Willoughby Offers a More Intimate Art Experience in Southold
In a time when people are gathering over Zoom and connecting online to an ever-expanding circle, it’s no surprise that some are welcoming a push in the opposite, more intimate direction.
On the North Fork, at the former home of Southold’s Ellis House bed and breakfast, Hamptons art figure Pamela Willoughby and her friend and partner Johnny Pierce have created WILLOUGHBY, a new space to bring art and the people who make, love, buy and sell it, together in a close, personal setting.
“I’m calling it a salon not a gallery,” Willoughby says of her eponymous space. “It’s a place for gathering and art and viewing, and buying and selling of art. And that’s what I want it to be. I want it to be casual.”
The house has been beautifully remodeled and reconfigured, including all the furniture, with a keen eye toward wonderful interior design, while respecting and highlighting its history. Ceilings and floors are adorned with 200-year-old wood and, of course, fabulous art hangs throughout its bedrooms, hallways and living room.
Currently well entrenched in the East End and NYC art world, Willoughby got her start in the early 2000s as the only employee of Mark Borghi gallery in Bridgehampton. Borghi had just uncovered what became an infamous selection of Jackson Pollock works from the estate of Mercedes Matter, at her Wainscott storage space. The previously unknown early Pollock drip paintings were part of a trove of 32 paintings by the artist on boards and paper, so she was thrown into the big leagues quickly — and learned fast.
Then, after six years of absorbing all the knowledge possible on Abstract Expressionism and Postmodernism, Willoughby went on to cofound The City Firm, a private showroom in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood managing client relations, art advisory and exhibition production.
But well before all that, Willoughby worked as a chef and lived in one of the most important art scenes in modern history — Downtown NYC in the 1980s. Working in some of the hottest dining spots at the time, she moved in the same circles as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol, and absorbed the creative spirit of the era alongside icons such as Larry Rivers, Rene Ricard, Allen Ginsberg and others.
And while she eventually left for a more relaxing life out east, the art and flavor of this period remained with her. It’s quite apparent in her latest eclectic show at WILLOUGHBY, which is open through June 16 and features work by Agathe Snow, William Rand, Suzannah Wainhouse, Peter Dayton, Joe Gaffney, Vito Acconci, Johan Wahlstrom, Christa Maiwald, Randy Polumbo, Blair Seagram, Ricard and Basquiat.
“My vision is historical from the ’80s — a lot of that, especially Rene (Ricard) things,” she says. “I also have younger artists who are coming into their own. They’re not really emerging because they’ve already emerged,” Willoughby continues, adding that Snow has shown prominently at the Guggenheim Museum in Berlin, Germany, and Wainhouse “is getting grabbed up by a lot of different venues in Europe. … She’s a name that’s getting out there.”
For this show, the artists all know each other, the curator says, describing the thread that connects the current works on view.
“My other vision is that these are artists who are going to stay. It’s not just a place where I’m going to have a show of these people and they’re gone,” Willoughby points out. “It’s not like New York where they have a show and that’s it for the person. They’re sticking around. I want to have a core group.”
In July, for example, she’s putting together works by Ricard, the late poet, sage and rebel art critic of NYC’s downtown, and Wainhouse, blending the legendary with the vibrant and contemporary.
And the experience doesn’t end with art viewing. Just like the salons that began in Paris in the 16th century, WILLOUGHBY is about a meeting of minds, the exchange of thoughts and ideas, and the sharing of passions, face to face.
“So, there’s the big room and there is the room that people can sit in afterwards and have a drink and have a coffee or whatever they want — it’s called the library. Right now I have Joe Gaffney photography in that room,” she says, noting that Gaffney worked in Paris at Vogue in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, and his photography is fantastic and varied. “There will be a photo of Paloma Picasso and the next photo will be ‘Shit-faced in Paris,’” Willoughby laughs.
There’s more photography in the big hallway when you go upstairs. “I’m calling that the mezzanine, so the art is running through the whole place,” she says. “Every place, even the bedrooms are full of paintings.” As it should be.
Willoughby’s taste is impeccable and her accomplishments are many, including sitting on the Arts Committee of LongHouse Reserve, and leading many other art events, benefits and exhibitions.
Learn more and schedule a private viewing at pamelawilloughbyart.com or stop by during open weekend hours (Friday–Sunday, noon–6 p.m.).