Members Exhibition Brings Art & Community Together at Guild Hall

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The 2014 Best Photograph, Gary Beeber, Mona in Her Room, NYC, Photography, 14 x 20.5 in.
The 2014 Best Photograph, Gary Beeber, Mona in Her Room, NYC, Photography, 14 x 20.5 in.

By Dawn Watson

Even for professional artists, the dream of showing in a museum is rarely realized. But for East End locals, the opportunity is within reach. All it takes is a piece of artwork, residency and a membership to Guild Hall in East Hampton.

William S. Heppenheimer, Tablet-B, Acrylic-paint-on-wood-panel 20.5-x-16.75-in.
William S. Heppenheimer, Tablet-B, Acrylic-paint-on-wood-panel 20.5-x-16.75-in.

That’s because the annual “Artists Members Exhibition,” the oldest non-juried museum exhibition on Long Island, is also one of the few non-juried museum shows that is still offered. Better yet, the giant group exhibition at Guild Hall, which features the work of hundreds of East Enders every year, offers a grand prize of a solo show at the museum to the winner. This one-man or one-woman exhibition is offered regardless of whether the Top Honor recipient is a pro or amateur.

Typically more than 400 artists of all backgrounds and experience levels bring their work—photographs, paintings, drawings, mixed-media collages, and sculptures—in for the big annual show, which opens this year on Saturday, May 2. For some, it’s about bragging rights. For others, it’s the chance to get their work out in public and seen. Competition and sales figure in the minds of the more ambitious. Still others, like Sag Harbor’s Ann Chwatsky, just want to be a part of the gathering and fellowship.

“If Guild Hall supports the community, then the community should support Guild Hall,” she said this weekend during a telephone chat a day or so after dropping off this year’s entry, an abstract photo titled “Shaped.” “They do such a wonderful job for the community, for art, and for the performing arts—with exhibits, concerts, lectures and movies. As a local artist I should support them.”

Honorable Mention, Ann Chwatsky, My Solar #3, Photograph on canvas with text, 11 x 18 in.
Honorable Mention, Ann Chwatsky, My Solar #3, Photograph on canvas with text, 11 x 18 in.

The professional photographer got more than she bargained for last year when her piece, “My Solar #3,” earned an honorable mention from Jurist Robert Storr, himself a respected artist, critic and curator. Though she didn’t enter in order to vie for an award, being noticed by him was a real bonus. “It was an honor,” she added.

Gary Beeber, a Water Mill resident and painter-turned-photographer won the Best Photograph award last year for his “Mona in Her Room, NYC.” Like Ms. Chwatsky, he entered his piece without the thought of earning prizes.

“I didn’t expect anything. I never do,” he said on Sunday morning.

His reasons for participating in the group exhibit echo those of his fellow artist. The idea of community resonates strongly for him as well.

“That’s what it’s about,” says Mr. Beeber. “Getting together and seeing people I haven’t seen in years, meeting new people, and supporting Guild Hall. It’s really nice that they still do this because of lot don’t. Anybody that’s a member can enter. I like that.”

It’s not just the artists who embrace the feeling of kinship and neighborly love. Guild Hall Museum Director and Chief Curator Christina Strassfield says that she also appreciates the sense of community that comes with the annual exhibit, now in it’s 77th year.

“This is by far my favorite exhibition as it showcases what Guild Hall Museum does for our community of artists,” she says, adding that each piece is showcased in a professional manner and is treated with care and respect. “I love it because I get to see new talent and what artists are doing and exploring.”

Ms. Strassfield calls the show, which will be awarded this year by Metropolitan Museum of Art Modern and Contemporary Curator Maria Prather, the “unofficial opening of the art season in the Hamptons.”

Local artists—of which well over 450 will be exhibiting this year—and art lovers agree. Throngs always come out for the show, from the opening reception through the end of its month-long run. And if  the past is any indication of the turnout on opening night, there will be little wall space left and a standing-room-only blowout.

Which is exactly how Chwatsky likes it.

“It’s nice to just see everyone at the opening. It’s a real crowd,” she says. “And I like to run into other artists who are participating. It’s one thing to talk about your own work but it’s another to see all these people there looking at it and hearing them comment on it.”

The 77th annual “Artists Members Exhibition” opens at Guild Hall in East Hampton with a free reception on Saturday, May 2, from 4 o 6 p.m.. The exhibit will be on view through June 6. For additional information, visit www.guildhall.org

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