Richard Demato — An Art Gallery Owner With Heart
Opens New Gallery In Sag Harbor
Sag Harbor — Richard Demato is a man with a head for business, and a heart for charity and goodwill. He has been giving back to his community for years as the President of The Retreat (the East End’s only domestic abuse shelter), and now offers a ‘sanctuary of sorts’ right on Main Street in Sag Harbor for both established and emerging artists from the East End and beyond.
“This is an excellent time for business. We believe that when things are difficult for most people with their traditional methodology it is an excellent time to have a fresh approach in a business, and a unique approach will do well. I think most businesses — if they are on one plane too long — lose their edge, and I believe we have a different point of view in terms of what we are showing. We are reaching out to a lot of new artists, as well as established artists, and with a new perspective” Demato responded when asked if perhaps opening a new gallery in the current economy might seem a bit risky to most.
Demato, a pleasant, refreshingly forthright and determined businessman, further explained “We took the space on September 1, actually I think it was for rent for about one hour, but what basically happened was that due to my involvement with The Retreat, I have been involved with Artists Against Abuse for five years, and have been President for the last two years, I have met a lot of artists, including April Gornik, Eric Fischl, Dan Rizzie and many, many others. They have all donated their work to the agency, and I’ve always respected them” [Demato is married to well-known artist Harriet Sawyer, and in 2003, after long careers in the fashion industry, they relocated to the East End and live in North Haven].
Continuing, he elaborates, “We were in the print business for 30 years, and we are accustomed to looking at the printed or finished product with multi-colors, and able to make an informed decision, so when this space became available, and since Harriet and I had been talking about it anyhow, I figured we’ll chase it, we’ll figure it out and that is exactly what we are doing. This is the first time I have ever had an art gallery, but in my own point of view we were the leading print design company in the country for about 25 years, and that is a taste level that led us to what we are doing now.”
In fact, Demato was so inspired to open the gallery that initially he filled the space with works from his own private collection. He relayed “Originally, when we first opened it we didn’t really have artwork to put in so we put in some of the artwork we have been collecting for 25 years. Now that we have artists we have taken out our personal collection so to speak, and now are showing the people we are representing.” (The two floor space is adjacent to the infamous Sag Harbor Movie Theater.)
Among some of the artists Demato represents are Sawyer, who he indicated “has been painting for over 30 years,” Daria Deshuk, “because we are friends and we like her work; Jeff Aeling, Jacques Moiroud, and Donato Giancola, whom Demato commented “is a lovely young man. But we are also mixing in new people that really haven’t been shown out here at all.”
“We like oil, mixed media, and try not to limit ourselves, so we can better learn. We like having one artist upstairs to give them a unique setting and to really show what the artist does in depth, and downstairs we try to mix it up to give all of the artists we are representing some exposure, and to show people that we are not just about one thing” Demato explained.
When asked what makes this gallery different than any of the other galleries in the Hamptons Demato responded “I think there are a lot of people in this town who show traditional landscapes and that is what some galleries have built their business on — we are trying to be a little more unusual. This is not a ‘vanity’ gallery — that is not what we are about — and another point of view for me is that a large percentage of what we earn will go to The Retreat, and we will be doing The Retreat Second Annual Juried Art show here.”
Demato elaborated “A percentage of our money, not the artist’s percentage, will go directly to The Retreat. We have been put in the extremely fortunate position to not have to work, but we need to remain vital and involved. We have always been committed and driven people to learn new things and reach new goals. It keeps us alive. I have been selling some houses here on and off for a few years, I have a license with BHS, who has been very flexible and supportive with my endeavors, and whatever I have earned in real estate so far has been given back to the charities we support. We have a need to give, so a percentage of what we personally earn from the gallery will also go to The Retreat and Fountain House. We have supported Fountain House for almost 20 years.”
Explaining that “Fountain House takes care of the mentally incapacitated or disadvantaged and gives them as normal a lifestyle as you can by monitoring medications, offering vocational jobs in the neighborhood, and other services, but most importantly assuring that residents are looked after, kept off the streets and protected. I became involved with The Retreat when one of my neighbors came and sold me a raffle ticket and I went to the event — bought some of the plates — got on the board and I have been involved up to 30 hours a week; and during crisis even more. However, now with our new executive director, Jeffrey Freidman, and a grown board, I have been given the time and opportunity to have and operate the gallery. My wife’s sister is part of Fountain House, and that is why we are involved with them.”
Demato would like to showcase all artists but defines that “It has to be different and the difference is we are going to continue to utilize this [the gallery] as a centerpoint to give back to the community with at least these two non-profits at this time, and if the artists want to donate, and I will ask but never require that they do, that would be marvelous.”
“To me that is why we are here, we are living in a wonderful place, we are blessed. As far as the artists go I find one of the most interesting aspects for me is meeting and dealing with the kind of sensitive and creative people that they are which I miss from my old business and dealing with all the designers. I am very happy to be more involved with the local community, and I am very happy to be involved in a creative business and industry again. We plan to be at Art Basel, and get involved with ArtHamptons, and assuming we still love this at the end of the year, we have already started to look for a gallery space in Manhattan and possibly Los Angeles.”
Welcome to the neighborhood Mr. Demato!
The Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery is located at 90 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information call 631-725-1161, or for a private showing call 917-678-2292. The gallery is open every day during the summer. As Demato notes: “We are open anytime someone wants an appointment. Our Gallery Director brings tremendous experience and assistance to our business and between us all we will be available to any and all interested clients.”
Click to see works by the following artists: Donato Giancola, Harriet Sawyer