The COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of businesses and organizations across the globe to pause and rethink their strategies, concoct creative solutions to new challenges and raise awareness of this evolution to keep from sinking in the storm that is 2020. Here on the East End, the Parrish Art Museum accomplished this in manner that’s nigh impossible to miss, seeing as the exhibition’s monumental installations stand several feet tall on Montauk Highway in Water Mill.
The inaugural Field of Dreams exhibition, part of the “Art in the Meadow” outdoor initiative, was born out of the pandemic. With museum doors closed since March, and the calendar counting down the days of summer, the Parrish team had to think of something huge to bring guests back to the museum in a safe but exciting way. And after Terrie Sultan stepped down from the position of Parrish director in May, eyes turned to President Mary E. Frank to lead the creative direction of the museum during these critical months.
“You can’t have a summer in the Hamptons without something at the Parrish,” Frank recalls thinking. “Sometimes it’s urgency that drives the best creativity…and we had the urgency of fulfilling our responsibility to our constituency, our membership and our community.”
In an ingenious move to both create a safe, open-air art viewing experience and attract more visitors to the Parrish—including those who’ve mistaken the Parrish for a warehouse or a barn—Frank came up with the museum’s first outdoor exhibition. She called her friend Paul Gray, the principal at Richard Gray Gallery, to inquire about giant sculptures that he may be willing to loan to the museum. She then invited Mary Margaret Jones, President of HargreavesJones, Landscape Architects, to visit the Parrish’s 14-acre grounds and devise a plan for the placement of large-scale installations and walking paths.
When Frank heard back from Gray, he was eager to report that Spain-based artist Jaume Plensa had a suite of four never-before-seen sculptures—Carlota, Julia, Wilsis and Laura Asia—that he wanted to debut at the Parrish. Following the August 7 museum reopening, more sculptures came pouring in throughout the next two months from Richard Gray Gallery, Kasmin Gallery, Galerie Lelong & Co. and Loretta Howard Gallery. From German artist Max Ernst came Big Brother, Grand Grenouille, Séraphine-chérubin and Séraphin le neophyte. From French artist Bernar Venet came the steel Arcs in Disorder. And from artist hailing from the U.S. came Jim Dine’s works of bronze, The Hooligan and The Wheatfield, Theaster Gates’s Monument in Waiting and Joel Shapiro’s Untitled.
Glenn Fuhrman, who loaned Roy Lichtenstein’s Tokyo Brushstrokes to the Parrish beginning in 2014, donated two additional works—Two Orchids by German sculptor Isa Genzken and Idee di pietra by Italian artist Giuseppe Penone.
Finally, Frank asked Hamptons artist Joel Perlman to submit his first artwork to the Parrish, so he suggested his 1989 work Eastgate, which just so happened to be down the street at Liberty Iron Works. The sculpture was purchased as a gift and added to the Parrish’s Permanent Collection, rounding out the 17 installations by 10 international artists in Field of Dreams.
“It all just, it happened! And it happened in 60 days,” Frank remarks. “Nobody can believe, I can’t even believe it, looking back on it from the inception of this idea to getting those plans for the meadow done to working with curators and coming up with a curatorial vision.”
Frank notes that not every work reviewed was selected for the show, as she and her team were working to weave a curatorial thread through the meadow beginning with figurative work and transitioning to more abstracted work as visitors walk along the pathway. The collection of chosen sculptures tells a story of hope that’s shining a light in dark times.
Since the completion of the exhibition, East Hampton artist Scott Bluedorn’s seemingly controversial Bonac Blind installation was added, moving to the meadow from its former location on Accabonac Harbor.
The majority of works in the Field of Dreams are on loan until June 2021, though Frank notes that the free outdoor exhibition will not simply conclude there. “It will not end—it will evolve,” she says, adding that while the show will continue to transform organically, the timely name will likely change in the future. “It’s such a good name right now because we all want to dream of a time when this pandemic is over, and life can resume the way it used to be…. You’ll go back to it next summer, I hope, look at it and say, ‘Wow! I remember the first time I saw this, and things have changed so much. Things have gotten so much better, and this had helped me get through this difficult time.’ That’s the reward I take out of this project.”
The Parrish is hosting docent-led tours of Field of Dreams on Friday, December 18, 3–4:30 p.m. To learn more and reserve your spot, visit parrishart.org.