BIG SKY WIRE: LISA SPELLMAN

8 Aug 2012 0 Share

SURFING & ART & SURFING 'ROUND MONTAUK, NEW YORK

By Michele Lockwood

Big Sky Wire is the new Coastalwatch column from the eclectic surf world of Michele Lockwood and Andrew Kidman – featuring artists and surfers and individuals of interest every Wednesday.


Lisa Spellman, owner and director of 303 Gallery in New York’s Chelsea is a mad surf nut. She represents some of the art world’s heaviest modern artists: Doug Aitken, Karen Kilimnik and Stephen Shore to name but a few. Amazingly she still finds time enough to maintain a healthy level of grom-like stoke. Read her take on the Montauk scene, how best to avoid crowds and survive the GFC.

CW: When did you open 303 Gallery and why? Are you still in the original location? 

LS: I opened the original space in1984, it was also where lived – 303 Park Ave South. At the time I was studying photography at School of Visual Arts. I chose the address for the name since it was just factual during a time when galleries had hyper-creative names. But also Alfred Steiglist's gallery backroom, where he did special artists projects, was called ‘303’, so I liked that link. I’ve since moved to the East Village, then SOHO and finally to Chelsea in 1995, where I have been since.

Your gallery has survived a few cycles of GFC and the like, how have you kept it going in tough times? How, if at all is the art market reflected in the stock market?

I saved money like crazy and in the earlier days I always had other jobs to help support me, like teaching a photo critique class in the Grad Dept. of S.V.A. I would rent out the gallery for lots of events too. I have always been lucky in finding good real estate opportunities for the gallery, which has helped it grow. The art market may be a market that investor's watch as a wealth market indicator, but the art world itself is not a huge market.

How long have you been surfing and why did you start?

Just three years ago this summer. But I was always in the water bodysurfing. I always wanted to surf but it took a best friend to figure out how to get me on a board, that happened in Nosara, Costa Rica and then it became my life, so I surf year round.

Can you give a brief description of the Montauk surf scene?

It’s going through a radical shift to someplace not quite reality based. But you know the rest of the Hamptons had sort of designed Montauk to end up this way since this is where they decided to put all the hotels. So all this development was bound to happen.

Most of the people who surf here are amazing – from all walks of life. So today is Sunday, and I’m in my house, sort of hiding out… its beyond super crowded out there. Last Tuesday there were over 90 people in the line-up at 9am! The waves were about 6 "! So I try to just stay positive and surf at the right times and in the right conditions... like late at night when it’s dark or in lightning storms! But I just have to work around it.

Everyone seems obsessed with the hipster invasion. But you know there are assholes from all walks of life. There are definitely certain establishments that opened in the past few years that did change everything and attract people here for maybe different reasons then maybe why I came here, you know, places like to get drunk and get laid. I did have a girl come up to me one afternoon, she was wearing 6” heels and a spandex dress and she asked me if I knew how to get to “The Ditch”, because she wanted to meet a surfer… I was like, well, who doesn’t?


Danny Di Mauro and your hubby Tin Ojeda have released their trailer for Kook Paradise, a satirical take on the over-equipped weekend warrior. The film is complete with Bruce Brown-esque narration. Did you have any input into the making of?

No, this is all Tin and Danny and it’s all a dream.

What would you say his goal is for this film is?

I think it’s cathartic; it’s a way to make something creative out of a situation that’s a bit heartbreaking. But now he is really excited to go to the beach every morning to film all this footage and not surf. So it’s an upside down world.

Do you have a psych up ritual prior to going out for a surf? 

I wake up early, have coffee and stand on my picnic table to see what the waves are doing. I’ll annoy Tin, turn on some music and make the bed, do the dishes while I put my wetsuit on. If the waves are big then I reorganize the spice rack… I don’t even cook…

What do you care about?

The ecology of the water is pretty dire now, it’s just so sad. There have been over five dead leatherback turtles washing ashore in the last few weeks. There was a baby sperm whale that died here last summer, no-one knows why. Ear infections, sore throats and staff infections are on the rise. The water is visibly dirty on many days. But on a good note… there are a lot more seals in the water. I was able to surf with a huge bull seal recently. There are more shark sightings of course now too.

To check out more from 303 gallery click here.

Tags: gallery 303 , big sky wire , lisa spellman , kook paradise , michele lockwood , montauk (create Alert from these tags)

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