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Damaged Romanticism: A Provocative Valentine For Art Lovers At The Parrish

Originally Posted: February 12, 2009

Edward Callaghan

A bustling swell of attendees turned out for the opening night of 'Damaged Romanticism' at the Parrish Art Museum, eager to take a glimpse at the first exhibit spearheaded by newly appointed Executive Director Terrie Sultan. Photos by John Wegorzewski

Southampton - Parrish Art Museum staffers were visibly but happily perplexed by the unprecedented turnout for the mid-winter opening of an important exhibition, "Damaged Romanticism, A Mirror of Modern Emotion." Not only was the pre-opening champagne reception and gallery talk for board members and major supporters jammed, but when the doors opened to the general public all the galleries were immediately flooded with curious art lovers.

Executive Director Terrie Sultan conducted a first night tour of the widely
anticipated show.

A museum gift shop worker was heard to say, "Oh my, this is like summer". And indeed it appeared that way to many, including Nina Madison, Parrish Art Museum Director of Special Events who remarked, "We never do a major show in the winter. Usually, we have the student art shows at this time but the scheduling had to be shifted to take advantage of having this extraordinary exhibition here before anywhere else". She, like the rest of the staff, was awed by the solid turnout.

It wasn't just cabin fever that brought out the throngs but a real curiosity to see what newly appointed Executive Director Terrie Sultan would offer as her first public statement with a show that she had organized while at her previous post as director of the Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston.

Fortunately, she was able to mount the show here in an unusual cooperative arrangement with NYU's prestigious Grey Art Gallery whereby the show is running concurrently at both the Parrish and Grey. Works by all 15 of the internationally recognized artists are represented with different works in each show yet all consistent with the theme.

Sultan guided first nighters on a remarkable tour explaining the concept of the show, which given the current economic and political climate, as well as it's opening near Valentine's Day, is genius.

The collision between romantic idealism and the often harsh reality of contemporary life informs the works in the exhibition. Each artist seems to have viewed their subjects in the light of contemporary reality - a grounded tanker becomes less a beach landscape than an indictment of the way in which we treat our environment; a series of images of council flats - a reminder of the poverty found in many cities in industrialized nations, to a painting of an incomplete skyscraper that sends a Sci-Fi Orwellian chill when one thinks of all the condo towers languishing in South Florida.

First nighters view Angelo Filomeno's embroidered fantasy figures on silk.

Sultan herself acknowledged her debt to the writing of Thomas Dahm, and in particular, his "Critical Inquiry" and her own experience seeing art all over the world to realize that "out of crisis comes creativity," as she saw numerous works with a tremendous amount of beauty - "sometimes a terrible, painful beauty."

Pointing to a series of still life paintings by Sophia Calle - a bed with a night table with a telephone atop, repeated in each image and a solitary portrait of her former lover, with white inscribed panels beneath, Sultan explained the artist had been dumped by the lover via a telephone message and to ease her pain asked each of her friends to recount their most devastating experiences which she painted as text on fabric panels to revenge her ex. Displaying a great sense of humor, Sultan joked ,"Never date her - and if you do and break-up you'll wind up in one of her artworks." Sultan referred to these works as created through "exquisite pain."

After the very informative guided tour, most broke into small groups and began discussing both the exhibition and the master vision Sultan brings to The Parrish. The overall consensus was that this is a director that will deftly take the museum into the 21st century with exhibitions and programs likely to challenge as well as please.

Long-time Parrish supporter Alexis Mayer commented passionately, "What a great level this museum is going to get to with Terrie Sultan." Several others nodded enthusiastically and returned to their viewing of a most extraordinary - indeed groundbreaking - show for the Parrish Art Museum.

Rapt listeners to Terrie Sultan's gallery introduction.

In conjunction, the Parrish is offering a number of special programs including "An Evening at the Grey in New York," a series of four films selected by 'Damaged Romanticism' co-curator Colin Gardner of the University of California, Santa Barbara ranging from bittersweet comedy to film noir including the 1953 classic "The Big Heat," Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire," Chinese film, "In the Mood for Love" and Sophia Coppola's rueful, "Lost in Translation."


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