Historic rains pummeled the Northeast earlier this month, leading to flooding and emergency declarations in Vermont and New York. But as more storms threatened, the Hamptons Fine Arts Fair kicked off on July 13 at Long Island’s Southampton Fairgrounds, with booths exhibiting pieces by local artists alongside works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Norman Rockwell. Mock gallery walls showcased the art for sale under huge white event tents.
What happened next was every dealer’s nightmare.“The rain started in the early afternoon, but by 2 p.m. it was pouring so much that we couldn’t hear ourselves talking,” Emmanuel Fremin, owner of New York’s Fremin Gallery, tells Sarah Cascone of Artnet News.
Over the course of just two hours, the coastal Long Island town received between three and five inches of rainfall. The floors of the fair’s tents filled with water, covering electrical wiring that powered the lights and air conditioning. The town’s fire marshall shut the event down within hours and evacuated the tents, citing safety concerns over the submerged cords and electrical connections.
Attendees and sellers, some of whom paid in the tens of thousands of dollars for booths, are now pointing fingers at the organizers—specifically executive director of the fair Rick Friedman—over the “nightmarish” conditions, according to Rhea Nayyar of Hyperallergic. One participant, who spoke to Hyperallergic on condition of anonymity, called it the “Fyre Festival of the art world,” referring to the catastrophic 2017 music festival that was both expensive for participants and subject to brutal weather.
Critics say the fair organizers did not adequately prepare for any sort of bad weather. Zenith Gallery founder Margery Goldberg tells Hyperallergic that the tents were built on plywood platforms instead of the above-ground risers usually found at similar events. Speaking with ArtNet, Friedman denies that claim and says that the five-inch floors he put in would not have been a problem if not for the “torrential downpour like I haven’t seen in decades.”
Friedman tells Mara Siegler of Page Six that as of the Monday after the festival weekend, he had not received any reports of damage to the art.
“The ceiling and walls were OK,” Friedman says. “My understanding is that there was no serious damage to anything hanging on the walls. We told everyone to take their paintings off the floor.”
And, as Friedman points out, the show went on—he says the antiques dealer M.S. Rau sold a Picasso painting for $5.5 million over the phone during the storm.
But for disgruntled attendees, the whole experience left behind an extremely bitter taste. The Hamptons Fine Art Fair first launched in 2021 to accolades from across the art world. Its initial iteration was hosted in the hundred-year-old Southampton Arts Center (formerly the home of the Parrish Art Museum). It expanded to the fairgrounds in 2022 due to high demand.
After the 2023 flooding, Fremin suspects this will be the last time the fairgrounds host the arts fair—or any similar event.“I do not think that the town will allow any fairs to take place at this location again,” he tells Hyperallergic.