Parrish Chief Curator Alicia Longwell Will Retire After 38 Years

Alicia Longwell
Alicia Longwell
Courtesy of the Parrish Art Museum

Longtime Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Chief Curator at the Parrish Art Museum, Alicia G. Longwell, Ph.D, announced that she will retire from her position after 38 years with the beloved Hamptons arts institution, including its time Southampton Village and the move to its current state of the art, Herzog & de Meuron-designed facility in Water Mill.

Longwell has been an integral and influential force in the East End art scene, championing local, national and international artists, and organizing critically acclaimed exhibitions for decades. These projects, based on extensive scholarship and creative concepts, brought widespread attention to the museum.

“We celebrate Alicia Longwell’s dedication and tremendous contributions the Parrish Art Museum and the field of art through her expertise on the artists of the East End,” new Museum Executive Director Monica Ramirez-Montagut said in the announcement sent out Monday. “Alicia was key in establishing a direction for the Parrish collection and legacy of scholarship and excellence for 38 years,” Ramirez-Montagut continued, adding, “She embodies the passion and knowledge of those few extraordinary curators who so deftly combine the historical and contemporary in exhibitions that generously invite viewers to see art in entirely new contexts. The whole Parrish family is grateful and honored for her unwavering guidance.”

“As my last day at the Parrish fast approaches, I can look back on a career immeasurably enriched by reading, studying and, most importantly, looking at art,” Longwell said. “It has been my great good fortune to have that passion daily rewarded during my years working at the museum alongside dedicated colleagues, a devoted docent corps, and a supportive board of trustees. To be in an artist’s studio looking at art is of course the greatest privilege and the best part of the job. Conveying that same excitement to the visitors in our galleries—bringing art and people together—is what I’ve always hoped to achieve.”

Alicia Longwell ushered the museum into its new building in Water Mill, planning the inaugural installations of the Parrish collection for the 2012 opening that featured the exhibition Malcolm Morley: Painting, Paper, Process (2012). She has organized numerous survey exhibitions including Dorothea Rockburne: In My Mind’s Eye (2011) and North Fork/South Fork: East End Art Now (2004), as well as solo exhibitions on the work of artists Barbara Bloom, Marsden Hartley, Frederick Kiesler, Alan Shields, Esteban Vicente, and Jack Youngerman, among many others.

In addition, Longwell has mined the Parrish Art Museum’s collection of 3,500 works to curate more than 100 thought-provoking thematic exhibitions, often augmented by key loans.

Among her most notable curatorial achievements are Sand: Memory, Meaning and Metaphor (2008), John Graham: Maverick Modernist (2017), and Affinities for Abstraction: Women Artists on Eastern Long Island, 1950-2020 (2021).

The Graham exhibitionfeaturing 65 paintings and a selection of important works on paper, spanned his four-decade career and was the first comprehensive retrospective in 30 years of the influential artist’s work. It garnered positive reviews from national outlets including Artforum, Artnet News and Hyperallergic.

Robert Ayers wrote in ARTnews, “This excellent show, which was conceived, researched, and curated over the last 10 years by the Parrish Art Museum’s Alicia G. Longwell…presents a coherent account of Graham’s career from as early as 1923.” Lance Esplund in the Wall Street Journal called it a ‘vital…a splendid, refreshing retrospective.”

Commenting on the exhibition Sand, Ken Johnson of The New York Times wrote, “Sand: Memory, Meaning and Metaphor, a compendium of artworks made of or about sand at the Parrish Art Museum…offers a chance to meditate on the surprisingly many meanings of one of the world’s cheapest and — when it is in the right place — most precious materials.”

Also in The New York Times, Ted Loos recommended Affinities for Abstraction among Museum Shows with Stories to Tell; and both Gallerie magazine and Conde Nast Traveler singled out the exhibition in feature stories on the Hamptons as destination.  

Alicia Longwell received her PhD from the Graduate Center, City University of New York, where her dissertation topic was John Graham. Throughout her tenure, Longwell was integral in building the Parrish Art Museum’s collection through identifying and pursuing acquisitions, including major works by Ross Bleckner, Mary Heilmann, Lonnie Holley, Elizabeth Peyton, David Salle, Alan Shields, and Joe Zucker.

She has authored many publications for the Parrish including Jane Freilicher and Jane Wilson: Seen and Unseen (2015); William Merritt Chase in the Collection of the Parrish Art Museum (2014); Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet (2013), contributing essay for The Phillips Collection catalogue; American Landscapes: Treasures from the Parrish Art Museum (2010); and First Impressions: Nineteenth-century American Master Prints (2010) — among others.

In a recent interview with Dan Rattiner — where she exhibited an encyclopedic knowledge of the Parrish and its history (much of which she lived or made) — Longwell said she moved the the East End from NYC after working at the Museum of Modern Art, and she applied for a job at the Parrish during a time when she recalled local “Help Wanted” ads sought a “brass belt buckle polisher” and goat herder.

Longwell’s retirement comes just six months after the death of her beloved husband of 46 years, Dennis Longwell, with whom she was inseparable. A renowned art historian, author and professor, Dennis Longwell regularly accompanied his wife to events at the Parrish Art Museum.

“I never thought I would have such access to this kind of extraordinary artists, who are all so articulate about their work,” she told Rattiner about her experience at the Parrish, adding a bit of wisdom that, perhaps, the next chief curator might consider: “Really as curators, all we have to do is listen, I think, and to hear artists speak about their work, which opens extraordinary doors into knowing what the painting is about.”

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