In 1947, the Abstract Expressionists James Brooks and Charlotte Park first spent a summer in the Hamptons on Long Island, New York, because “Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner were urging them to come,” Terrie Sultan, the director of the Parrish Art Museum, said in an interview. Pollock and Krasner made their pitch by saying, “this is such a great place to work, there’s a really strong community here, but no one really gets in the way of you being in the studio,” Sultan continued. The two newcomers “worked on this tiny little shack on the Montauk bluffs,” and by 1957 “they had moved to Springs”—a hamlet in East Hampton—“and established themselves as very key members of the artistic community out here.”
Now, 70 years after that first summer, a large collection of works by the artists are headed to the Parrish, in Water Mill (another Hamptons hamlet), from the James and Charlotte Brooks Foundation, which was established in 2010 to handle their legacies and art holdings after Park’s death at the age of 92. (Brooks died in 1992, aged 85.) In a rare move, the foundation has decided to give all of its assets, including its art and archives, to the Parrish, and to dissolve.
The museum will accession 89 painting, drawings, and prints by the two artists through the gift—these pieces offer a broad overview of their careers—and be able to sell other works from the foundation in order to build a James and Charlotte Brooks Fund, which will help care for the material and support contemporary art projects at the Parrish. (New York gallery Van Doren Waxter will continue to work with the Brooks work, and Berry Campbell that of Park.)
The Brooks Foundation approached the Parrish about a partnership because “their mission is the East End of Long Island, and because they had worked with both Charlotte and Jim over the years,” said John R. Lane, a foundation trustee who chairs its art committee. Working with another institution made sense, Lane added, because the foundation had been endowed with a substantial amount of art and modest financial resources. By placing the works with the larger organization, “the operating costs that the foundation was shouldering could more or less be subsumed into their regular budget.”
The Parrish will present a Brooks survey in the next few years, and Sultan said that, before then, the museum will show selections from the gift, which includes early figure studies and portraits that Brooks made before embracing Abstract Expressionist after coming back to New York in 1946, following World War II. The donation also includes mature paintings by Brooks and Park, whose reputation has been belatedly rising in recent years. Park “just did not get the recognition that she deserved, and we’re really looking forward to making that happen too,” Sultan said.
Since its creation, the foundation has donated 170 works to 20 institutions across the United States, among them the Whitney Museum, the Hammer Museum, and the Bywaters Special Collections of the Hamon Arts Library at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where Brooks studied as he was beginning his career in the 1920s.
The partnership with the Parrish comes as many artist foundations are thinking about how best to fulfill their missions and place artworks they hold. “Is it better to place everything in multiple public collections, is it better to put it all in a partner institution, is it better to do half and half?” Christine Vincent, the project director for the Artist Endowed Foundations Initiative at the Aspen Institute, asked. “It’s going to be different in each situation based on the nature of the art and the opportunity that’s around it. It’s not predetermined that there’s one right way to do this.”
For the Parrish, Vincent said, “this is one of the most significant things that will happen to them in a decade. This is a major gift and will have a significant impact.” She pointed out that the Rothko Foundation and the John Sloan Memorial Foundation have both made similar arrangements, with the National Gallery of Art and the Delaware Art Museum, respectively.
The number of artist-endowed foundations has been growing in recent years, Vincent said, and she expects to see many more collaborating with established institutions. “Where you’re really going to see a lot of these activities—and this is great because it’s really welcome—is out in the broader network of regional art museums, particularly university and college museums,” she said. Such museums, she added, are “flexible, they have an appetite for growth.”
“For a smaller museum, it’s raising its profile and building its collection and wants to expand its educational activities,” Vincent said. “It’s just a real opportunity.”