Art + Nature = LongHouse Bliss


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

Glitteryardi: Yard Sales of the East End

IMG_0866I’D HEARD ABOUT EAST HAMPTON’S legendary yard sales. “You’ll find everything you need at them,” people said.

What I need: a loveseat/bench for the front deck; a bench for the front hall; a night table and lamp for the guest room. Maybe some salad servers. Sofa cushions, but I’m not going to find them at a yard sale. Nothing else! I’m made of steel when it comes to resisting unnecessary crap.

But I did want to check out some local yard sales, just for the fun of it. I knew enough to pick up a copy of the East Hampton Star on Friday, with its two columns of nothing but Yard Sales, and planned a route for Saturday morning, salivating against my better judgement over ads for “Full basement” (I have a couple of full basements myself, that’s the sickness of it) and “Top drawer stuff”(always a subjective matter, never more so than when it comes to yard sales).

These Hamptons people start early. In Brooklyn, nothing happens on the stoop/tag/yard sale front ’til 10AM. Here they start at 8, 8:30, or 9 — and even then, as my friend Nancy and I discovered at 7:55 this morning, pulling up in front of our first-ever East Hampton yard sale, “No early birds” don’t mean sh*t.

Everywhere we went — and we hit half a dozen sales in Springs, East Hampton, and Amagansett — there were at least ten cars parked, and people walking out with plants, pottery, towels, picture frames, and generally high-quality domestic flotsam and jetsam.


The strangest sale, in Northwest Woods, required us to walk up a long curved gravel driveway to an ersatz chateau, above, landscaped to perfection, where in the garage behind the (just guessing) $15 million dollar manse, we found the best bargains of the day. $2 was the going price for art books (I got one on Jackson Pollock and a photography book), $25 each for low-slung canvas deck chairs (good for around the pool – that’s why I didn’t buy them: no pool). There was an antique marble washstand for $25, but we couldn’t conceive of moving it, and lamps from $5-12, but none that spoke to me.


Next, we visited an arty-looking ’70s house of vertical cedar boards, above, owned by a chic woman who had the greatest shoes in the world – unfortunately, not my size. I was idly looking at two framed Art Deco prints (women’s heads, quite pretty, but did I need them? Hell, no!) marked $15, and idly wondering if that was for one or both, when she said, “You like them. Take them for $2.” I really didn’t want them, but for $2 I couldn’t resist.

So I pulled out two dollar bills and handed them to her. Moments later, her friend came over and said, “You’re selling your birthday presents? Even the ones I got in a very good antique store up in Buffalo and carried down just for you?” Meaning those prints. She turned to me. “He’s really hurt. Can I buy them back?” She thrust the two dollars back at me, at which point the friend realized she had not only sold them, but sold them for two bucks.

His face fell, but he tried to joke it off, saying (of me) “Now she wants $25 for them.” In the end, they insisted I keep them, even though, as I said, I didn’t care. They’re in fine condition and look good on a shelf in my bedroom, so that was a decent score (maybe after I get them re-matted, I’ll upgrade that to ‘incredible’ score).


Then it was on to Amagansett and the fabled Domino magazine ex-editors’ second sell-off of swag, i.e. photo-shoot props, above (the first was in the West Village May 9). Today, according to an article in the Star, they were joined by others from the fashion and design industries, hoping to “unload some of the excess they accumulated during the boom years.” (Now is this really their stuff to sell? I’ve sold a few review copies of books to the Strand in my time, but it seems a bit bizarre that these substantial pieces of upholstered furniture and designer clothes were never returned to the retailers/manufacturers/PR reps, and that no attempt was apparently made to offer at least a token amount of the proceeds of these sales to some cause or charity.)

There, next to a cottage on the Montauk Highway, was a mob scene. I lost interest after I was told the one thing that would have worked for me (a wooden bench) was not for sale. As for the advertised “bargain basement prices,” ha! It seemed as though just about everything, including a brass standing lamp and a small, glass-topped wrought iron table, was marked $425.