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INTERVIEW: Mike Solomon On Alfonso Ossorio, The Creeks, And More

Nicole Barylski

Solomon's Comfort Zone.

East Hampton Library's 2018 Tom Twomey Lecture Series continues on Saturday, September 15 with The Creeks: Epicenter of the 1950s Hamptons Art Community, with artist Mike Solomon, founding director of the Ossorio Foundation.

We caught up with Solomon to learn more:

Could you speak a bit about the background of The Creeks?

MS: It's considered probably the best property in the Hamptons - the first property in the town of East Hampton as you're going east on 27. It's about 60 acres, a peninsula on Georgica Pond that has a mile of waterfront. It was owned originally by a whaling captain, and then in the late 1800s it was sold to the Herter family, they were eminent designers and furniture makers for the White House and people like that. The Herters built that house and studio in 1899. Their son, Christian Herter, inherited it. He was Secretary of State for Eisenhower. He never lived in it though. When the big hurricane came onto Long Island in '38 it flooded and kind of got left in disrepair. In the late '40s, Alfonso Ossorio, who had become friends with Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, wanted to move to East Hampton and they alerted him about the property and told him it was for sale. He bought it in 1951 and in 1992 it was sold to Ron Perelman who lives there now.

For the Tom Twomey Lecture Series talk, why focus on the 1950s?

MS: Alfonso Ossorio, the talk is primarily about him and the 1950s, he was an incredible man in a number of ways. His art and collecting and generosity towards the arts community was crucial in the establishment of the arts community in the Hamptons and even with major artists in New York. He was a big supporter of Pollock, he bought his paintings, and he also bought Lee Krasner's work - one of the first major collectors of her work. He had a lot of events and parties at The Creeks in the 1950s. He was really the ground zero of a lot of the art world in the Hamptons in the 1950s and was influential everywhere - but, kind of in a more underground way than he ought to be known. Part of the lecture and the work that I did with the Ossorio Foundation, which I founded, was to bring awareness to how important he was in all that.

What impact did Ossorio have on the Hamptons?

MS: He was a collector of Pollock's work and de Kooning, and beyond that almost every artist that worked in the Hamptons in the '50s/'60s and even later. He collected really just to support their work - whether or not they were big deals. There are hundreds of artists whose work he collected and he besides his collection being influential on artists, the parties he had in the '50s people would come to the house and see the works that collected - some works were incredibly difficult to see or very rare - not only American art but art of the Europeans, Jean Dubuffet, who was a very important artist in France. Also, a collection that Dubuffet was championing, which was art made by people in mental intuitions and who were untrained - it was called Art Brut, which the surrealists had discovered and taken over. For ten years, the entire collection of Art Brut was housed and exhibited at The Creeks in some of Ossorio's upper rooms because it was a huge place. There were about 700 items all together in that collection. I don't know that all 700 were exhibited. There was an incredible influence on the American artist to see what was going on elsewhere. There was also the influence of everyone seeing all the art that Ossorio collected. In addition to that, he founded an artist run gallery in East Hampton from 1957 to 1960 called Signa with John Little and Elizabeth Parker. It was probably the most avant-garde gallery in the entire world at the time. So, because he was wealthy and had a broad view of his activism in terms of art, he put these things on. He wasn't selfish at all. There was a major influence in really establishing the entire community of artists in the Hamptons after World War II.

The event will also serve as the opening of Mike Solomon: Variations. Could you speak about the work that will be featured?

MS: These are works that I've done from 2015 to the present. A lot of them were in my show in New York two Junes ago. As the Library was kind enough to offer me a space - it's a small show - we just thought we would sort of do a redo of what we did in New York. I work with various methods of layering transparent media with abstract marks on them. Some of the works are watercolor that is put on rice paper that has been embedded in resin. Some of them are like ten sheets thick and you're looking through the many layers. Newer work is the same concept but I'm using polyester films with acrylics on it to do the same thing. My work is abstract. I use grids or different geometric shapes as the marks for what I do. So, it's a little show for if people didn't get to see in New York. It's a nice opportunity to do a small version of it at the Library.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

MS: One of the things that I'll talk about is as Ossorio was so influential in the '50s and beyond, he encouraged a lot of other people to sort of carry on the community activity that he did. My parents, my father was also a well-known artist out there who showed at the Signa gallery with Ossorio. So, my parents did a lot of activity in the '60s in the Hamptons, but that's a whole other chapter. There's going to be a show at Guild Hall opening October 20th on my father's work called Concealed and Revealed. Because I organized Ossorio's archives and spent 12 years doing that and found how valuable it was; people think of artists' artwork as being most valuable after their death - that's a real cliché - what people don't realize is the papers and letters and correspondence and brochures and all the things that they kept during their lives are kind of equally as important - especially to art historians who are really the ones that are going to eventually determine how important an artist is over a long period of time, in a real way. And so in learning about that and realizing it and discovering it and really changing that - that was the way in which I changed Ossorio's own reputation from that of a collector - which the art establishment really liked to see him as - to a very important artist. If you equate it, it was like someone who would hardly get a show, except maybe in the Hamptons late in life, now when the new Whitney opened, they had one of his pieces next to a Pollock. The way in which I changed that was to bring an art historian to study the archives and they realized from those papers, as well as looking at the work, how influential and important Ossorio was. I'm doing a similar thing now with my parents' papers, creating what's called a Solomon archive.

The Creeks: Epicenter of the 1950s Hamptons Art Community will begin at 6 p.m. and admission is free, however registering in advance is requested.

East Hampton Library is located at 159 Main Street in East Hampton. For more information, visit tomtwomeyseries.org.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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