Tommy Mottola Makes Waves

Tommy Mottola’s new Gallery Valentine is calling attention to itself on Main Street in East Hampton. Morgan McGivern

    Tommy Mottola has entered the East Hampton art community with a space on Main Street called Gallery Valentine and both guns blazing.
    At the opening last weekend, he told The Wall Street Journal that “there’s never been a serious gallery out here in the Hamptons.” It was a statement that some people who have been showing art on the South Fork for years found “offensive” and “uninformed.”
    There have always been two types of galleries on the South Fork, those that work in the primary marketplace fostering established and emerging artists and offering works new to the public, and those that work in the secondary marketplace, buying previously owned art either directly from a collector or by auction.
    Gallery Valentine’s eclectic and expensive art offerings, many from Mr. Mottola’s personal collection, appear to fall into the latter category. The gallery is showing works by Robert Rauschenberg, Mel Bochner, Willem de Kooning, Alex Katz, Fernand Leger, and other blue-chip, well-known artists. Attempts to reach gallery representatives by phone and e-mail had not been responded to by press time.
    James Salomon, a dealer who has shown work for several years in a warehouse space in East Hampton and who now has a West Chelsea gallery, was the first to respond in a letter to The Star: “The comment was uneducated and uninformed, with no sense of history within the community and region,” he wrote.
    He went on to mention several galleries that are dedicated to fostering artists and presenting programs that are both homegrown and international in their scope. While galleries here such as the Drawing Room and the Fireplace Project are well respected and receiving attention far beyond the South Fork art community, their focus on a direct relationship with the artists they show might not be the correct comparison. Mr. Mottola told The Wall Street Journal that he did not know whether he would try to represent his own stable of artists.
    South Fork galleries that show work similar in name recognition and price to Mr. Mottola’s offerings tend to operate in a manner more akin to those of Ruth Vered and Mark Borghi, for instance.
    Mr. Borghi said Mr. Mottola’s comments were “offensive,” adding, “serious is such a stupid word. I’m not sure what Mr. Mottola is talking about. To waltz into town with a pop-up store and announce you’re the first serious gallery is very insulting to the people who have been here for years.”
    He added that John Elderfield, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, had been in to see his current show of works by de Kooning, including 10 from the artist’s series of “Women,” from Elaine de Kooning’s estate. MoMA will put up a de Kooning show in the fall. “To recreate this show would be impossible,” Mr. Borghi said. “We’re extremely proud of doing this.”
    By comparison, he said, “to drop a quarter-million on rent means you’re a guy with a lot of money.” He continued, “I’ve been out here for a while. I pay rent year round and advertise in the local papers. Either you’re here or you’re not here.”
    Ms. Vered had not read the article last week when reached for comment, but she said she welcomed new galleries in East Hampton. “It’s like in Manhattan when you have a lot of good galleries in one building, it becomes the good building to go to. If there is wonderful art in East Hampton, then people will come to East Hampton to look at that art.”
    Still, she took exception to the idea that she was not considered a serious dealer. “I have very important artists in my gallery. Just looking around my room, I have six Warhols, Modigliani, a Pollock, a Man Ray, Eric Fischl, Joseph Cornell, and Wayne Thiebaud. I think it’s serious.” She paused for a moment and then said, “Maybe he hasn’t been to my gallery.”
    She pointed out that “you can’t just open a gallery and know what you’re doing. Some people know rich people live here and think they will come and make a killing. Rich people are smart. They know what they are doing. You can’t sell to them just because they have money.”
    Mr. Borghi echoed the sentiment: “The Hamptons are not Palm Beach,” he said, referring to Mr. Mottola’s partner in the gallery, Ryan Ross, who has a gallery there. “Every person I deal with is incredibly smart. They made money because they were not dolts. He has kind of nice stuff but it is overpriced. No one is going to pay you twice what something is worth because you’re Tommy Mottola. People here know exactly what they’re looking at, to think otherwise is presumption and hubris.”