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Detail of an abstract Clyfford Still painting
Clyfford Still, PH-39, 1955 (detail). Oil on canvas, 116 1/2 x 82 3/8 in. Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO.
© City and County of Denver / ARS, NY

Hamptons Bohemia: Summer 1955

By Irene Weygandt

A summer voyage to the Hamptons is classic Americana. When New York City gets hot and humid it seems that everyone who is anyone makes the trip East to the seaside. The images the mind conjures in thinking of the Hamptons today might include a dinner party hosted by celebrity chef Ina Garten, or perhaps a house party with the famous billionaire David Koch, or maybe an impromptu gathering on the beach hosted by locals Renee Zellweger and Nathan Lane, or a casual lunch with Alec Baldwin and Stephen Spielberg.

Our contemporary idea of what the Hamptons “is”—a summer playground for the elite—is different from its earlier identity. Before it was a natural extension of Manhattan, it was a sleepy community with vistas of farm fields, modest shake-sided cottages, and bicycles instead of Land Rovers. From as early as the 1890s artists retreated to the area to draw inspiration. In the 1959 edition of the Paris Review, essayist Patsy Southgate observed that “artists, having an affinity for one another, tend to gather in colonies where they can love and hate each other most conveniently.” This is certainly true of the artists that took up residence in the Hamptons in the 1950s.

In 1955, Clyfford Still spent the summer in East Hampton, New York, with his daughter Diane on the estate of fellow Abstract Expressionist artist Alfonso Ossorio completing a number of paintings including the one below. Also in the area at that time were Still’s contemporaries Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Robert Motherwell, and Willem de Kooning, among others. Indeed a number of influential artists of varied genres retreated to the Hamptons including writers John Steinbeck and Edward Albee, Truman Capote and Jack Kerouac.

In planning Hamptons Bohemia: Summer 1955, the Museum’s signature ticketed celebration this fall, we were drawn to this artistic migration and longed to recreate it. It’s a lofty goal to turn a space in land-locked downtown Denver into the Hamptons of the mid-century. We hope to evoke a mood that frees the imagination. To encourage passionate conversation about art and life, and under the winking of stars, bid farewell to the final days of summer.

In the coming weeks as we countdown to the event, we will share images, quotes, and stories that inspired us to celebrate the Hamptons of 1955. We hope that it inspires you to join us in the celebration.

Image: Painting PH-39, 1955 with Diane Still, daughter of Clyfford Still taken in East Hampton, New York, 1955.

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