THE OLDER I GET, the wiser I get — and the more I realize how foolish I was before. Until last weekend, for example, I thought sculpture in gardens was unnecessary — that horticultural beauty trumped man-made art every time. That was before I visited LongHouse Reserve, the 16-acre ‘designed landscape’ owned by textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen that completely changed my view of the interaction of art and nature, and enhanced my appreciation of both.
Dale Chihuly’s glass balls and gourds in a rowboat
First surprise: the place turns out to be not three miles from where I live, off Hands Creek Road in the Northwest Woods section of East Hampton.
George Rickey’s kinetic sculpture in the “Dunes”
The entire spread is a three-dimensional work of art, startlingly beautiful and original. And varied: the first bold stroke, as you enter, is a dunescape created around the Shinto temple-inspired home, top, Larsen built in 1986 (he’s owned the property since 1970). The dunes are planted with trees and shrubs, so there must be some kind of more fertile, anchoring medium underneath.
In many places, the choice of materials is the simplest imaginable. Steps made of railroad ties and gravel. Benches of cut logs. Arbors of twisted rebar, below.
The plantings are largely indigenous, familiar if not native. So many different gardens within the 16 acres: Dry scree (gravel) beds, below, with chartreuse euphorbia in peak bloom now.
Shady fern-filled groves, below.
The gaudy Red Garden, a riot of clashing azaleas punctuated by red pillars (Larsen’s own Study in Heightened Perspectives). A grassy ‘amphitheatre’ sculpted out of the earth. Dells, canyons, allees, lawns, borders, paths, ponds, and pools. One area flows smoothly into another, yet somehow each surprises you as you come upon it.
Black Mirror, water feature by Ray Smith & Assocs.
The sculpture never looks out of place or forced or self-conscious, but magnificently chosen, scaled, and sited. There are many famous names among the 60 large-scale installations: glass by Dale Chihuly, a Willem de Kooning bronze, ceramics by Takaezu, an all-white chess set by Yoko Ono (Play it by Trust), works by Sol LeWitt, Louise Bourgeois, Peter Voulkos. Not inscrutable modern art, but accessible and wholly delightful.
Sol LeWitt’s Irregular Progression High #7, 2006, concrete
In a small museum attached to the house, 2,500 years of African ceramics are on display for the summer season, along with American artist George Rickey’s stainless steel kinetic sculptures — five of them throughout the grounds.
Contemporary African sculpture
Until July, LongHouse is open only six hours a week, Wednesday and Saturday from 2-5PM. You couldn’t spend a more inspiring afternoon.
Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome, produced by John Kuhtik