Work on Monday: The Mysterious Realms of Caldor by Carly Haffner

Long before Kmart and TJMaxx ruled the Bridgehampton Commons, Caldor was the Hamptons’ greatest and only big-box department store. It was the place to find everything one could need without heading west to Riverhead, the Smith Haven Mall or Manhattan. But for kids, it was also the focus of many an insult. “Where’d you get those sneakers? Caldor?” was just one of a litany of similar barbs, which often exchanged the primary “Caldor” reference for a more colloquial and specific “CalPro.” So, for example, the sneakers jab would become, “Nice sneakers—what are they, CalPro?” And on it went.

Yet, in spite of this ugliness, that large brown and orange store holds great, nostalgic esteem for locals of a certain age. Clearly, this is the case for Carly Haffner, who paints her ode to the pioneering department store and its place in the Hamptons’ evolving retail history. “The Mysterious Realms of Caldor” is an apt title for this quirky painting, which has a sensibility as oddly appealing as its subject.

The Mysterious Realms of Caldor
Carly Haffner (Sag Harbor, b. 1978)
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 12 inches, 2013

As far as color, perspective and texture, everything is wrong with this piece, yet together the imperfections are obtuse enough to make everything exactly right. Here, truly, are the “mysterious realms” Haffner so often paints.

The building itself becomes an erected stage set—a two-dimensional plywood ghost town from bygone Western films. Adding to this desolate feeling is the empty parking lot, which appears either rain slicked or as some kind of mirage, luring unsuspecting shoppers to park and then fall and tumble into a limitless void. The red post and broken strand of brightly colored flags tells the viewer this was once a place full of promise, the main event where such events are few and far between. Meanwhile, the outrageously blue sky is home to what appear to be red, upturned tables, slowly receding into the murk.

It’s difficult to say whether Haffner is a naive painter with an excellent eye, or an academic painter with an excellent eye for the naive — and it doesn’t really matter. When the result sings as boldly as “The Mysterious Realms of Caldor,” I’ll take CalPro over Nike any day of the week.

Work on Monday is a weekly look at one piece of art related to the East End, usually by a Hamptons or North Fork artist, living or dead, created in any kind of media. Join the conversation by posting your thoughts in the comments below and email suggestions for a future Work on Monday here.

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