Hidden Hamptons: Elaine De Kooning House

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In 1975 the painter Elaine de Kooning purchased a modest saltbox house at 55 Alewive Road in East Hampton, following a reconciliation with her artist husband Willem. Three years later, she added a large, airy studio, marked by a slanted wall of windows, where she would create some of her most well-known paintings. These included her last series of works, Bacchus and Cave Walls, in addition to a portrait of Brazilian soccer star Pelé. Elaine would continue to live and work there until her death in 1989.

Today the Elaine de Kooning House is owned by curator and Dallas Art Fair co- founder Chris Byrne, who purchased it in 2010 and turned it into an driveway and using the ground-floor studio (currently Pilkington’s workspace) as a darkroom. Around 15 years ago, the painter Richmond Burton bought the house, giving up his Tribeca loft for Elaine’s 60-foot-long studio with its slanting, 17-foot-high glass wall at the northern end. (He once described its style as “nautical modern.”)

Inspired by the house’s rich artistic legacy, Byrne has made renovations while preserving modi cations made by its previous owners. He got the idea of making the space available to visiting artists when a friend, José Lerma, needed a workspace larger than his Williamsburg studio to create large-scale paintings. Since then many artists have been informal residence for artists, including his girlfriend, sculptor Amy Pilkington, who lives there full-time. The house has also been the site of two site-specific shows presented by the Halsey McKay Gallery.

Born in Brooklyn in 1918, Elaine Fried met the Dutch-born Willem de Kooning when she was an art student and he was making a name for himself in the New York art world. After marrying in 1943, they continued to live and paint in NYC. Their tumultuous relationship was marked by extramarital a airs on both sides, and they separated in 1957. After the 1975 reconciliation, they remained together in East Hampton until her death. (Willem died in 1997.)

Elaine’s career would be overshadowed by her more famous husband, but, according to her New York Times obit, she was “a highly versatile painter whose work ranged from realism to abstraction….Her [works] were notable for their verve and freshness.” She was also a well-regarded art teacher who held many university posts in her lifetime.

In 1989 John Chamberlain purchased Elaine’s house and lived there for five years, creating his crushed-car sculptures in the driveway and using the ground-floor studio (currently Pilkington’s workspace) as a darkroom. Around 15 years ago, the painter Richmond Burton bought the house, giving up his Tribeca loft for Elaine’s 60-foot-long studio with its slanting, 17-foot-high glass wall at the northern end. (He once described its style as “nautical modern.”)

Inspired by the house’s rich artistic legacy, Byrne has made renovations while preserving modi cations made by its previous owners. He got the idea of making the space available to visiting artists when a friend, José Lerma, needed a workspace larger than his Williamsburg studio to create large-scale paintings. Since then many artists have been in residence, including Lizzi Bougatsos, Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, Laura and Rachel Lancaster, Liz Markus, Scott and Tyson Reeder, and Michael Williams. As Byrne has noted, “De Kooning’s well- documented generosity toward young painters, curators and writers was legendary. My hope was to foster this spirit by making the space available to current artists, all while preserving the original structure and its history.”

Last year, the Halsey McKay Gallery presented Year, a solo show by Chris Duncan at the house, an installation of black cotton fabrics faded by the sun in the studio and solarium windows. Recently, Halsey- McKay curated Rongwrong, an exhibition of sculpture, wall-based works, and site-specific installation by Aaron Aujla and Adam Marnie. Says Halsey McKay co-director Ryan Wallace, “It is so clearly an artist’s space and it has been exciting to watch these three artists interpret the architecture and the psychic history of it as a home and workspace. Both shows we have curated there have exploited this as much as used it as a showcase for their own work, which I think has helped make both exhibitions so special.”