Lou Meisel

#13 — The Making of a Public Sculpture Collection

On a Monday morning in 1987 I looked out the window on the south side of my house in Sagaponack, and I saw a guy who appeared to be staking out the adjacent lot for a new house. Turn out he was! Wilkes Lane was once a 16-acre farm. In 1982, this divided into the lane and 8 2-acre lots. There were 3 original purchasers; two investors bought 3 and 4 lots respectively, and a single owner purchased a lot for his own house. Peter and Joan Lemongello owned 3 lots and were the first owners to build on the street; this became my house. The owner of the 4 lots was Rick Segal, the owner of Seavest, which holds the largest and best collection of contemporary realist art. Rick eventually turned out to be one of my friends and collectors.

Lemongello had built and sold 3 houses, Rick had built three and sold two. I asked why he was going to build the fourth before selling the third, and why it was going to be very close to our mutual line. He sort of agreed, and he asked if I wanted to buy it. While I wasn’t ready for that question, I immediately saw this as a good idea. The price was not cheap at the time, but manageable, and would be a benefit to the subdivision if left as an open field. I would decide on its future later on.

Well that all took place at 9AM on October 19th, 1987—the day that has come to be known as Black Monday. That morning the global stock market crashed massively, and the DOW fell over 500 points. The next day Rick and I spoke, and he said I could take some time and think about the deal. In early January 1988, we concluded the deal. I had 3 years to pay for the lot without interest. This deal helped solidify our relationship, and we proceeded to do many art related deals in the same friendly manner.

Being the first homeowner on the street, I had worked hard to convince all the other owners to avoid what the masses were doing, which was planting the ubiquitous high hedges found all over the rest of the Hamptons, and to instead, landscape with gardens and well-placed trees. My wife Susan had focused on gardens, and I had begun collecting trees, primarily Beech trees. We assisted everyone in keeping the views of Sagaponack open for all.

With this idea in mind, the first thing we did once we owned the lot was to mow down the weeds and plant grass (which to this day is unirrigated and thriving). Having recently visited Storm King, and with Andre Emmerich and Max Hutchinson’s sculpture fields in mind, it was a natural decision to create what is now the Sagaponack Sculpture Field.

Ari and Susan at Storm King with their Kenneth Snelson. Below, the Snelson in our field.

We proceeded to create a collection of sculptures, by primarily American artists who work in bronze, steel (Corten and nautical stainless), and aluminum. We also collected some painted sculptures, which we learned are (unfortunately) very difficult to maintain.

We began with artists I was representing in my gallery such as Audrey Flack, Oded Halahmy, Jerome Kirk and Steven Linn as well as the Snelson, which had hung from the ceiling in the gallery for years. Ken was a good friend, and we had collected his work in smaller scale for years and have many.

The Flack Civitas (Rockhill Goddess) is 12 feet tall and 3000 pounds of bronze. She is the centerpiece of the field, shown below. She is flanked on the far right by the Snelson, and the Fletcher Benton, the tallest sculpture at 30 feet (painted steel) on the far left. In this shot, you can also see the Peter Reginato, which is painted steel (multi-colored), the 14-foot-high Golfer by Phillip King, and the Jerome Kirk mobile piece in painted-blue aluminum.

“Civitas”, Audrey Flack

We then focused on East End artists, and added sculptures by Joel Perlman, Ed Haugevick and a major selection of sculptures by Hans Van De Bovenkamp, who we feel to be among the very best abstract sculptors.

The only non-American included was the French artist Arman, whose work Sliced Statue, Bronze is actually in front of our house.

The most recent addition to the sculpture field is a bronze female torso, which was posthumously cast from an unused wax by Robert Graham. The wax was a secondary version of the nude female athlete from L.A.’s World Fair entrance. The work was created as part of a male/female duo to be displayed outside of the 1984 Summer Olympics. Graham’s estate sold the original wax casting, which weighed 600 pounds and was 3 times life size. I acquired it at auction 10 years ago and had the bronze cast created with the estate’s permission (along with instructions from the studio) a few years ago.

This was an exciting project, and the work has proved to be a great addition to our Graham collection, which is likely one of the most inclusive in the world (a few of which are shown below).

Here you can see a selection of our many Robert Graham sculptures, along with one work by Brian Booth Craig (his work is the bronze female with her arms overhead). Brian Booth Craig is the latest sculptor to be added to our collection, and he is represented by the gallery. He works in various sizes, so we not only have multiple works in our SoHo loft, but we also have a lifesize version in our sculpture field.

All in all, the creation of the sculpture field has proven to be good fun. It is a spot that holds many good memories for our family, and we have enjoyed growing the collection over the years.

If you wish to visit, the Sagaponack Sculpture Field is open to the public 7 days a week from dawn to dusk year-round to wander through.

Directions: just before 81 Wilkes Lane, Sagaponack, NY 11962 – right hand side of the road.