It’s easy to imagine sculptures at LongHouse Reserve waking up—Chinese warriors stretching, oversized chess pieces climbing from bed to march back to their spots on the board.After all, sculpture comes alive outdoors, said Matko Tomicic, executive director of the 16-acre outdoor gallery and gardens in East Hampton, where daffodils are now in bloom and buds and greenery are reclaiming their turf.
In addition to its gardens—including a red one designed by the reserve’s founder, Jack Lenor Larsen, and 27,000 new bulbs planted last fall, LongHouse is known for being a home to Dale Chihuly’s tall blue glass spears, Buckminster Fuller’s “Fly’s Eye Dome” and Yoko Ono’s all-white chess set, among many other artistic works.
And when visitors arrive for the reserve’s 24th opening this Saturday, April 25, called Rites of Spring, they’ll discover that familiar sculptures have picked up some new companions since last season.
Kiki Smith’s “Women With Sheep” have settled comfortably into a bed of pachysandra. Takashi Soga’s apparently solid, gravity-defying “Eye of the Ring” hovers delicately in the wind.
“It’s levitating in a totally unexpected way,” Mr. Tomicic pointed out.
Sui Jianguo’s enormous “Mao Jacket” looms headless and empty. “When we got it, it had a wasp’s nest inside,” said the director—which makes sense for a gigantic hollow garment with rather sinister political implications.
Ronald Bladen’s minimalist, black “Host of the Ellipse” casts shadows that move with the sun over gravel and pine needles.
And Grace Knowlton’s hollow balls of mesh and wire dot the sand dunes that were created on the abandoned potato field the reserve was prior to Mr. Larsen taking it over and transforming it.
Mr. Tomicic had some interesting things to say about the logistics of situating new and familiar sculptures, most of which are on loan—one exception being Alfonso Ossorio’s totem with an eagle and snake, both a gift and relic of a time when Mr. Ossorio, Ward Bennett and Mr. Larsen all talked about creating spaces just like LongHouse in East Hampton, with Mr. Larsen’s the only dream that came to be realized.
On the logistical side, “Women and Sheep” is a case in point. Five bronze figures—two reclining women, a standing sheep, a resting sheep, and a reclining woman-and-sheep combo—look entirely different on their soft ground cover than they would on the hard floor of a museum.
“Unfortunately, a lot of sculptures are between four white walls,” Mr. Tomicic told The New York Times earlier this month. “Sculpture becomes alive only outdoors.”
When Ms. Smith’s five individual figures arrived at LongHouse, there were decisions to be made by moving them around to see how they looked, a task that required at least four people. Place the women and sheep on top of white stones instead of on the ground cover? And which way to arrange them?
In the ultimate layout, which was not prescribed by the artist, “We feel they talk to each other somehow,” Mr. Tomicic said.
“It looks absolutely delightful and I’m very thrilled,” the artist wrote with thanks after seeing a photo. “I have never gotten to see them how I wanted them to be.”
Trying out different spots for “Mao Jacket” was not an option. The cast-iron sculpture weighs too much, so it was Photoshopped into different sites to see where it would work best.
The director pointed to a black sculpture by Alexander Calder set on a rock garden instead of what would normally be a base. LongHouse sent images to the lender, to whom the sculpture will be returned after this season.
“They said, ‘Perfect,’” Mr. Tomicic said as workers hacked at the reeds on Peter’s Pond, to which a pair of ducks has returned and where the Chihuly spears will be casting their cobalt reflections in no time.
Meanwhile, the Rites of Spring season opener will run from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and cost $10 to attend. Upcoming events also include an aerial photography demonstration with Dell Cullum on May 16 and a tree and shrub pruning workshop on June 12, as well as a free open day for families on May 9 and various activities for students and educators.
“You please the kids and you please the artists,” Mr. Tomicic said. The rest comes naturally.
Further information about programs and events at LongHouse can be found at www.longhouse.org.