Joyce Varvatos, Art Adviser to Hollywood, Curates Hamptons Gallery Pop-Up

Hamptons Gallery Pop-Up - Erin Pollock art and inset of Joyce and John Varvatos -Publicity -H 2019
Courtesy of New York Academy of Art; Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

The wife of designer John Varvatos will forgo the A-list names she typically deals in (KAWS, Emile Hirsch) to showcase work by fellows of the artist-founded New York Academy of Art from Aug. 1 to 4 in Southampton.

For the last three summers, art advisor Joyce Varvatos (wife of menswear designer John Varvatos) has curated a pop-up commercial gallery in New York's Hamptons to sell work by well-established artists to collectors among whom are some of Hollywood's elite.

"Last year, Neil Patrick Harris and his family were the first in the door," says Varvatos, whose Hollywood advisory clients include NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer; former MGM chair Roger Birnbaum, founder of Spyglass Entertainment; Propagate co-CEO Ben Silverman; Industry Entertainment co-founder Keith Addis; Golden Globe-winning producer Celine Rattray (Trudie Styler's partner in Maven Pictures); producer Keri Selig; and Grant Heslov — George Clooney's longtime producing partner — and actor-producer wife Lisa.

But this year, Varvatos is presenting her clientele with something other than the A-List artists they've come to expect from her.

From Aug. 1 to 4, her pop-up gallery will instead showcase the work of lesser-known artists who've been fellows of The New York Academy of Art, which was founded in Manhattan in 1982 by artists (including Andy Warhol), scholars and patrons of the arts. The fellowship is awarded to the top three graduates of each year's MFA class and is the academy's highest honor. (Since 2015, Chubb Fine Art Insurance has underwritten the yearlong residency, now called the Chubb Fellowship.)

Varvatos' show "Fellows: Past and Present" presents more than 30 artworks by the academy's graduates, with varying themes and artistic styles, ranging from a five-foot triptych landscape of St. Barts' beaches to playful stop-motion animation to life-size animal sculptures.

"There is a lot of figurative work," Varvatos says, since the academy is rooted in classical training, which tends to focus on live drawing. But, she adds, "it's a real range."

Varvatos typically deals in contemporary artists represented by top gallerists: KAWS, Do Ho Suh, Eric Fischl and others who are household names among collectors. She moved into advising full-time after directing and producing the 2004 documentary Off the Canvas, which profiled the pioneering women art dealers in New York, including Marian Goodman, Paula Cooper, Barbara Gladstone, Andrea Rosen, Annina Nosei (Jean-Michel Basquiat's first dealer) and Mary Boone (whom Alec Baldwin once compared to a bank robber and who was recently sentenced for tax fraud).

In Varvatos' previous pop-ups, the work sold for up to $200,000. This time, the 30 pieces are priced from $250 to $9,000, with one outlier for $40,000.

This year's show almost didn't happen. Varvatos had found the process of producing her pop-ups too taxing — particularly dealing with "the bureaucracy" of all the big galleries. But this spring, she found herself at an Academy event talking to David Kratz, the school's president, whose commitment to supporting its graduates impressed her greatly. As she shared why she was planning to call it quits on the pop-ups, she suddenly had an epiphany: Why not showcase the work of the Academy's top graduates?  "Because of my conversation with David, it kind of just dinged!" she says.

Working with the school, she chose 11 artists from a list of more than 30. One artist who has already made some headlines is 2010 fellow Will Kurtz, whose collectors reportedly include Mary-Kate Olsen. He makes life-size sculptures of people and animals out of papier-mâché. (His sculptures of Humane Society rescue dogs available for adoption were part of the grand opening of art projects at New York's Hudson Yards.)   

Jason Bereswill, a 2006 Fellow, has been the artist-in-residence at the Eden Rock St Barths hotel, and his work, including the pieces in the show, depicts the island's landscapes and rock formations. Alaska-born Erin Pollock, a current fellow, is a multimedia artist who often works in stop-motion animation. Jamaican Phillip Thomas, a 2009 Fellow, creates work that engages with issues of post-colonialism, critiquing certain aspects of Jamaican culture "and its willfully invisible middle-class," according to his artist's statement.

Varvatos was impressed with Chloe Chiasson, one of the two artists she was able to meet in person in preparation for the exhibition, describing Chiasson as having "a style that seems to be hitting the mark of our current pop culture" and likening the work to that of Nathaniel Mary Quinn (whose work is in the collections of Anderson Cooper and Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel). "Chloe's work here is collage and painting and it's not very precise, which I like," Varvatos adds. "It's very abstract and figurative at the same time."

Varvatos says working with all the Academy fellows brought her back to what drew her to the art world in the first place. "We didn't have the term pop-up then," she recalls, "But I'm reminded of my early years in the 1990s when I would get excited about these young artists and do these great kamikaze gallery shows at my friends' galleries, for maybe 36 hours between one show coming down and another going up."

This time around, though, she adds, "It's a tribute to the academy and talent they spawn."

"Fellows: Past and Present" is on view Aug. 1-4 at 30 Jobs Lane in Southampton with a public reception Aug. 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. 

A version of this story appears in the July 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.