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 get pleasure from, not simply quiet backyard views, however sculpture by the likes of Willem de Kooning and Sol LeWitt.
Created by Jack Lenor Larsen, an internationally identified textile designer, the reserve in East Hampton functioned for many years as each Larsen’s residence 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 rationalization 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 motive 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.”
Among the donors are additionally upset as a result of they are saying Larsen modified a belief settlement seven weeks earlier than he died to cut back his bequest to the group. Final month, a donor filed a grievance with the New York State Lawyer Basic’s Workplace, asserting that a number of board members had not fulfilled their fiduciary duties to LongHouse as a result of, the grievance mentioned, that they had 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 growth of LongHouse’s mission. They are saying the establishment will quickly grow to be not only a backyard and sculpture reserve, however a full-time museum, one that includes Larsen’s residence as a web site 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 included LongHouse in 1991 as a nonprofit, the 12 months earlier than it opened to the general public, blamed Tomicic for encouraging the dissent. “Just some donors are sad,” she mentioned.
“That isn’t by a stretch of the creativeness, nearly all of them,” she continued. “There’s at all times 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 12 months as a result of some current donors have elevated their help and new benefactors have stepped ahead.
“Regardless of messages from a number of upset donors, we stay assured, financially stable 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 evident. His textiles grace interiors that included Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and his work is within the everlasting collections of the Museum of Fashionable Artwork and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
In 1975, he purchased land in East Hampton to create a microcosm that mirrored his designs, international travels and artwork assortment. As we speak, it contains the home the place he had lived and grounds full of 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 big, monochromatic chess sport, “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 accordance 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 workers, which is why there’s an emotional solid to the dispute now engulfing the sculpture backyard. When Dianne Benson, one of many board members who voted to interchange Tomicic, received married final 12 months, 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 greatest for LongHouse are two fully various things.”
Some workers had been additionally upset by the information that Tomicic had been let go, in accordance with Joanne Kahn, who labored part-time within the present store and mentioned she later resigned in consequence.
An arborist, Ray Smith, mentioned he had donated specimen timber and his firm’s providers to LongHouse for 18 years, work that he mentioned would have value the establishment nicely over $900,000.
“After what’s occurred,” Smith mentioned. “Something they want, they’ll should pay for.”
Susie Gelman who, along with her husband, Michael Gelman, mentioned they’ve given $100,000 to LongHouse since 2012, mentioned they had been shocked.
“I actually don’t see how my husband and I can proceed supporting LongHouse,” Gelman wrote in an e mail. “It pains me deeply.”
Among 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 determination to take away Tomicic, however has mentioned that its reticence to disclose particulars earlier this fall within the face of criticism was an try to 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 rationalization and mentioned it understood the commotion as a sign of how deeply its members regard the establishment. “We ask for endurance 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 absolutely public establishment.” One of many first priorities of its plan is to transform Larsen’s 13,000-square-foot residence right into a museum, the board mentioned, and to try this it felt LongHouse wanted “new management with commensurate expertise 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 legal professional common’s workplace argues that LongHouse can be considerably affected by the adjustments within the belief settlement that had been made shortly earlier than Larsen’s loss of life. The grievance says that underneath 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 accordance with the grievance, was amended in November 2020, simply earlier than Larsen’s loss of life, to considerably cut back the present to LongHouse by allotting extra cash to a belief that can pay Olsen a stipend of $120,000 a 12 months. 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 duplicate of it, however it launched an announcement to current its perspective on the adjustments to the belief settlement.
“The vast majority 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 rise up for LongHouse and let monies that had been initially directed to LongHouse go elsewhere?” mentioned Wilson, one donor who has suspended her items.
The board, responding to such considerations, mentioned in an announcement: “In all of those issues, the Board acted ethically and in the perfect pursuits of LongHouse after cautious deliberation and in success of its fiduciary responsibility.”
Olsen declined to remark past saying that he absolutely helps the board’s actions and plans, “which I imagine to be per Jack’s imaginative and prescient.”
The grievance to the legal professional common’s workplace expresses concern that Larsen permitted these adjustments throughout a interval when his well being and psychological acuity had 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 considerations are ill-founded. “Though his bodily situation was deeply deteriorating,” mentioned Roseline Koener, an artist in Westhampton who visited Larsen, her buddy, a number of instances after he left the hospital, “he at all times stored his thoughts.”