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Quiet Strengths in East End Show

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Fairfield Porter subtle intimacy sets standard for Southampton’s Parrish exhibition of East End artists

This summer’s exhibition at the Parrish has a simple premise: to survey recent work by artists who live and work at least part of the time on the eastern end of Long Island.

Figural imagery abounds here-painted, photographed, or painted but derived from photographs. In the entire two-part exhibition, 29 out of 44 artists fall into one of these categories. There are also several artists’ choice segments. Part 1 (through July 18) has a section selected by Elizabeth Peyton, which brings historical painters of eastern Long Island into the show, including Fairfield Porter and William Merritt Chase.

Fairfield Porter’s beautiful, muffled portrait of John MacWhinnie inadvertently dominates Part 1. Though not a photo-based painter, Porter absorbed the downbeat ambience of the brownie snapshot, a standard image-maker in the 50s and early 60s. The MacWhinnie portrait looks back to the wan interiors of Vuillard and forward to the painterly photographs of William Eggleston. It is such a great painting I could only consider the other works in the show in relation to it.

Peyton, represented by a landscape and a portrait, seems weak in comparison to Porter but Porter may have looked a little underdone at first, too In fact, Peyton’s work, like Porter’s, reveals itself slowly. It is two weeks later as I write this and I can still clearly recall her landscape painting. That is the best test I know. It is made up of few marks, but they are amazingly deft ones. Peyton avoids the “Wow.” This may be the only job left for painting—to be unassuming and slowly establish a permanent intimacy.

Jessica Craig-Martin’s tough, intelligent photograph “Parrish Museum Benefit, Southampton, 2001” has a charm that belies its large scale, and is a reminder of Porter’s penchant for using a just-after-dinner tables laden with flowers as motifs. Elsewhere, Jane Freilicher, Robert Gober, and Vija Celmins show works that are serenely powerful as usual. A number of artist talks are scheduled, including an interview with Jane Freilicher on July 11.

Part 2 (beginning July 25) promises works by Lynda Benglis, Joe Zucker, and Billy Sullivan, who has a painting in the catalogue, a beautiful nude called “Sirpa Milk,” that may well be the best painting with a milk carton in it since—yes—Fairfield Porter.

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Updated 5:14 pm, July 20, 2018
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