A Guild Hall Homecoming

Art works on the road for years now back in East Hampton
Jane Wilson’s “Water Mill Fog” is from the painter’s transitional period between realism and abstraction.

If the pieces on view in Guild Hall’s “Recollections” exhibition look distantly familiar, it may be because they have been on the road for much of the past decade. “Guild Hall: An Adventure in the Arts” took a significant tranche of the museum’s 2,400-object collection and put it in a show that traveled to 15 cities across the United States. 

The title is apt, because in a way the museum is now re-collecting the works, i.e., taking back ownership and welcoming them home. At the same time that these objects have returned, the museum is also digitizing its entire collection.

What better time to take stock, pull out a few of these old friends, and put them back in their home gallery? It is also an occasion to welcome Jess Frost, the museum’s recently named permanent collections associate curator and registrar, who selected the works and is leading the archival project.

Although the collection dates from the 19th century, Ms. Frost chose late-20th-century and recent works for the show. Over all, they have a very tactile and textural quality. From Lee Krasner’s densely packed and thickly painted Ab-Ex canvas to Chuck Close’s paper pulp portrait and Hiroyuki Hamada’s sculpture in burlap, enamel, oil, plaster, resin, and tar, which resembles an airplane’s nose cone, the works either seem to invite touch or evince the artist’s hand.

Costantino Nivola’s sand-cast relief is all bumpy surface, and Ibram Lassaw’s bronze “Morning Star” is both lacy and clumpy. Alan Shields’s mix of relief and intaglio printmaking that went into his “Bull Pen” includes color woodcut, etching, and aquatint along with collage on three layers of handmade paper. The result doesn’t look anything like paper. It could be woven string, fabric, vellum, gold leaf, or a dozen other things that he often worked with in his pieces.

Alvin Loving’s “Self Portrait” in mixed media appears to contain mostly the fabric strips that interested him in the 1970s. These were works that liberated him from the canvas stretcher the way Alan Shields sought freedom in weaving fabric and canvas as both painting and structure.

A number of the works on view offer an unexpected side of an artist: a drawing by the sculptor Bryan Hunt, a metallic painting on a Formica support by John Chamberlain, Fairfield Porter’s typically naturalistic but seemingly abstract “The Plane Tree.” The latter is an extreme close-up of the leaves and branches of a tree that is perfectly square and ready for its Instagram close-up as well.

One of the best things about the East End artistic colony is how unfathomably broad and deep it reaches. Just when you think you know all of the players, someone pops up who is completely surprising. Frank Stella is that for me. Even though for many years I have been aware of the period of time he worked in Sagaponack, he, like James Rosenquist, Mark Rothko, and some others who were here either briefly or outside of the heyday of the New York School, still surprises me when I see evidence of that history. Mr. Stella’s “Lanckorona III,” from 1971, indicates his progression from a rigid and linear Minimalist compositional approach to a more open and unexpected layout. He uses a dull and limited palette that is more expansive than his monotone paintings of the 1960s, but still removed from the exuberance that follows in his later painted and sculptural compositions.

Another transitional piece is “Water Mill Fog” by Jane Wilson, who worked in a loose realism before letting abstraction take over in her later layered paintings. A tall house is enveloped in a hazy mist, turning everything into muted shades of gray, brown, and green. I have always loved this painting and its ability to channel those sudden offshore fogs that transform bright blue skies into a cold damp murk.

There are expected pieces by Elaine de Kooning and her husband, Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, Ross Bleckner, and Adolph Gottlieb, but all in all the room has a lively sense of discovery and found treasure.

The exhibition will remain up through the end of the year.