The Parrish Is Finally on the Move

It has been a long journey to get this far
The new Parrish Art Museum is only weeks away from opening to the public and days away from the staff’s moving into new offices. An aerial view shows the museum in an earlier state. At top, two views of the gallery spaces in the Water Mill building. Cully/EEFAS, Aerial Photo

   On a recent Friday, the new Parrish Art Museum space in Water Mill was a study in contrasts. Completion of the interior was continuing apace, but many discrete spaces already revealed their final state.
    There were soaring side galleries, like chapels, set along a more human-scaled nave-like central hall or spine. Some of these areas looked pristine, white, and ready, while others were still dusty, dirty, and littered with the tools of construction.
    The building, an obvious and unapologetic product of man-made imagination and fabrication, sat amidst the beginnings of a meadow with new trees planted and buzzing bees that may have been visiting from Terrie Sultan’s own apiary at her house not too far from the project site.
    It has been a long journey to get this far, an all-encompassing project for Ms. Sultan, the Parrish’s executive director, who began her tenure in 2008, when the plan for a much larger space was only partially funded. Today, the original scheme, which called for more than 60,000 square feet, has been cut roughly in half, is 95-percent funded, and is finally nearing completion.
    It may look like a giant airplane hangar from the highway, but once on the property and in the parking lot, it becomes much more approachable in scale. It is a extraordinary illusion that the Swiss architectural firm Herzog and de Meuron have pulled off and it is one of several sensory experiences designed into the site.
    Leading a casual tour of the new spaces, Ms. Sultan seemed both eager and patient with the understanding that it was only a matter of days before the building would be ready for occupation and weeks before the eventual opening to the public on Nov. 10.
    In what has probably become very familiar to her from leading several such tours in recent weeks, she rattled off the building’s features, the “five construction materials in the building: concrete, wood, glass, steel, and aluminum” and the “four colors: brown, black, gray, and white.”
    The black comes from the mahogany-derived dye that blankets the grooved cedar-clad doors in a rich velvety charcoal finish. The gray is the color of the cast concrete exterior walls and the poured concrete floors, which were finished in such a way to mimic the patterns water makes on sand. White is the color of the interior walls and brown is the color of the warm plywood that makes up the ceiling and its beams.
    Glass on the building’s southern side allows visitors to see through the building in key areas, such as the entrance. Steel and aluminum can be seen everywhere in the building.
    The public will enter near the center of the building in a lobby with an information desk, coatroom, store, and cafe. The galleries are in two wings off the lobby, one with smaller rooms for the permanent collection and one with larger spaces for the temporary exhibitions, including an open space for projects and installations.
    The roofline is like a letter M with the painting and sculpture galleries illuminated by natural light from north-facing skylights. The high, unfinished plywood ceiling creates a dramatic scale, one that makes a viewer feel as though the soaring open spaces of the South Fork are being echoed in the museum. It’s one of the many magical features of the building that makes one hunger for the experience of seeing art in it.
    In the spine of the building are more intimate spaces with a lower pitched ceiling and muted light for works on paper that need a more controlled environment so as not to fade or warp and also demand more focused attention.
    In all, the building is 34,400 square feet, with 12,200 square feet of exhibition space. Of that, 7,600 will be space used for installations of the museum’s permanent collection of 2,600 objects. An exhibition of Malcolm Morley’s work will be the museum’s first temporary offering. The British-born artist lives in Brook­haven.
    Ms. Sultan is particularly excited by the opportunities the new museum offers, not just to bring artworks out of storage for the first time in such a large format, but for other practical reasons. “At Job’s Lane, we could never be open while we were installing a new show. That will no longer be an issue. We can change exhibitions in one gallery while still keeping open all of the other spaces in the museum.”
    The permanent collection galleries will have thematic shows as well as galleries devoted to a single artist. The inaugural shows will include “Selected Recent Acquisitions: Building a Collection” to showcase work by Dorothea Rockburne, Louise Nevelson, Keith Sonnier, and other new gifts and purchases made in celebration of the new facility.
    “Look and Look Again: Contemporary Observation” will bring together work by Ross Bleckner, Chuck Close, April Gornik, Mary Heilmann, and Donald Sultan. “American Views: Artists at Home and Abroad” is a several-century survey of American landscape painting featuring work by Childe Hassam, Jane Freilicher, and Jane Wilson. “Collective Conversations” will focus on key 20th-century movements that were active on the East End, including works of Abstract Expressionism, Figuration, and Pop, to see what each might have to say to the other.
    The individual artists to be showcased in three separate galleries will be William Merritt Chase, the American Impressionist and founder of the Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art; Fairfield Porter, the realist painter and critic who raised his family and lived much of his life on South Main Street in Southampton, and Esteban Vicente, a Spanish-born New York School painter who lived in Bridgehampton for many years before his death in 2001.
    The building also has a 2,400-square-foot open-plan theater to bring new life to the museum’s films, talks, and performances. Its layout will allow it to be configured in a number of ways and to be used for special receptions and dinners.
    Art of Eating of Amagansett will run the lobby cafe and will offer salads, sandwiches, desserts, and a full bar, according to Ms. Sultan. The cafe also has access to a 600-square-foot covered western-facing terrace for warm weather dining and late evening sunset concerts on Friday evenings when the museum will be open late — until 8 p.m. in the winter and 9 p.m. in the summer months. The terrace will also be used for receptions, festivals, performances, and workshops. A cast concrete bench and covered walkway surround the museum and allow for contemplation of the landscape or wireless Web browsing for those for those who want to relax with an iPad.
    Already, the staff at the Parrish Art Museum is preparing for their move to the new space, sometime in mid-October.
    It will be quite a change from the warren of offices separated into three discrete areas set over the first floor galleries in its current building. In the new building, the staff’s workspace will feature open-plan seating with floor-to-ceiling south and north-facing windows on both ends and only a few staff offices with doors to allow for quiet conversations and business away from the normal buzz of activity. Even those spaces have glass walls so that everyone is available and accessible with a wave or a nod.
    The furniture, including desks, bookshelves, and filing cabinets, was all designed by Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design using reclaimed wood. Light will come from multi-armed fixtures that have a bit of space-age whimsy from the past incorporated into their contemporary design.
    The 24 workstations are lined up on either side of the spine that progresses throughout the building. The east wing of administrative functions, which is also where the loading dock and storage facilities are, will be closed to the public and entered through a separate door.
    Ms. Sultan said the staff was brought into meetings early on to determine where they should sit and which departments should be in close proximity to one another. The workstations have been constructed with wide enough desk space to look at plans or large documents or roll a chair up for an impromptu conference about an image on the computer.
    The Nov. 10 grand opening weekend will be free to the public. A number of special events will be planned during the weekend as well such as concerts, films, and a family program.