There is what appears to be a blank canvas hanging in the Gail Schoentag Gallery in Sag Harbor, in a side room of the newest art gallery in town. It’s not part of the current exhibit, but rather seems more an extension of the gallery owner herself. “This is the first gallery I ever had,” Gail Schoentag says. “And it formed overnight.” That is little exaggeration, if any at all.
In a former life, Schoentag befriended a number of artists who’d asked if she might one day help them get their work showcased. She agreed, although her experience in the art world was pretty much limited to an appreciation of art seen around the world while on business travels. “I don’t have a title, I didn’t go to school for this,” she says, “but that can help you be innocent or vulnerable and see what your views are. And I have a good eye.”
So when she got a call in the early spring this year that some artist friends were ready for their gallery moment, Schoentag was ready, too. In mere weeks she left her career in the corporate world, locked down her gallery space at 112 Hampton Street, curated the art overseas, got it to the East End and opened her doors in May.
The exhibit she has brought to life, “Limits and Desperate,” showcases paintings, photography and videos by Eric Decastro, Florian Heinke, Anke Roehrscheid, Josef Schoeffmann, Nathalie Grenzhaeuser, Clare Langan, Bjorn Melhus, and Yves Netzhammer, and runs through September 20. As successful as it’s been, she’s already talking about the next one, a gathering of works by local artists for the fall, then toward next year, when before the summer season “I can have a harvest table in the gallery and other gallery owners, locals, the chief of police, will come and I’ll say, ‘Good luck, dinner’s on me.’ That’s my vision.”
Vision. It’s a word Schoentag uses often as she walks through the gallery. “I’ve only been here 3 months,” she reminds. “This space is a virgin gallery, it’s innocent, it’s vulnerable, it doesn’t have anything connected to it yet, so it’s forming every day and changing. My vision is it can house a solo exhibit, it can hold children’s art, be a place for music, where people can come and have a cup of coffee and be surrounded by art. People can come with their dogs and walk in the garden.
“I have an open-door policy, ” she continues. “Artists can always come in and see me, have a drink of water, go on the swing, talk with me. I had a photographer from Austria, and we did pictures of some of the children in town on their skateboards. It’s a gallery, yes, it’s a business, yes, but I want it to be a meeting place, too. I don’t want it to be just one thing—it won’t just be a watercolor gallery or a sculpture gallery. It’ll have a little something for everyone.”
As much as she is driven to expose the masses to outstanding art, Schoentag clearly wants to immerse herself deep within the community. She has embraced her Sag Harbor environs from the outset. When she first moved in—the gallery space also serves as her home—“I studied a lot at Canio’s bookstore, reading books and poetry and everything I could about Sag Harbor—there’s just so much history,” she says. “And then I’d go walk and find the places I had read about.”
Seeing the passion Schoentag has for Sag Harbor when she speaks of it, one gets the sense that she must have some ties to this place. Then it comes out that she has in fact been here before…sort of. “I was living in Montauk and working in Bridgehampton last year, and I sort of got lost one day,” she says. “One day I came down Sag Harbor Turnpike and kept driving straight and I just ended up at the dock. And I parked and had lunch and I just looked out at the boats on the water and the people and said, I’m coming back here. I loved it. It was magical.”
Visit the Gail Schoentag Gallery (631-594-3510) at 112 Hampton Street in Sag Harbor during HarborFest and online at www.gailschoentag-gallery.com.