Seven Questions for Hilary Schaffner, Director of Halsey McKay Gallery

Halsey McKay recently presented “Angel Error,” a solo exhibition of the work of Brooklyn-based artist Joseph Hart. (All images courtesy Halsey McKay Gallery)

Once upon a time, the East End of New York’s Long Island was an artistic refuge that drew the likes of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning to set up homes and studios. The region’s legendary light, charming potato fields, and shimmering views now command stratospheric prices that have priced all but the most successful artists out of the market, but there’s still plenty of art to see in the Hamptons, which last fall gained a powerhouse in the Herzog & de Meuron-designed Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill. We recently journeyed a bit further east to the town of East Hampton and left impressed by the assured exhibitions on view at Halsey McKay Gallery, founded in 2011 by sharp-eyed curator Hilary Schaffner and artist Ryan Wallace. In the wake of a supercharged summer of shows, including solo exhibitions of Joseph Hart, Anne-Lise Coste, Patrick Brennan, and Graham Collins, we asked Schaffner to tell us more about Halsey McKay, what exhibitions she’s looking forward to seeing this fall, and some other Hamptons must-sees.

1. What led you to open your gallery in East Hampton?
It’s amazing to think that this all began with a conversation Ryan and I had one evening in 2011. We were both surprised and intrigued by the fact there were so few galleries on the East End focused on emerging artists. A place with such a rich art history presented a great opportunity to support our programming. We thought that we could be more accessible to collectors out here than if we were in New York City. Without all the distractions and competition of the city, we envisioned we could meet interesting people in a short amount of time and give our artists a great platform for being seen. It’s been rewarding to bring our generation of artists out East and introduce them to the to the area. For me, there was also this continuation of family history. The Halsey’s were one of the first families to settle out here in the 1640s. It feels significant to be working in a place with such strong familial and art historical ties.

2. How would you describe the gallery’s program/artist roster?
This was another aspect that evolved organically. We already had a community of mainly Brooklyn-based artists that ended up being the foundation of our program. I have a MFA in photography and Ryan went to RISD and is a painter, this has lead us to show a range of mediums. Our middle ground has ended up being abstraction. We have some great figurative artists in the mix, like Ben Blatt and Ryan Schneider but there is certainly a mutual interest in abstract works. We’ve also had a lot of fun doing two and three person shows with artists whose work might not be immediately associated together.

3. How did you choose the name Halsey McKay?
Halsey is my grandmother’s maiden name and McKay is Ryan’s grandmother’s maiden name.

4. Tell us about your current show, “Ether Scrims, Dark Rooms, and Calculative Planes,” on view through Sunday.
We were thinking about how space is rendered in an artist’s practice —the flattening of space and the creation of space. Photography, sculpture and painting are all represented here yet each artist has this underpinning of optical illusion in their work through combining virtual and analog interventions. Before the show was installed we were operating in this very conceptual space but after seeing it all hung, these wonderful formal relationships have sprung up. The geometry and patterning that each artist has come to, in very distinctive ways, feels quite unified.

Bryan Graf, “Lattice Ambient 10 & 11.” The unique photogram is included, along with the work of Michael DeLucia and Kate Shepard, in “Ether Scrims, Dark Rooms, & Calculative Planes,” on view through Sunday at Halsey McKay.

5. And beginning September 14, you’ll have two separate sculpture shows, one with works by Rachel Foullon and the other with works by Ernesto Burgos. Can you give us a sneak preview?
Rachel is interested in a relationship to sculpture that views the life of objects as not necessarily finite, but rather ripe with potential for things like double lives and comebacks. She was inspired by the history of the area and will continue a body of work she began in 2011, wherein she “renovated” pre-industrial farm tools. At the center of the show will be three new works that are couples. In each work she utilizes two of the same type of handmade tools, which she has collected over time and admired for their similarities and differences, (two scythes, two flails, two draft collars). The history in her work of renovation, reconfiguration and recombination appealed to us, especially being out East.

Ernesto’s show is a continuation of his practice of combining quotidian materials with other forms in an investigation of material in space and how that affects painting and drawing. His show will consist of hyper-intuitive amorphous sculptures constructed from cardboard, fiberglass, and paint. There is a playful quality to his works, yet the combination of materials serves as a device for reexamining the structure of abstraction.

6. What other exhibitions are you looking forward to this fall?
Some gallery exhibitions I am looking forward to this fall are: Adam Marnie at Derek Eller, Graham Collins at the Journal, Michael DeLucia at Eleven Rivington, and Ruby Sky Stiler at Nicelle Beauchene.

For Museums: Magritte at MoMA, “There Will Never Be Silence: Scoring John Cage‘s 4’33″” at MoMA, Mel Bochner at the Jewish Museum, Julia Margaret Cameron at the Met, “Music” at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, and James Welling at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. And the Met is opening an exhibition in September called “Interwoven Globe” that follows the textile trade beginning in the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century. It looks fascinating!

7. For anyone planning a fall Hamptons getaway, what are your three must-see places?
It’s hard to narrow down but I would suggest: the Dan Flavin Art Institute in Bridgehampton, walking along Gerard Drive in the Springs, and breakfast at Little Estia’s in Sag Harbor.