NYC/Hamptons gallery owner Lou Meisel is considered “the father of photorealism.” A pioneer of the Soho art world, Meisel first opened on Madison Avenue where most of his colleagues were located.
He recognized Soho’s potential “which was a warehouse district vacated by garment and graphic arts factories…where landlords were renting to artists for ‘almost nothing.’” The Louis K. Meisel Gallery on Prince Street was one of Soho’s first in 1972. Today this section has more than 300 galleries.
A Midwood, Brooklyn native, Meisel waxes historic on how artists initially came to the Hamptons: “The Long Island Rail Road began operating as far as Montauk at the end of the 19th century. Cameras existed but didn’t function well, and many people did not own one. In the 1890s, the privately owned LIRR brought 100 artists—a number of them great American realists—to the East End for a three-month free summer vacation. The LIRR wanted the artists to produce paintings so they could show people what is out there. By the end of that summer, those artists proclaimed ‘We are not going back—we are staying here!’ Communities like Springs and East Hampton became artists colonies.”
Meisel continues how “in the 1930s, European surrealist painters immigrated to New York, meeting up with the abstract expressionists. They all visited the Hamptons. Collectors and dealers followed.”
As for his own arrival out east, “In 1959, I came to the Hamptons with a sleeping bag, sleeping on the beach in Amagansett! I became involved in the Hamptons because this is where the artists were. One of the first who I repped, Audrey Flack, is now 90 years old and still going strong in East Hampton. It was very logical for me to be here,” he reminisces.
In 1984, I explained to a Hamptons real estate broker I had $300,000 to spend. I want the biggest house I can get for that money and I do not care where it is,” Meisel describes. “She took me to Sagaponack, where very few people were living. The name sounded weird. People hadn’t heard of it. She showed me a house that I calculated was five miles from Southampton, five miles from Sag Harbor, five miles from East Hampton. It was cheap, $400,000. Then I bought my two-acre sculpture field next door for $200,000. It was beautiful, open with the beach. Sagaponack is now one of the most in-demand places. We made the right decision—Sagaponack has been wonderful.
For more than 10 years now, we would come out on a Thursday night and return to NYC on a Sunday or Monday night—usually spending half the week in both places. Since the pandemic, I stay in the Hamptons but return to NYC one day a week.”
Meisel, 78, and his wife, Susan, met as teenagers. They have been married 54 years in what he defines as “An absolute partnership. Susan is an artist—I sold over a thousand of her paintings. She is a real estate broker, starting the first brokerage in Soho, then Tribeca. She is a restaurateur, operating Armin & Judy in Bridgehampton.”
In Manhattan and on the East End, Meisel is known for presenting his harmonious blend of classical music and art, including concerts at the Parrish Museum, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and more. He also owns eight buildings on Montauk Highway by Water Mill and Bridgehampton. He has put sculptures by his properties and initiated a Montauk Highway socially distant sculpture tour this past August, which he plans to run for a year: Fifteen sculptures from Water Mill to his Sagaponack 30-piece sculpture field, presenting Hamptons artists.
Now he is working with Dan’s Papers publisher Vicki Schneps and Southampton officials to invite artists to exhibit their sculptures outdoors throughout the town for a Dan’s Papers Tour.