New Herzog & de Meuron Parrish Art Museum Opens Its Doors

New York’s Parrish Art Museum, founded in 1898 has opened the doors of its new, 34,400-square-foot Herzog & de Meuron designed, building in November  2012. The new Parrish includes 12,200 square feet of exhibition space—three times that of the Museum’s former home on Jobs Lane in Southampton. Seven sky-lit galleries devoted to the permanent collection showcase the story of America’s most enduring and influential artists’ colony—Eastern Long Island.

Samuel Longstreth Parrish (1849-1932) was born into a family of prominent Philadelphia Quakers and educated at Harvard College, where he first developed his taste for the Italian Renaissance. Parrish began collecting art seriously in the early 1880s, shortly after moving his successful law practice from Philadelphia to New York. During these same years, he regularly visited his family home in Southampton. The village, then as now a popular summer resort, quickly caught his interest and before long he became actively involved in its affairs.

While traveling in Italy in the fall of 1896, Parrish decided to build a museum in Southampton to house his rapidly growing collection of Italian Renaissance art and reproductions of classical Greek and Roman statuary. He purchased a small parcel of land adjacent to the Rogers Memorial Library on Jobs Lane and commissioned a fellow Southampton resident, the architect Grosvenor Atterbury (1869-1956), to design a suitable structure. Trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Atterbury designed the museum over a period of nearly twenty years.

The first Art Museum at Southampton, as the Parrish was then known, was a single large exhibition hall. Constructed in wood and entered from Main Street, the hall was built during the summer of 1897. A Concert Hall was added in 1905, and the wing to the street was constructed nine years later. An Aboretum was laid out on the Museum’s grounds as well, with a plant list contributed by the well-known landscape architect Warren H. Manning (1860 – 1938).

Parrish’s death in 1932, coupled with the Depression and the war years that followed, slowed developments at the Museum. By 1941, the Village of Southampton accepted the building, grounds, and founding collection as a gift from Parrish’s estate.

In the 1950s, a civic-minded Southamptonite with an abiding interest in the arts, Mrs. Robert Malcolm Littlejohn, became President of the Board and took on the overwhelming task of reviving the Museum. A heating system was installed so the building could remain open year-round and a charter was obtained from the New York State Board of Regents, recognizing the Museum as an educational institution.

Perhaps most important, Mrs. Littlejohn believed the museum should look not only to the past civilizations but to American artists, especially those who had worked on the East End of Long Island. Her estimable collection of American paintings, including those of William Merritt Chase, Thomas Moran, and Childe Hassam, which she bequeathed to the Parrish, became the core of the outstanding collection of American paintings held by the Museum today.

By the mid-1980s it was clear that the Parrish had outgrown its original building, which lacked not only the basic infrastructure required by a professional museum but also the space necessary to share its collection with the public along with temporary exhibitions. In 2005 the Museum purchased fourteen acres in Water Mill, New York, and the Board of Trustees selected the internationally celebrated architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron to design a new and expanded building there. Ground was broken in July 2010, and the 34,400 square-foot building opened to the public November 10, 2012.

The Parrish Art Museum is devoted to the collection, preservation, interpretation and dissemination of American art with particular focus on the art of the East End of Long Island. The Museum is committed to bringing art and people together in its education and outreach programs. While the Museum’s programs, its exhibitions, collections, educational activities and publications are related specifically to American culture, its past and present, each is related broadly to other cultures, to artifacts, to all visual forms and to aesthetic and humanist concerns. Through its programs, the Museum pursues innovative and experimental approaches, and stimulates dialogue and inquiry. It also encourages scholarship of its professional staff and initiates collaboration with related institutions. The Parrish seeks to be a vital cultural resource for the region and neighboring communities, and to serve beyond the region with its traveling exhibitions and publications. Overall, the Museum seeks to provide information and inspiration for its current audiences, to actively attract new audiences and to be an accessible presence for future generations.