May 31, 2006

In The Gallery

Acrylic on canvas: above, Dan Christensen's Double Stuffed. (click for larger version)
"Men's Work, I" at Leif Hope's Restaurant, 31 Race Lane, East Hampton

Curator Elena Prohaska has mounted an intelligent and attractive show in "Men's Work, I," selecting works of some 40 or so local artists, all men (a women's show was held last month) and arranging the pieces in a way that is itself artistic, taking into account color, size, medium and genre. But don't look for anyone whose last name starts with M through Z. They'll be in "Men's Work, II." How else to divide the embarrassment of riches, representational and abstract? Each day that she set out to visit an artist, says Prohaska, who lives in Springs, "I found myself looking at another studio, no matter what direction I took." Some works were instantly familiar, Eugene Brodsky's signature NB & TT Storyboard #5, ink on silk raised blocks, for example, others reflective of relatively new directions, such as Nebula #4 by octogenarian Paul Brach.

The exhibit proves memorable in other ways as well. It's arguably the best example of art in a restaurant — one of the season's hot spots, yet — and it's art for a cause. At least 50% of each artist's proceeds will go to Phoenix House, East Hampton Day Care and East End Hopsice, with 50% going to the artists themselves. Robert Dash, who offered his 1962 From the Sky, a lovely pastel on paper, is giving over all of his proceeds to the charities. The show also brings back a wonderful bit of Hamptons history when, over 25 years ago, "Women at the Laundry," followed soon by "Men at the Laundry," inaugurated art in dining spaces and wowed the community with the blockbuster talent in its midst. Some of the original artists are exhibiting again, with two works each – – Francesco Bologna, Ralph Carpentier, Elwood Howell, Claus Hoie, Vincent Longo. Others, new to some viewers, perhaps, will prompt admiration, such as Derek Buchkner, for his small, luminous oil Figures on the Beach.

The placement of canvases, installations, photographs, editioned prints and sculpture at once impresses, starting with Carpentier's elegant View to Bluff Road, to the right of the restaurant's entrance, its muted-color composition of houses in the dunes claiming one of the restaurant's warm brick walls all to itself. Directly across the floor, Eric Ernst's attention-getting blue and green acrylic and mixed media No Possibility of Reconciliation guns for (and gets) a totally different impact. Michael Cain might also claim early attention, since diners coming in from the parking may pass his smooth, welded bronze abstract, Deconstructed Ferro sitting in the window. What's remarkable is not only who's represented here but how well they all hang in their appointed spots. Don't forget to look up at the columns that mark off the restaurant's cozy dining areas (hello Arnold Arnow's tactile acrylic on canvas Quattro 2006), or take a slow turn around the back room where John Alexander's witty, politically charged lithograph, Raven on a Flagpole hangs inches away from Peter Chanin's intricate b & w design of ink marker on rag paper, The Observer, and from Bill King's minimalist but instantly recognizable ink and wash Self-portrait.

A curator has to start somewhere, of course, and for Prohaska that was Hiroyuki Hamada, new to her, whose large, incredibly intricate plaster and mixed media disc Untitled #37, too heavy for a brick wall, hovers discreetly (and safely) above a dining table. How serendipitous that Dan Christensen had on hand his slightly ominous-looking galactic black and purple Double Stuffed acrylic on canvas, which hangs nearby. Diners should particularly note the southeast photo wall, which includes Dan Budnik's strikingly serene b & w, David Smith South Field Terminal Iron Works, Burt Glinn's eye-stopping Superman/The Movie, Carlo Grossman's moody, subtly colored Storm at Lord House, and Doug Kuntz's colorful Rough Surf, which sits alongside Thomas Hoepker's b & w Glacier Landscape, Mount Moreno, both pieces complementing each other with similar flecks of light.

"Men's Work, I" works because of a spirit of camaraderie and a salon atmosphere that seem to pervade the exhibit. Many artists volunteered their time to help hang the show, Prohaska points out, but she also traces the sense of fellowship to a tradition that goes back almost a half century, when Leif Hope started the artists and writers softball games. Certainly diners will have more to feast on than they anticipated. And it is hoped that those artists not mentioned here, because of limitations of space, know that they are good, and in good company.

"Men's Work, 1" runs through June 11. Stay tuned for "Men's Work, II."

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