Wine, Wine, Whine in the Hamptons Galleries

A look at the controversies in the Hamptons galleries this weekend.

By Ted Kruckel May 28, 2008, 3:56 PM EDT

Banksy's "Christ With Shopping Bags"

Photo: BizBash

On my way to see Banksy, the “quickest growing artist … of all time” (according to Sotheby’s Ralph Taylor in The New Yorker) at the Keszler Gallery in Southampton over Memorial Day weekend, I was sure I was headed to the most subversive and dangerous art event (of the night, at least) in Suffolk County.

After all, Banksy is a true outlaw, painting and plying his wares on the streets of London illegally, refusing to have his picture taken (although the Web site Towleroad posted a purported shot of him) and in general causing havoc with his provocative graphics. Leaving the show, veteran photographer Bert Stern had one word: “Shocking.”

Banksy is a mix of Andy Warhol (his work is basically vividly colored stencils of existing photographs; there’s very little actual painting going on) and Jean-Michel Basquiat (who also used public graffiti forums to get attention). Event planners like me, who feel an inordinate amount of their precious lives has been spent discussing the color, contents, and distribution of gift bags, might enjoy “Christ With Shopping Bags,” where a hanging Jesus double clutches a cache of freebies as much as I did. And if you can afford the $55,000 price tag, well, more power to you.

This clever work (which as you can see is uniformly not cleverly named) still appeals, even though the most shocking element (I was familiar with the oeuvre) for this reporter was the shameless price. Banksy is raking it in, apparently—the press release highlights one of his pieces that just exceeded $1.8 million at auction. I can’t help but feel, though, that at least part of his rage against the machine (in his case, the obvious targets such as government, military, religion, etc.) is aimed more directly at wealthy art buyers who had mobbed the gallery to see this show. So why do I still want one?

But for real law-breaking art action, one needed to head to the Ruth Vered Gallery in East Hampton, where the opening of photographer Steven Klein’s show of photos of Madonna that you already saw in W magazine inscrutably warranted a police raid. The gallery was serving drinks without a license. (Note: I hear Klein has generously offered his summer home to Acria for their summer benefit. I mention this because, originally, my review of Acria’s annual “Unframed” art sale, which was terrific, was slated for this space, before Ms. Vered’s bust took front seat.)

I have known and liked Vered for years, so the front page photos of her, cuffed, chiffonned, and snarling made my heart race out here in a way it hasn’t since Lizzie Grubman “accidentally” backed over those 16 club-goers after having already libeled and labeled them “white trash.” I almost drove off the road on my way back from getting croissants trying to read the story.

Ms. Vered, a former Israeli paratrooper who has declared the arrest a crime against her “civil rights” (should it be a civil right to serve alcohol in public without a license? Maybe) ignored the warning of two cops (who arrived on bicycles!) and instead opted for a major Norma Rae moment. 

Hampton gallerists (disclaimer: I just became one; more on that later) shuddered at the thought of losing one of the most important tools of the art selling trade: partial to full inebriation (which, of course, is the only way you could get me to buy a life-size photo of the tired and tirelessly self-promoting Madonna other than to publicly shred it as a promotable art happening … hey!). Every luxury brand retailer worth its salt also has a Hamptons free pour planned for this summer, so event planners too were sweating bullets.

But as it became apparent that a $31 temporary permit is all that need stave the vicious rolling thunder of the East Hampton mounties (who knew? Well, renegade artist Banksy, for one; his show had a permit), the fear—and perhaps Ms. Vered’s vow to fight on in the courts—turned to embarrassment. As for me, I’ve thrown dozens of public events at the beach and not once gotten a short-term booze license. Where do I send my check?

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