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The Influencers: Parrish Art Museum’s Artists Choose Artists

Back in the days before we considered “influencers” those who amassed followers for revealing the world’s best lip gloss, influencers were groundbreakers in all artistic disciplines. The Parrish Art Museum explores this concept in their Artists Choose Artists exhibits, tapping into the rich legacy of the East End. Certain artists are invited to scour the Museum’s 3600-volume holdings to pick another artist living or passed to pair with their works. What emerges is a sophisticated dialogue of past and present, sparking discussions of perception and perspective as well as a chance for artists to look at their personal or professional relationships with other artists.

Ned Smyth’s exhibit

When internationally acclaimed artists Ned Smyth and John Torreano recently participated in a discussion on the exhibit, they explored not only their relationship to the artist they chose but to each other. It was a fascinating walk down memory lane in their early years in Manhattan in the ‘70s before Soho was Soho when you could trade art at the local bar for booze, exhibit at galleries with no locks on the doors, or argue over rent going up to $175 a month. 

Smyth was first inspired when he spent a summer building a house in Aspen cutting 2 x 4s. He came back to explore casting them in concrete. “I was a minimalist when I first came to New York,” says Smyth, “And I started making different constructions with them. The first person to see them in my studio was Leo Castelli.” Attracted to different eras of architecture, he then started creating archways, entrances, and columns. “I thought of it as creating reverent space but not necessarily a particular religion. It wasn’t about an object per se but the feeling from the whole space.” Smyth also creates sculptural installments in public spaces including one in Battery Park. “A woman who lived next to it told me it was ‘awful.’ When I asked why she said, ‘The Hell’s Angels come here every Saturday and hang out and play music,’ and I said, ‘How cool.’” His home in Shelter Island and nature inspire him now from enormous rock sculptures to bronze versions of beautiful driftwood.

For his pairing Smyth chose a signature all-black wooden sculpture from Louise Nevelson. “I was looking through the collection for minimalism,” says Smyth, “I know Louise’s work from back in the ‘70s when my first loft was on Delancey and I walked past where she lived regularly. When I saw her piece in the collection it seemed to connect and be in proportion.”

John Torreano’s exhibit

John Torreano describes himself as the “longest emerging artist of all time.” He attributes staying relevant to staying true to his intuition instead of being driven by money, “If I had gotten caught up in how much I could get for this one versus that one it would have been different.” His fascination with dots (even evident on his socks) took on different meanings as his work evolved. “I wanted to be more articulate with the distribution of the dots and I asked where are dots in nature and I thought stars.” First looking at the pictures of the cosmos and then reading about it informed his art on many different levels.

On his choice of the fiberglass and orb sculpture by Dennis Oppenheim to pair with his work he says, “It’s the idea of contradictive things physical and visual. It’s the physical materiality of something and the illusion you create with it. Meaning is created by the viewer, not the artist.” 

Both became enamored with the Hamptons, Torreano when he was the first visual artist resident at the Edward Albee Foundation in Montauk and Smyth, against his objections, “I don’t wear pink pants and play golf,” when he “went down to Gibson Beach in Sagaponack and there were all the artists I knew from New York.” Torreano says, “What I like about the community here is it has a similar scale as when I first moved to New York. You see the artists and you know them. It’s not so huge that you get lost.”