Just in time for HarborFest weekend, Keyes Art in Sag Harbor will unveil a new solo exhibition featuring the work of late Cuban-born painter Nela Arias-Misson. The show, titled Faith, debuts with an opening reception on Saturday, September 10, 5–7 p.m., and will remain on view through October 23.
“It is probably our most exciting thing we’ve ever done. … No one has shown her work before,” says Julie Keyes, the gallery’s owner and namesake. “This is a major gallery endeavor in our little suburb of Sag Harbor.”
Studying under Hans Hofmann, a key player in the Abstract Expressionism movement in the 1940s and 50s, Arias-Misson connected with other influential artists, including Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Karel Appel, Walasse Ting and Franz Kline. Around that time, she visited the Hamptons to work with the legendary likes of Elaine de Kooning and Lee Krasner. After spending time overlapping with the art students of The New York School, Arias-Misson moved to Ibiza, Spain in 1960.
According to painter and art expert George Negroponte, her European chapter resulted in some of her most essential work. “The paintings she made generate a gravitational pull, and these mysterious objects demand closer inspection. Each painting is a story filled with quixotic associations,” he writes. “Arias-Misson employs a far more reductive attitude in these works and compresses the energy of her earlier work (she sublimates it) into magical constructs that appear playful, comic and intimate.”
Once Arias-Misson moved back to the U.S. in 1976, to New Jersey, she lived quietly — continuing to paint but only exhibiting her art rarely. That is, until 1993 when a car accident rendered her unable to paint. She then moved to New York City, then to Miami, where she eventually died in 2015, less than two months shy of her 100th birthday.
Her works are now quite valuable, with Keyes reporting that prices begin at $60,000. “We have museums lining up for this work,” she says. “Carmen Herrera is the biggest thing in the auction circuit right this minute in the art world. This is better.”
Arias-Misson is just one of many artists with East End ties that Keyes shows in her gallery, and that doesn’t just happen by chance. “People come to my gallery all the time and they say a couple of things. One is, ‘Do you carry local or international artists?’ My answer is: ‘The local artists in my community are de Kooning, Pollock, Rothko,” she says. “And we’re not talking the artists who live in our town: Eric Fischl, April Gornik. The artists who live in our town are big names on the international stage.”
Opening her gallery in Sag Harbor has been fruitful, as it not only attracts serious art buyers due to the artistic reputation of the village, but it multiplies the chances Keyes may bump into a renowned artist like Fischl and ask to see his latest work.
“To open a gallery here, you have an opportunity, if you play it correctly, to do something that art dealers in New York spend their careers trying to figure out,” she says of the benefits of access to respected artists, as well as undiscovered gems such as Walter Bobbie, director of Chicago the musical. He recently asked Keyes to assess his art, and she loved it so much that she included him in a group show with Fay Lansner and Adrianne Lobel (open through Friday, September 9).
Keyes adds that the Village of Sag Harbor and the people within its borders have been instrumental to her gallery’s establishment and continued success. “The community helped me get my sh*t together on a level that no other place I’ve ever been would’ve done that,” she says. “I am a product of what the Sag Harbor community does for its residents.”
Keyes Art is located at 45 Main Street, Sag Harbor. To learn more, visit juliekeyesart.com.