Art bonds and John Perreault urges them to Bellport
Mark and Tonja Van Wagner at the soft opening of the Marquee Projects Inc. art gallery on Saturday.

Adv/Leuzzi

Art bonds and John Perreault urges them to Bellport

Story By: LINDA LEUZZI
4/20/2017


The sneak peak at Marquee Projects Inc. was more a resounding celebration.

They included Carolyn and Christopher Gallagher from Stony Brook. Their niece’s husband Daniel Bruttig’s art was being displayed. So was Larry Wolhandler’s, Laura Kaufman’s and Fukuko Harris’s, along with six others. There were 23 pieces in all.

Local Elyzabeth Meade came because “I’m a fiend for art,” she said.

“We had about 150 visitors,” said Mark Van Wagner, who with his wife Tonja, are partners in this new Bellport Village art gallery.

The so-so weather on Saturday didn’t deter the crowd, who kept flowing in, peering at the abstract artwork, lingering until nearly 8 p.m. (P.S. The cutoff time was 7 p.m., but who was paying attention.)

“We’re exhausted,” said Mark Van Wagner, grinning on Monday, as Tonja nodded. “But people have been so supportive. They walk up to me and say how wonderful that you’re opening up.”

The Van Wagners rented the space March 1, but you’d never know it. The interior of the 450-square-foot storefront provides a spanking-white backdrop to the modern artwork, with light pouring in from the large front window and a glass back door to the garden. They painted, scraped, hauled out bookcases, a display case and a closet, redid the floor and installed a partial wall by the window that almost didn’t make it, until a friend stopped by to save its precarious position when it almost dropped.

That their endeavor is starting off with a bang really isn’t surprising. The Van Wagners’ journey to Bellport in a way was inevitable. It included their friendship with The Village Voice and The SoHo Weekly News art critic John Perreault, a Bellporter, who they bonded with when they lived in Kauai, Hawaii.

Perreault, who also wrote the blog Artopia for the website Arts Journal, was an artist and he and Van Wagner found they had a lot in common with their work. (Perreault died in 2015.)

“There’s a lot of serendipity,” said Tonja Van Wagner. “We trust in that. What we’ve learned is to be open to change.”

Mark Van Wagner is an abstract artist (his sister still has his first piece from when he was 5). Tonja Van Wagner is a massage therapist who owned a spa business at one time; she also has a background in finance, hails from Winterthur, Switzerland and attended the Waldorf School. They met and married in Boulder, Colo.

When they found themselves in Kauai and Mark Van Wagner saw Perreault’s work, he wrote the icon a letter about their similarities.

Surprise! He wrote back and an artist dialogue ensued via email for about a year.

Eventually, “I asked him if he would be interested in doing a show at the Kauai Museum,” he said. “A lot of my art included plastics washing up on the shore and John was doing something similar on Fire Island and I wanted to do an environmental show.”

“Drawing from Sand,” by John Perreault and Mark Van Wagner, debuted at the Kauai Museum in December 2011. Both collaborated and curated the exhibit, which also wound up in Gallery 125 the following year.

Perreault’s husband, Jeff Weinstein, confirmed the friendship. Because of a business commitment, he’d gone to Kauai the day after Perreault arrived for the exhibit; they remained a week.

“We became very close friends because they are terrific people,” Weinstein said. “I still have the lei they gave me.”

The couple invited the Van Wagners, who were already mulling returning to the mainland after seven years, to visit them in Bellport. They fell in love with the village’s aura and initially rented a house across the street from Perreault and Weinstein.

“They became art husbands,” joked Weinstein.

A tribute survey of John Perreault’s work is Marquee Projects Inc.’s big show and grand opening on Friday, June 23.

Mark Van Wagner’s background, which included working as an artist in Chicago and with top art photographer Michael Tropea, who photographed for catalogues and art dealers, helped hone his art savvy. He also bought decrepit buildings, fixed them up and rented them and was a house painter. Tonja Van Wagner shared a similar art knowledge, knew spreadsheets and can hoist paintings with the best of them. (Tonja likes Richard Tuttle, Rothko and Rauschenberg; Mark likes Tuttle, too, Paul Klee and Leon Golub.)

As a result, “Mark is a very smart curator,” Weinstein said.

Sidebar: Ten artists are currently exhibiting 23 pieces at Marquee Projects Inc., which you can view on May 6 and May 27 from 5 to 7 p.m. Gallery owner Mark Van Wagner’s are in there: “Sandbox,” 2016 and “Drawing from Nowhere,” 2016. Marquee Projects Inc. is located at 14 Bellport Lane, Bellport. For more information, call 631-803-2511.