This year, Phillips agreed—but decided not to show his own work. He came up with an idea instead that deviated from the usual Chelsea-on-the-Jitney summertime side-hustle of simply selling familiar art to the billionaires out East. Rather than show his own work, he would choose three young galleries to take over the space and turn the Hamptons bacchanalia on its head.
Around him, the crew behind the first of his three choices—Bushwick’s Signal Gallery—was setting up for the takeover while members of the Signal community milled around, drinking Coronas and sunning themselves. Usually, one artist will put up some works in a room at the Surf Lodge and call it a day, but Signal brought out a gang of 17 and stormed the premises with gleeful work by artists who poked fun at the all-fun scenario at hand—while enjoying all the madness, too.
During the afternoon, the current project—which will remain on show for the next two weeks—involved trying to mechanize a machine that will activate Ask the Mouth, a new installation by Nathaniel DeLarge, Raine Trainor, and David Kirshoff that was made very much with the Hamptons in mind. It’s a big white tent that gets filled with rosé vapor—the concept of a rosé vape pen, blown up.
“We were told that there was a rosé sponsor, and they said, can you incorporate it somehow?” Johns said. “Not sure they were expecting this.”
“Have we been kicked out yet?” Kyle Jacques, who founded Signal with Johns, joked.
And the art really is everywhere. Egg-themed glowing titanium works by DeLarge were installed above where beautiful people get brunch, and hotel-friendly sculptures by Kirshoff consisted of concierge bells on top of wine glasses. Aidan Koch has dreamy blue-toned portraits placed on the awnings of the main A-frame, which is not-restored just enough to evoke the bygone fishing village that Montauk once was. Andrew Laumann is showing canvases nearly melted into the reclaimed wood behind the DJ booth they are mounted on. And a work by the artist Greem Jellyfish depicts, in green neon, an elderly woman hanging ten. It’s called Surfing Grandma.
Johns told me he had never been to Montauk before the project, and the other two galleries Phillips chose for the project don’t exactly scream “boats and bikinis.” Up next is Kai Matsumiya, which has built a reputation on staging hyper-conceptual shows at a tiny Lower East Side storefront. And then there’s Weiss Falk, a young gallery in Basel, Switzerland, the austere Swiss fair mecca.
“Richard approached us because he wanted it to be really weird,” Johns said. “Like he was thinking, ‘These guys are going to do crazy stuff in the middle of this Montauk culture.’ ”
By the water, someone suggested that Signal’s whole project was a send-up, at which point Johns said, “Oh, no, we’re very serious about all of this.”
As an addendum, Johns all of the sudden said, “The boner guys—they’re a little funny.”
Oh, yes, the boner guys.
“I fuck with horseshoes,” the man in the chambray suit said.
“I’ve been known to ring a few boners in my day,” the suited beach man said. It took some practice, but he eventually got one on the firm appendage, at which point he proclaimed, “I rang the boner! I rang the boner! I rang the boner!” and began high-fiving patrons sitting at tables equipped with magnums of rosé.
They did it all while glaring at the rows of party-mode guys who were whooping and chanting at the two women as the soundtrack began repeating a mantra: “Culture is not your friend, culture is not your friend, culture is not your friend.”