Southampton Village Is an Artist’s Paradise

Stephan Kezsler with Wet Dog by Banksy
Stephan Kezsler with Wet Dog by Banksy

Something has happened to Southampton’s art scene. There has been a shift in galleries and art centers with new names, new locations and new approaches. And they’re not getting smaller.

Taking a stroll through town starting from the east, the Hill Street Gallery is a new kid on the block, located across from the movie theater. The space, an oversized storefront nestled between a surf shop and a real estate office, has large windows front and back, with beautiful natural light to brighten the high ceilings.

Director Debbie Gelfand says, “We’ll see how it goes. We’d like to be a year-round gallery.”

Tripoli Gallery of Contemporary Art at 30A Jobs Lane has a “youthquake” movement going on. Owner Tripoli Patterson has deep roots in the area, is a champion surfer and has serious art world connections. At just 29, he just curated his 9th Annual Thanksgiving Collective and is in his fifth year at the current Jobs Lane location. This year’s Collective, on view through mid-January of 2014, features new paintings by Melanie Moczarski, Nick Weber, Jonathan Beer and Aakash Nihalani (whose tape installations greeted patrons of the Parrish Art Museum at their Midsummer Party).

Tripoli shows work by local artists of international renown, like Eric Freeman, Ross Bleckner, Mary Heilmann and Keith Sonnier, to name a few, and this summer brought in works by masters like Roy Lichtenstein, Willem de Kooning, Fairfield Porter and William Merrit Chase for the museum-quality “Water” show. His openings are packed with a lively crowd filled with younger generations of de Koonings and Schnabels. He had an exhibition booth for the first time this year at artMRKT which showcased an impressive series of “Wave Paintings” by Darius Yektai.

Tripoli Patterson
Tripoli Patterson, Photo: Oliver Peterson

Across the street at 25 Jobs Lane is the new Southampton Center, at the former Parrish Museum location. Plans are underway to fully restore and renovate the historic building with architecture firm Machado & Silvetti to make it more flexible for a variety of events. The space had been filled to the gills for decades with the Parrish’s shows and it never had enough room for their permanent collection. The advisory council includes Alec Baldwin and Chuck Scarborough, so perhaps more media and films are on the way.

Driving up North Sea Road, you’ll see the Keszler Gallery has taken up permanent residence in the old power station at 200 North Sea Road, utilizing both the rough industrial interior and the raised outside grassy front as a sculpture exhibit space.

Owner Stephan Keszler has closed his downtown Southampton space, as well as his Manhattan gallery, though he still maintains an office in the city. Keszler first used the space for his controversial Banksy exhibit in 2011, and there are still large (non-authenticated) Banksy wall artworks on display.

“Look at this space,” he enthuses, gesturing up to the vaulted heights. “The ceiling, the light. It’s just a great flexible space for all kinds of art. We put in some walls, and updated the ventilation system. This will be my main location now.”

The spaces formerly occupied by some galleries in Main Street storefronts in Southampton have experienced growing pains in just a few seasons. Artists are usually looking to trade up to bigger sized art with public commissions and museums in mind.

Andrea Bejsovec of Chrysalis Gallery
Andrea Bejsovec, Photo: Courtesy Chrysalis Gallery

In a bittersweet move, Andrea Bejsovec became the new owner of Chrysalis Gallery in Southampton. The mainstay corner gallery at Main and Hill Street was owned by Agnes Ehrenreich for 19 years, before her sudden passing in July.

“I had been working at the Mercedes-Benz dealership for many years,” says Bejsovec, “and had seen Agnes there on occasion. She was always so elegant looking, even when I could see she was frustrated about some issues she was having with her car. When I decided to make a career move she offered to take me on and teach me everything she knew about art, as I did not have much background.”

Bejsovec is originally from California where she attended UCLA and studied psychology. Her degree has helped in her high-end sales positions, as reading peoples’ needs and wants is a big part of it. She is married and has three daughters and three chihuahuas.

“After I started at Chrysalis I read as much as I could and took courses in art history. After a few years, I felt ready to open my own gallery but then Agnes offered me a partnership contract, which I accepted. This is such a wonderful cornerstone location, and I came to really love the people and customers and artists here. She was already in her 70s, and while she was not looking to retire she was looking to the future. She was from Hungary, and at one point had been a chemist, so had quite a varied background.

“She really cared about everyone to the point where we had 60 artists represented at the gallery,” Bejsovec continues. “It was difficult to show them all and give them the attention they need, even with two floors of exhibition space and a back garden, but she had a hard time letting go of any of them.”

Ehrenreich had surgery in July and was released from the hospital. By the time her husband got her home, she had a complication and passed away.

“It was such a shock,” Bejsovec says, “I closed the gallery to grieve and sort out the legal end of things. After a few weeks I felt better and realized I needed to get the gallery open again as it was still summer and I know she would have wanted it that way. I also had many calls from the community asking me to please stay open and keep this space.” But with the reopening came house-cleaning.

“I needed to pare down our artist roster, so I soon got our list down to 30 artists, cleaned the gallery out a bit to give the work some breathing room, and put in a bench and comfortable chairs,” she says. “The collectors we have are smart and buy what they like for their homes here—I wanted to make it feel more welcoming and open for them and for new visitors.”

Bejsovec says she knows the personal stories of every artist she represents now and feels she can devote more exhibition space and time       to them.

“I plan to do about five exhibitions a year to spotlight a few artists at a time. All our artists are living and while we primarily have painters, we have been doing well with sculpture and I want to utilize the back garden more as an exhibition space.”

The gallery will also be exhibiting more contemporary and abstract works by new and young artists, a whole area in the lower floor has been set up to showcase this now.

“Agnes taught me so much, and I will certainly keep her spirit in the gallery,” Bejsovec says. “I want to continue to be part of the community here and honor the promise I made to her. I found a place here that I really care for, and I believe artists are special people who look at life with an open heart.”

Between the spectrum of galleries, a doubling in size of Art Southampton fair this summer and the ever-expanding exhibitions at the new Parrish Art Museum, Southampton Town is becoming a center of a thriving art

The Southampton Center
The Southampton Center, Photo: S.H. Shulman

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