A cheeky art installation is stirring up Hamptonites' anxieties about the economy and the local real estate market.
As part of an exhibition at Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, on Newtown Lane in East Hampton, the artist Adam McEwen soaped up the store's front window and hung two signs: one saying "FORECLOSURE," and the other a hand-painted facsimile of a Century 21 realty sign, complete with a 631 number to call about the property. Mr. McEwen also added some graffiti in the soap, making the effect even more authentic.
The first people to be inconvenienced by the signs were the building's owners, Amy and Michael Grossman.
"We didn't know about the artwork until I got a call from somebody who was looking to buy the building," Ms. Grossman said in an interview. "I told them that I'd been the owner/manager for 20 years, and, to the best of my knowledge, it wasn't for sale." She didn't figure out what sign the caller was referring to until another tenant in the building phoned to tell her about the exhibit.
The Grossmans asked Mr. Horowitz and his partner, John McWhinnie, to take the signs down, or at least put a disclaimer on the window. "I was definitely concerned as far as giving the appearance that the building was struggling," Ms. Grossman said. "We've been fortunate that in the 20 years that we've owned it, it's been pretty much occupied, and we didn't want to give the appearance of any devaluation in the property."
Mr. Horowitz and Mr. McWhinnie insisted on keeping the signs up, without any disclaimer, and the Grossmans eventually chose to defer to the wishes of a longtime tenant, especially since they knew the show would come down in mid-September.
Meanwhile, lots of people came into the store and asked why they were closing. Since Glenn Horowitz recently opened another, smaller store down the street, some people assumed he was downsizing.
"Jane Friedman, the [former] chief executive of HarperCollins, burst in here the other day and said, 'What's happening? You're closing down the street ó and I hear Armani is moving in.'" Mr. McWhinnie said. (He took credit for spreading that particular rumor.)
But the most dramatic reaction, Mr. McWhinnie said, came from clients, mainly from the banking community, who felt that the store shouldn't do anything to reinforce the economic anxiety that many New Yorkers who summer in the Hamptons already feel.
"One banker client said, 'You know, you really shouldn't be sending this signal [of economic distress] out to the general public,'" Mr. McWhinnie said. "There's this idea of a kind of domino effect."
Reached by phone, Mr. McEwen said that he was inspired in part by the juxtaposition between the wealth and luxury of the Hamptons and current news reports about the financial suffering of people in the rest of the country.
"I just wondered if you could take one element from over here and put it down here in a different place and see if anybody would notice," Mr. McEwen said. He was also playing off of stories in recent months about "young Wall Street guys who bought big fancy pads in the Hamptons and then they were laid off and had to get rid of them."
Although houses are still being listed for astronomical prices, the real estate market in the East End has definitely slowed. Sales of homes in East Hampton and Southampton dropped 42.4%, from the same period last year, according to the New York Times.
Mr. McWhinnie said that the choice of Century 21 as the real estate company was also deliberate, since people would wonder why the building wasn't being sold by a more upscale company, like Corcoran or Sotheby's.
In an ironic coincidence, shortly before the show went up last month, the street-front space adjoining Glenn Horowitz in the same building was recently vacated. It had been occupied by troubled mortgage company Countrywide Financial. Countrywide was purchased by Bank of America earlier this year, and it has closed several offices, Mr. Grossman said.