With its clipped hornbeams, lush borders and meandering paths, the LongHouse Reserve is a 16-acre sanctuary on Lengthy Island’s fabled East Finish, a tranquil respite the place guests take pleasure in, not simply quiet backyard views, however sculpture by the likes of Willem de Kooning and Sol LeWitt.
Created by Jack Lenor Larsen, an internationally recognized textile designer, the reserve in East Hampton functioned for many years as each Larsen’s dwelling in addition to an attraction operated by a veteran government director and supervised by a volunteer board.
However Larsen died final December on the age of 93, and this fall, the concord of the retreat he created has been shattered by bitterness and recriminations.
A lot of the upset stems from the sudden firing in September of Matko Tomicic, the director who had shepherded the reserve for 26 years. The LongHouse board gave little clarification for the change on the time, and greater than 30 donors, a lot of them main supporters, have mentioned they’re withholding additional items.
A number of donors mentioned they’ve eliminated LongHouse from their wills. One board member resigned in October however has not given a cause for her departure. An ex officio member of the board resigned in protest.
“I used to be astonished,” mentioned Marcia Wilson, a donor and former trustee who has suspended her items. “Flabbergasted. Everybody had nothing however reward for Matko. I nonetheless don’t perceive the logic.”
A number of the donors are additionally upset as a result of they are saying Larsen modified a belief settlement seven weeks earlier than he died to scale back his bequest to the group. Final month, a donor filed a grievance with the New York State Lawyer Normal’s Workplace, asserting that a number of board members had not fulfilled their fiduciary tasks to LongHouse as a result of, the grievance mentioned, they’d actively supported adjustments to the settlement that lowered the bequest to LongHouse.
Supporters of the board say the choice to interchange the director was motivated by an enlargement of LongHouse’s mission. They are saying the establishment will quickly change into not only a backyard and sculpture reserve, however a full-time museum, one that includes Larsen’s dwelling as a website for exhibitions. For that, the trustees determined they needed a curator with broader expertise.
An interim director, named in October, is Carrie Rebora Barratt, a former deputy director of the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork who later led the New York Botanical Backyard as its president for 2 years, ending in 2020.
Karen A. Monroe, the lawyer who integrated LongHouse in 1991 as a nonprofit, the yr earlier than it opened to the general public, blamed Tomicic for encouraging the dissent. “Just some donors are sad,” she mentioned.
“That’s not by a stretch of the creativeness, nearly all of them,” she continued. “There’s all the time a few them, what do they name it, the ‘noisy minority’?”
Tomicic declined to remark. “I don’t need any hassle for me or my household,” he mentioned.
The board’s defenders say it was Larsen’s prerogative to resolve how he needed to distribute his belongings. Additionally they say the establishment is in a very good monetary place regardless of the potential cutback in items, and that donations are operating forward of final yr as a result of some present donors have elevated their help and new benefactors have stepped ahead.
“Regardless of messages from just a few upset donors, we stay assured, financially strong and grateful to our supporters,” the board mentioned in an announcement.
Although the best way ahead for LongHouse now appears extra sophisticated, Larsen’s legacy as a textile designer is obvious. His textiles grace interiors that included Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and his work is within the everlasting collections of the Museum of Trendy Artwork and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
In 1975, he purchased land in East Hampton to create a microcosm that mirrored his designs, world travels and artwork assortment. Right now, it consists of the home the place he had lived and grounds crammed with roughly 60 modern sculptures, a mix of items on mortgage and everlasting works, together with Buckminster Fuller’s “Fly’s Eye Dome” and Yoko Ono’s large, monochromatic chess recreation, “Play It by Belief.”
Tomicic, 56, who studied on the College of Zagreb in Croatia and on the New York Botanical Backyard, began at LongHouse in 1996 as government director and was paid $194,075 in 2019, in keeping with the establishment’s most up-to-date tax returns. He had beforehand labored as a private assistant to Henry Geldzahler, the Met curator and former New York Metropolis cultural affairs commissioner.
Throughout his years at LongHouse, he constructed private relationships with board members and employees, which is why there may be an emotional forged to the dispute now engulfing the sculpture backyard. When Dianne Benson, one of many board members who voted to interchange Tomicic, received married final yr, it had been Tomicic who had walked her down the aisle.
“This isn’t an ‘et tu Brute’ second,” Benson mentioned with regard to her vote. “My private emotions and what’s finest for LongHouse are two fully various things.”
Some employees have been additionally upset by the information that Tomicic had been let go, in keeping with Joanne Kahn, who labored part-time within the present store and mentioned she later resigned because of this.
An arborist, Ray Smith, mentioned he had donated specimen bushes and his firm’s providers to LongHouse for 18 years, work that he mentioned would have price the establishment nicely over $900,000.
“After what’s occurred,” Smith mentioned. “Something they want, they’ll need to pay for.”
Susie Gelman who, along with her husband, Michael Gelman, mentioned they’ve given $100,000 to LongHouse since 2012, mentioned they have been surprised.
“I actually don’t see how my husband and I can proceed supporting LongHouse,” Gelman wrote in an e-mail. “It pains me deeply.”
A number of the donors who say they’re withholding their items say they’re involved that Tomicic’s tense relationship with Peter Olsen, 68, a trustee and Larsen’s companion of 30 years, who lived with him, performed a task in Tomicic’s departure.
The board has denied that. It has acknowledged that it was not initially forthcoming about what precisely had precipitated its resolution to take away Tomicic, however has mentioned that its reticence to disclose particulars earlier this fall within the face of criticism was an try and be skilled and discreet. In an Oct. 19 letter to the establishment’s members, the board’s co-presidents mentioned that the “silence concerning the change in management was meant to be respectful to all of the events,” who “agreed to half methods.”
Extra just lately, in an e-mail to The New York Instances, the board expanded on its clarification and mentioned it understood the commotion as a sign of how deeply its members regard the establishment. “We ask for persistence and in return promise to be extra forthcoming and open,” the board wrote.
The change in administrators, it mentioned, was primarily based on LongHouse’s have to transition from “one man’s residence with restricted public visitation to the grounds, to a extra totally public establishment.” One of many first priorities of its plan is to transform Larsen’s 13,000-square-foot dwelling right into a museum, the board mentioned, and to do this it felt LongHouse wanted “new management with commensurate abilities and expertise to assist professionalize and maintain” it.
The board described Barratt, the interim director who had, in her time on the Met, helped oversee the renovation of the American Wing and Islamic galleries, as having “intensive expertise in museum and public backyard management.”
The grievance filed with the lawyer basic’s workplace argues that LongHouse will likely be considerably affected by the adjustments within the belief settlement that have been made shortly earlier than Larsen’s demise. The grievance says that below a belief settlement Larsen made in April 2020, the majority of his property, together with his Park Avenue residence, was to go to LongHouse when he died.
However the settlement, in keeping with the grievance, was amended in November 2020, simply earlier than Larsen’s demise, to considerably cut back the present to LongHouse by allotting further cash to a belief that can pay Olsen a stipend of $120,000 a yr. Olsen was additionally given lifetime use of the residence with its upkeep charges coated.
The board mentioned it couldn’t touch upon the grievance as a result of it has not seen a replica of it, but it surely launched an announcement to current its perspective on the adjustments to the belief settlement.
“Nearly all of Jack’s property goes to LongHouse,” the assertion mentioned. “What’s supplied to Peter additionally reverts to LongHouse on his demise.”
The grievance says that a number of board members campaigned for the adjustments that might assist Olsen, on the expense of LongHouse.
“How will you be on the board of LongHouse and never get up for LongHouse and let monies that have been initially directed to LongHouse go elsewhere?” mentioned Wilson, one donor who has suspended her items.
The board, responding to such issues, mentioned in an announcement: “In all of those issues, the Board acted ethically and in the very best pursuits of LongHouse after cautious deliberation and in achievement of its fiduciary responsibility.”
Olsen declined to remark past saying that he totally helps the board’s actions and plans, “which I consider to be according to Jack’s imaginative and prescient.”
The grievance to the lawyer basic’s workplace expresses concern that Larsen accepted these adjustments throughout a interval when his well being and psychological acuity have been compromised, simply after he had been launched from the hospital after breaking a femur in a fall. It says one draft of the adjustments was proven to Larsen whereas he was nonetheless within the intensive care unit and that the ultimate draft was signed six days after his discharge from that unit.
Different mates recommend such issues are ill-founded. “Though his bodily situation was deeply deteriorating,” mentioned Roseline Koener, an artist in Westhampton who visited Larsen, her good friend, a number of occasions after he left the hospital, “he all the time saved his thoughts.”