by Emily J. Weitz
A return to LongHouse after the winter always evokes rejuvenation. With the perfectly placed tulips bursting underneath proud sculptures, with Dale Chihuly’s blue glass spears emerging from a serene pond reflecting green and pink trees, the permanent installations never get old. But each year, LongHouse introduces new art and new developments to its Eden-like grounds. This year, along with some major renovations like a new parking lot and new museum shop, LongHouse will showcase a great deal of new work.
Matko Tomicic, Executive Director of LongHouse, is looking forward to showing off all they’ve accomplished over the winter. That’s one of the reasons LongHouse kicks off the season with Rites of Spring, which will take place this Saturday from 2 to 7 pm.
“When you come in through the dunes,” he says, “you’ll find a Lichtenstein, and you’ll find the pavilion redone with an installation called ‘Accumulations Now,’ which showcases 500 objects in craft media, curated by Jack Larsen.”
The other new exhibition this season, “Diversities of Sculpture,” brings six new artists to the LongHouse grounds. Curated by Bonnie Rychlak, the pieces are consciously distinct. Instead of looking for a theme in the pieces themselves, Rychlak decided the common thread for the pieces would be nature itself, which is so ripe at LongHouse.
“I felt like the gardens should be what really is the connecting context for the work,” says Rychlak. “At first, I wasn’t sure how it would work, because they really are so different. But as I selected the work, I started to see undercurrents that connected them.”
One of the primary connectors, Rychlak explains, is their historical significance.
“This group was different enough, but still had this interesting connection to a web of art history… From minimalism to post-minimalism to feminist to free form to anti-form. It was very interesting… In the end it’s the garden that connects them all. The unknown was installing the work and seeing how it works with the environment. They work separately but they are connected through the garden.”
The artists involved are diverse not just in the kind of work they create, but in who they are and where they are in their lives and careers.
“I knew LongHouse wanted an exhibition that was varied,” says Rychlak. “Not just East Enders. Not just well-established. Some younger.”
She started with an artist who isn’t represented by a major gallery, Daniel Wiener.
“Daniel is idiosyncratic,” says Rychlak. “You either love it or you hate it. It’s free form and somewhat gaudy and almost surrealistic. You can’t name it.”
Once Rychlak saw the placement of the pieces, she realized the effect LongHouse has on the art itself.
“I originally saw Wiener’s work in vegetation with things growing right up next to it or plantings coming out of it. In the end we sited it on a large bed of gravel. That changed how one interacts with it. On the gravel, they look like they are their own things growing out of the ground, distinct from other things growing out of the ground. Makes them hold the landscape in a way I didn’t imagine they would.”
When Rychlak selected the next artist, Judith Shea, she went to the other side of the spectrum from Wiener.
“Judith has been around for a long time,” said Rychlak. “She has a strong mid-career reputation, a strong foundation. She’s figurative, metaphorical, and elicits a lot of emotions.”
Shea’s sculpture was placed by Jack Lenor Larsen, founder of LongHouse, right at the edge of a black mirror pond.
“The piece has a strong connection to 9/11,” explains Rychlak, “and the site refers back to the Ground Zero Memorial. I think Jack intended that.”
Next, Rychlak selected Anne Chu, an established artist in her early 50s who has been represented by a gallery for a number of years. Her sculpture, a small boy with his hands set firmly on his hips and a grimace on his face, seems to be glaring out at the other statues and gardens.
“She’s figurative, but very different than Judith,” says Rychlak.
For the next artist in the exhibition, Rychlak went back to her roots.
“I’ve known Jene Highstein’s work since I was in school,” she says. “He came out of the post-minimalist period. He’s been around forever and I’ve always loved his work. I thought it would be a nice counterpoint, and I’m very excited he was interested.”
Ronald Bladen, now deceased, was recommended to Rychlak by a friend. She agreed that his work couldn’t be more different, and his estate was willing to lend a piece. Even though she had seen the piece before, the setting at LongHouse brings out something totally new.
“The piece is meant to be outside,” says Rychlak. “I had seen it outside in the distance where you have big expanses of landscape and sky. I also saw it indoors. I always thought it was big but not monumental. But the way it is placed at LongHouse, on this big grass expanse, contained by the hedges — the diagonals on it are just heroic. They shoot up into the sky. The piece looks so much bigger than I ever saw before.”
The last artist involved in the exhibition is Brian Damon. He created cast iron globes, or hemispheres.
“They have such mass,” says Rychlak. “You really feel them holding the ground.”
“I’ve seen all the works in other settings,” says Rychlak of the varied sculptures in the exhibit. “Being at LongHouse changed even the meaning of these things, or how people are going to experience them.”