A New Home for Keyes Gallery

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Gallery Owner Julie Keyes, photographed in her new gallery space on Main Street on Thursday evening, 1/3/19. Michael Heller photo

For every one person, there is another they avoid at all costs. Someone they brush off, push to voicemail, or hide from in the supermarket.

For American Hotel owner Theodore Conklin III, Julie Keyes is convinced that person was her.

And she doesn’t blame him one bit.

For the better part of nearly two decades, the art consultant barraged the Sag Harbor hotelier about his space next door, occupied by perfume retailer Bond 9 since 2011 and, before that, a cigar shop — until now.

As of Friday night, it officially became the home of her newest endeavor, Keyes Gallery.

“Since 2000, I’ve wanted this space — it’s the most iconic, fantastic spot ever. I asked Ted about it every 15 minutes,” Keyes deadpanned before laughing mischievously, standing inside the 1,100-square-foot space on Main Street. “There have been moments where I’ve walked up to him and he has said, ‘Please, not now.’ It was like a bad movie. We all have someone we avoid, and I’m sure I was Ted’s.”

Conklin eventually caved — “I descended upon him like fog,” Keyes said, “I wrote him emails, I sent him credit reports, I sent him recommendations” — and, as soon as she could, the gallerist immediately got to work.

Last Wednesday, a crew of nine was busy painting, sewing, hanging and cleaning. They were putting up walls where they hadn’t been before, transforming the space into her vision for her first group show, “Rotating Blue Chip,” referring to art that is reliably profitable, no matter the economic climate.

“Every time we do a show, we’re gonna change the gallery. We’ll have to repaint it,” she said. “If we do black-and-white photos, we’ll repaint the gallery grey. I’m all in for making the space a big part of what we’re doing. The challenge is to take this historic building and make it able to show modern art as a complement, not as an arm wrestle. So there’s a lot of thought into the curation of the space for each show.”

Now on view through March, the exhibition will rotate about five-dozen blue chip pieces, as they sell, from the likes of Bert Stern, Nathan Slate Joseph, Willem de Kooning, Larry Rivers and John Chamberlain, among others.

At age 60, Keyes has her artistic taste, she said, not to mention a level of involvement with “artists of note” — many with roots on the East End.

“John Chamberlain, who had his last one-man show at the Guggenheim, his family lives on Shelter Island,” she said. “Nathan Joseph, he’s in Sagaponack. De Kooning is in Springs. Larry Rivers, Southampton. Any gallery in the world would be honored to have this list of artists, and they’re right here. People come in and go, ‘Oh I love this artist,’ and I’m like, ‘Wanna go to their house?’”

Her own home is just a quick walk away — one minute and two seconds, to be exact, she said — and she envisions Keyes Gallery as a home for the community, another step toward establishing Sag Harbor as a cultural district, she said.

“I want to show a combination of the arts in the community and the blue chip in the world,” she said. “I want this to be a place where people can come for a program of movies, a program of poetry readings. I want people to come and hang out if they feel like it.

“I want it to be another opportunity for the creative in this community, which is like, ‘tick tock, tick tock, boom,’” she continued. “The things that are occurring here have become unstoppable. This is going to be the place to go for the arts, and we are going to be a part of it.”

Almost on cue, a curious passerby walked through the front door.

“Hi. This is my new gallery,” Keyes said. “Isn’t that exciting?”

“Oh! I’ll stop back when it’s finished,” the customer said.

“Six o’clock Friday opening! Awesome,” Keyes replied, before turning her attention back to the phone.

“People just keep coming in. It’s wonderful,” she said. “Laura Grenning came in earlier and said, ‘Congratulations, I’ll be here on Friday.’ This is a community in the way communities were put together when people cared about each other. Sag Harbor is that unique place. There’s no place I’d rather be.”

For more information about Keyes Gallery, located at 45 Main Street in Sag Harbor, visit juliekeyesart.com.

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