Sincerely Yours, Joel

At Rental Gallery in East Hampton
Jonas Wood is one of 40 artists in Rental Gallery’s first official show of the season.

Each year there is at least one gallery that “pops up” on the South Fork with the hope of making a quick buck from the Hamptons money crowd. Typically long on trend and short on depth, they rarely last more than a year or a season.

How wonderful to find something different in a space on Newtown Lane that has often given us serious examinations of visual art. Both playful and sincere, Rental Gallery is here to add a bit of mischief and delight to our summer and year.

Joel Mesler, an artist who often injects himself into his art’s narrative, seems to be playing up the performative elements of being an art dealer as well. His official inaugural show is an invitational to artists he has had long relationships with in his prior spaces in Los Angeles and New York City, and a wish list for a few others. 

“Oliver Twist, Chapter 2: Dear Darren” begins with a press release/preamble that reads as a letter to Darren Bader, one of the artists Mr. Mesler invited to exhibit. He said he already knew that Mr. Bader didn’t have anything at the moment to show, but liked the idea of presenting the letter as a private joke. It reveals some of his own story and injects a bit of mysterious absence or loss to the show, a phantom limb. 

On the bottom of the exhibition checklist, after a list of some 40 works by just as many artists, it simply lists “Darren Bader, TBD; Still Waiting.” It is the kind of joke that rewards the observant and keeps the idlers guessing. 

This show is not to be confused with the impromptu exhibition he mounted of Matthew Chambers’s mother’s quilts last month. Mr. Chambers, a gallery artist, often uses dyed strips of canvas as his medium, but sends some of his pieces to his mother, who sews them onto a stitched cloth and batting backing to make a quilt. Although Mr. Mesler wasn’t planning a show before this one, when he saw the group of quilts, he said he had to see them hanging on his walls. An announcement of the show came with the proviso that there would be no opening reception for “the artist, his mother, or anyone else associated with the show.” How can you not love that?

What you will see in the gallery is a group of rather diverse artists in several mediums, some with complicated back stories. Sherrie Levine could easily be one of the most recognizable. Through a special request to the artist and her gallery, he is able to show two works, one of her crystal skulls and a mauve mirror. Known for appropriating famous works from the art historical canon, these seem both knowingly slick and somehow more sincere in their lack of immediate context.

Jennifer Rubell may be best known as the daughter of Don and Mera Rubell, whose eponymous public art collection in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood is always a must-see destination during Art Basel week every December. Early on, her installations of breakfast food on the patio became part of the family’s exhibition, with attendees invited to help themselves. 

She eventually moved on to non-food art, but the piece she has here has its own temporality. A bathroom door’s sculptural support holds cherry red lipstick expressionistically laid down to form a heart shape and a phone number with a Miami area code. With nothing protecting the surface, one wonders how long the medium can last given rising summer heat and invading insect species. The show may close before we find out, but there is a tantalizing sense of risk to this piece.

Of the other art-world insiders on view, Kenny Schachter is an artist, dealer, curator, collector, and writer. One of his self-portrait photographs is in the show. Mason Saltarelli has a gouache and graphite drawing on paper displayed. Once an assistant to Julian Schnabel, he has come into his own as an artist and has previously shown at Outeast’s Montauk gallery, now closed, and Ille Arts in Amagansett.

There is so much to see and such different approaches to mediums and subjects, it is difficult to come up with too many glittering generalities about this work. What can be said is that despite some unconventional uses of mediums (nylon, flocking, sheepskin, industrial embroidery and inkjet printing on polyester), often the artists provide straightforward drawings, paintings, and photography. 

Zachary Armstrong, more known for his dark encaustic paintings, has taken up painted sculpture, specifically fish, in which he also uses encaustic. “Fish Over the Door for Jack” is an homage to the artist’s former dealer, Jack Tilton, who died this month. Mr. Mesler said that the artist told him that Mr. Tilton said it was good luck to hang a fish over the doorway. And that is where it hangs.

One of the latest arrivals to the area, Mr. Mesler has moved both business and family to East Hampton. A video that has been circulated widely online documents his transition in the same tongue-in-cheek spirit, without ever seeming arch. He’s truly happy to be here, has a lovely space, is making friends like the next-door gallery neighbor Harper Levine (the two now troll each other on Instagram), and doesn’t miss the city at all. By summer’s end, he could be responsible for a whole new colony of art world copycats tired of the urban grind.

The exhibition is on view through June 17.