Inside Jue Lan, The Hamptons’ Hot New Art Hangout

With art-works featuring Jean-Michel Basquiat, a John Belushi, Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, and William Burroughs, Stratis Morfogen has transplanted his fashionable venue to the beach.

Courtesy Emerald Fitzgerald

The Hamptons have always attracted artists. Indeed, there were artists out there way before the bankers, the brokers, and the hedgies, and the locals took to them, seeing them as hapless strivers.

Some years back I was leafing through The Hamptons Joke Book in the Springs General Store and found this: What do you call somebody who hangs around the Hamptons all year and doesn’t work?

The answer? An artist.

Disclosure: I have used this gem before, also referencing the fact that this was the store where Jackson Pollock, who was living on a stipend from Peggy Guggenheim, would swap canvases for groceries.

The store, by the way, is on Old Stone Highway, which runs directly into Fireplace Road where a drunk and angry Pollock killed himself and a young woman in his blue Oldsmobile.

I discovered the Hamptons when I arrived in New York in the mid ’70s. It was informal heaven, those being the days when you could track sand into a house, sleep on somebody’s sofa, and when a traffic problem meant maybe somebody having a flat tire.

Yes, there were some artists out there, usually hanging out with writers at Bobby Van’s in Bridgehampton, and the Andy Warhol entourage was out at Montauk. Indeed the movie Cocaine Cowboys, starring Jack Palance and the smuggler Tom Sullivan, was shot on Warhol’s spread in 1979 and Warhol appears in it now and again, wielding a Polaroid camera.

But then in the ’80s, when big money began sluicing through the art world, hefty artists became figures on the landscape and galleries budded. As they are now doing increasingly.

And there are posh occasions where the haute Hamptons—the glitterati and art-wordlings—can eye each other, perhaps even chat, such as the affairs at the Parrish Museum and the Watermill Center.

But there’s never been much by way of venues where fruitful interactions with actual art can occur. Well, now there is.

Stratis Morfogen is the motor here. Morfogen is the restaurateur who came in for an understandable flurry of attention in December when he opened the Jue Lan club in a deconsecrated church on 20th Street and 6th Avenue, which had formerly housed Peter Gatien’s Limelight.

An art program was part of Morfogen’s project from the get-go. One of the dining room/art spaces is called The Warhol Room, for instance—which is also, of course, a nod to the place’s disco origins—and this is curated by an Australian beanpole, Emerald Gruin. (Disclosure Two is that I have worked with Gruin on projects. That’s how I know all this stuff.)

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And it is Emerald Gruin who has curated the first show in The Barn, which is part of and alongside the Jue Lan club on Elm Street, Southampton. They opened on Friday.

The Jue Lans in the city and out by the beach are alike in that they feature a highly sophisticated Chinese menu. But just what does the phrase, Jue Lan—which is a club in the sense of being clubby rather than cardholderish—actually mean?

The answer suggests Morfogen’s project of entwining the place with the artworld goes beyond modish marketing.

“The Jue Lan was started by 14 Chinese artists in Shanghai in 1932,” he says. It was effectively a secret society, cutting edge Western art not exactly being popular with the Chinese authorities at the time.

“Sometimes they would sneak off to Paris with forged papers for three weeks. They were involved with the avant-garde but never used their real names.

“They would have put themselves in jeopardy, risked being imprisoned or executed when they returned home.”

The artists whose work Emerald Gruin has assembled for Punks, Poets and Provocateurs, her launch at The Barn, would not have been good prospects for a quiet life in Shanghai back then, I fear.

Marcia Resnick, for whose recent book the show is named, dominates it with something like three dozen photographs, including one of Johnny Thunders with a syringe stuck like a feather in his hat, an uncharacteristically benign Johnny Rotten, a very young Jean-Michel Basquiat, a balaclava-headed John Belushi, Mick Jagger biting a toy airplane and Jagger again, sitting down to a meal with Andy Warhol and William Burroughs in his bunker on the Bowery.

So the Jue Lan club connection with the Limelight era is indeed persuasively channeled here. As it is unmistakeably by Jonathan Rosen’s large collage of Club Kid photographs and original invitations to that same seductively infamous club.

Hamptons sedateness will also be subjected to a breath of the streets in the work of Mint & Serf, in that of Gregory Siff, who channels the street and much else, and in the direct photographs of tattooed faces by Jack Greer.

There’s a lively drawing by Mark Kostabi, a photograph by Jordan Doner, which is a riff on a Salvador Dali, Gregory de la Haba, and a photograph by David Gamble of one of Andy Warhol’s wigs backed up by effigies of two Egyptian deities, which was taken in Warhol’s house shortly after his death at the suggestion of the late Fred Hughes.

There is also a small, high energy piece by Keith Haring, who painted it on the wall of an apartment on the Lower East Side. The owner says Haring was trying to impress his boyfriend.

That boyfriend would die of AIDS. And a realtor recently moved in to redevelop the property.

Yes, it’s that New, New Story. Or Stories. So the owner had the piece cut out of the wall and hence its presence in the show. And, oh, yes, I have a couple of pieces up too: Neons, plus drawings.

The opening—yet to happen at the time of writing—I am sure will be a blast, mingling Hamptons summer folk, Euros, local artists, and kids in from the city, and it’s a safe bet that it will be more entertaining than a city opening.

And after that? “My family lived out here for seventeen years,” Morfogen says. “I didn’t come out as a city slicker to turn the place as a cash register and leave the neighborhood in ruins. People should feel free just to come in any time and look at the art.”