Solo and group exhibitions explore the nature of seeing,

and feature many new acquisitions and gifts to the Museum

Installation view, What We See, How We See. Photo: Jenny Gorman 


On November 10, 2019, the Parrish Art Museum opened What We See, How We See, a series of seven special exhibitions that juxtapose distinct image-making approaches by artists working in abstraction and figuration, from the late 19th century until today. Multi-generational and multi-faceted, these projects, taken together, offer a nuanced and compelling exploration about the very nature of seeing. Featuring 125 paintings, works on paper, and sculpture by Charles Bell, Perle Fine, Jeffrey Gibson, Alex Katz, and Richard Prince, among others, What We See, How We See creates conversations and contextualizes the artist’s vision of how they see and interpret the world. As part of the exhibition, the Museum is proud to feature 49 of 64 works by Saul Steinberg, many of which have never been seen before, recently gifted to the Museum by The Saul Steinberg Foundation.

Individual thematic galleries feature the contrasting approaches of Prince, Dorothea Rockburne, and David Salle, among others. The Artist’s Hand: Circles, Squares, and Squiggles explores abstract gestures through works by Jennifer Bartlett, Willem de Kooning, and Jack Youngerman. In Contemporary Portraits’ Split Reference, Chuck Close and Till Freiwald reveal their subjects in larger than life depictions; The Eye and the Camera presents new acquisitions of paintings by Photorealist artists; and American Views: Artists at Home and Abroad highlights 19th-century landscape paintings from the Parrish’s holdings. Two galleries bring to light bodies of work by single artists, from the tragic-comic world view of Steinberg to the joyful graphic imagery of Tom Slaughter.

“Each gallery presents a focused element of the important dialogue about how information and emotion is conveyed through art,” noted Museum Director Terrie Sultan. “What we see—and how we see and process visual information—is an important topic right now, and it is gratifying to have the opportunity to explore this through the eyes of such creative people.”

Paintings and mixed-media in the opening galleries of What We See, How We See illustrate the varied ways in which artists convey their thoughts and emotions through abstract images and gestures. Suggested meaning can be found through the works’ titles and through collaged images from many sources, yet Wheel of Fortune by Audrey Flack, Buffalo Bill by Ben Schonzeit, and After Michelangelo: The Flood by David Salle remain open-ended stories with suggestive but non-linear narratives. Jeffrey Gibson’s and Dorothea Rockburne’s images are purely abstract: Gibson’s colorful arrow patterns read like pure form, but the title—Migration—imparts new meaning to the quasi-directional geometric gestures. In Capernaum Gate, Rockburne explores pure geometry through the lens of both art history and Christianity. Richard Prince approaches abstraction through an amalgam of recognizable shapes in Untitled, a vast fun house of colorful beings held together with bits of lush brushwork. Unconventional materials lend multiple layers to John Torreano’s gem-studded incised plywood panel P. M’s Mum.  

The Artist’s Hand: Circles, Squares, and Squiggles explores the concept of mark-making— the colors, textures, and gestures artists rely on to create their work. Expressive brushwork attacks, perhaps originating from broad, physical movements, are apparent in Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XXXVIII, John Ferren’s New York Summer Landscape, and Perle Fine’s Plan for the White City and Untitled. Controlled geometry in a more rigid structure takes over in Eric Freeman’s meticulous Red Inside Green and Jack Youngerman’s Conflux II—a dynamic sweeping form grounded in the rigidity of wood and flatness of color. Dan Christensen’s monumentally scaled Moondowner balances forceful geometry and lyrical motion, creating a softer tone. Color at its most basic level is explored in selections from Josef Albers’s 1960 publication Interaction of Color—a portfolio of 150 silkscreen color plates that illustrate the artist’s theory that color is rarely seen as it is, but only as it appears in relation to other colors.

Saul Steinberg is famed worldwide for giving graphic definition to the postwar age through the works exhibited nationally and internationally in museums and galleries, and six decades of covers and drawings published in The New Yorker. Saul Steinberg: Modernist Without Portfolio features 49 works spanning 45 years (1945-1990) by the Parrish collection artist who lived and worked in Springs, East Hampton, for nearly half-century. The extensive range of objects and styles in the exhibition includes the artist’s signature drawings in watercolor, pen and ink, pencil, crayon, and other media, plus rarely shown work: wooden assemblages, wallpaper, and fabric. Steinberg’s unique perception of the world is revealed in whimsical depictions of birds, and cats and other real and imagined creatures, quirky abstract portraits, offbeat scenes of quotidian life, and animated architectural drawing. Reference to his life on the East End of Long Island are clear in landscapes of beaches and farms, and specific structures like Amagansett Post Office, 1981.

Tom Slaughter expresses his vision of urban and country life through bold colors and sharply and graphically expressed shapes and lines. Made in primary colors or stark black-and-white, the 27 works on view in two gallery spaces are pared down icons of everyday life made joyful by his hand. Addressing classic architectural shapes through a practiced, reductive eye, Slaughter turns water towers, sailboats, and houses into cultural symbols, as in Untitled (Night City IV), Untitled (Seaside), and Untitled (Country).

American Views: Artists at Home and Abroad reveals how landscape images shape our views of nature and the world. William Merritt Chase literally shifted the view of collectors in the late 19th century from European painters and scenes to decidedly American landscapes such as Park in Brooklyn, ca. 1887, and Shinnecock Landscape, ca. 1894. Other American artists looked to the French Impressionists for a brighter palette, while keeping the focus on American, as in John Henry Twachtman’s Horseshoe Falls, Niagara, ca. 1894.

Contemporary Portraits’ Split Reference invites consideration of how and why a sitter has been depicted, based on the artist’s interaction with the subject and the viewer’s perception of it. Till Freiwald and Alex Katz begin the process with a sketch of the sitter that is used as the basis of the painting. Working from his own memory, Freiwald reinterprets that initial interaction to create monumentally scaled paintings, as in Untitled, where the sheer size of the female subject calls to question who is looking at whom. Katz captures the essence of his subject in his minimal depiction in Dark Glasses

Photorealist artists rely on ready-made images as a point of departure and in the service of often abstract narratives. In the new acquisitions in The Eye and the Camera, Charles Bell, Richard Estes, Robert Gniewek, and Clive Head use photographs as a tool to capture a moment and record elements that aren’t always seen by the naked eye. Bell experimented with a composition of a parade of toys and dramatic lighting to record elusive elements of reflection and shadow in Before the Journey, a pastel and colored pencil drawing that shimmers with infusions of light. In the nostalgic Al’s Diner #2—a complex image created from several photographs made from different angles—Gniewek uses light and reflection to express a specific mood.

Presenting a variety of media, styles, and approaches to image making over the span of nearly 150 years, What We See, How We See reveals the various ways in which artists perceive the world, interpret it through their work, and invite the viewer to engage in their distinct vision. 

What We See, How We See has been made possible, in part, by the generous support of Barbara Slifka, Ellen Cantrowitz, and Garrett and Mary Moran.

The Museum’s exhibitions and programs are made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the property taxpayers from the Southampton Union Free School District and the Tuckahoe Common School District. 



Parrish Art Museum

Inspired by the natural setting and artistic life of Long Island’s East End, the Parrish Art Museum illuminates the creative process and how art and artists transform our experiences and understanding of the world and how we live in it. The Museum fosters connections among individuals, art, and artists through care and interpretation of the collection, presentation of exhibitions, publications, educational initiatives, programs, and artists-in-residence. The Parrish is a center for cultural engagement, an inspiration and destination for the region, the nation, and the world.


Parrish Art Museum construction photographs © Jeff Heatley.


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