medium of paint and the surface of the canvas. Using acrylic, Wimberely achieves incredibly bright hues, at times creating an impasto so heavy it becomes sculptural, and at other times scantily applying it and allowing the texture of the underlying canvas to peek through. Wimberely has been a part-time resident of the East End for 40 years and is the winner of the 72nd Annual Guild Hall Artist Members Exhibition.

Down a corridor, and into the Wasserstein Gallery, I came upon John Berg’s exhibition of album covers and was instantly in synch with other admirers talking about which ones they owned. Now retired to East Hampton, Berg’s role as Art Director at Columbia Records during the ’60s and ’70s was to listen to each album and select the best photographer, model, location and illustrator to bring to life his vision for the cover of the record. The display of album artwork stirred nostalgia for the excitement of buying a new record, since replaced with downloading tracks, and simultaneously enjoying the visual and auditory experience. Of the 5,000 albums he designed, the selection included covers he did for Bob Dylan, Chicago, Simon and Garfunkel, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Bruce Springsteen, to name a few. In all of them, it was evident that each decisive element, from text to layout, was crucial to the aesthetic of final product.

Lastly, in the Moran Gallery, is a beautiful collection of photographs by Fritz Leddy, a follow-up to the well-received 2006 exhibition Our Town, which first displayed his work. Leddy was the Chief of the East Hampton Police Department from 1937 to 1968 and in 1999, 12 years after his death, boxes of his negatives, taken with a large-format camera, were found in the basement of the police station and developed. The exhibition is immediately engaging on both an artistic and historical level, as one can appreciate his talent and also take note of how iconic places like Main Street and the Main Beach pavilion have changed and yet stayed the same. A book placed at the entrance invites the audience to jot down any names of friends and relatives they can identify in the pictures.

These four shows beg to be seen more than once, and maybe even one at a time. Crowds on opening night were surprisingly evenly dispersed throughout the four galleries, proving in a way that the exhibitions complemented each other by attracting a variety of viewers and then perhaps broadening their individual experiences.

These four shows are on view until January 6, 2013 at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street in East Hampton. 631-324-0806, www.guildhall.org

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