With its 16 acre sculpture garden, Jack Lenor Larsen’s LongHouse Reserve is uniquely positioned for our new social — at a distance — ethos. LongHouse is one of the few cultural spaces in the Hamptons able to open this summer. And they brought in the world famous exhibition of Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Bronze, July 8, on view through October 2021. To celebrate, the Reserve threw an outdoor soiree for about 20 friends and donors on Saturday evening.
Individual Wölffer glass bottles of cider rosé, white wine and water chilled in tubs of ice. Everyone was oh-so-happy to be safely out.
“People seemed hungry to see each other, even if only to observe, elbow bump or blow a kiss,” Dianne Benson, President of the LongHouse Board of Trustees, told us. “It’s part of the human condition. And everyone has been very respectful.”
“They are taking endless precautions to make sure things are safe,” LongHouse friend and Public Relations honcho Jonathan Marder said. “They’re counting and timing who comes in, masked of course. These zodiac heads have become the most visited public art work in the world.” This is its 50th installation in 10 years. But, it is unique in breadth and display.
“Our guests were just in a swoon over it: it is just so powerful,” said Benson. “Our Jack Lenor Larsen had the idea to sink the bases into the ground several feet and mount the Zodiac Bronzes around the Albee Amphitheater, facing into it. Walk around the rim of the amphitheater, you are nose to nose with the animals. Stand inside, you see just the heads floating around the rim below the trees. Each animal seems to have a life of its own. And it will be here through the 20-21 season.”
The sculptures are re-envisioned versions of the original 18th-century heads that were designed for an imperial retreat. Two Jesuit priests designed the gardens. British and French troops looted the heads during the 1860 Second Opium War. Seven of the Chinese Zodiac heads are original. Ai Weiwei has reimagined the other five.
Ai Weiwei is known for whimsical takes on political themes. “My work is always dealing with real or fake authenticity, and what’s the value, and how the value relates to current political and social understandings and misunderstandings,” he says.
Through his recreation of these cultural objects, Weiwei throws into question the importance of these works vis a vis Chinese history. “Ai Weiwei’s issues are not really art based,” Marder said. “In fact he doesn’t necessarily consider himself an artist. He’s interested in humanity.”
“I don’t think that it’s a national treasure,” Weiwei said of the work. “It was designed by an Italian and made by a Frenchman for a Qing dynasty emperor, which actually is somebody who invaded China. So if we talk about ‘national treasure,’ which nation do we talk about?”
“It’s this whole question of the real and the counterfeit,” Marder told us, “the history of art and the history of China. For that matter, what is a cultural monument? This is ‘open to the public.’ Yet, we are in East Hampton, one of the most affluent places in the world, so is this rarified strata even the public?”
Those in attendance at the private party included: Board Members Lee Skolnick, Nina Gillman, Sherri Donghia, Peter Olson and Suzanne Slesin; Chris Walsh, Sandy and Steve Perlblinder, Tony Ingrao and Randy Kemper, Michael and Susie Gelman, Lys Marigold, Yuka Silvera, Jo Ann Secor, Roger Eulau, and Jack Lenor Larsen in what Dianne Benson described as “a gorgeous one piece Safari jumpsuit.”
Installation of new work in the gardens is made possible in part through the Cowles Charitable Trust, Robert Lehman Foundation, Dorothy Lichtenstein, Sandy and Steve Perlbinder, Katja Goldman and Michael W. Sonnenfeldt, Suffolk County, and Harbor Market & Kitchen of Sag Harbor.
LongHouse Reserve is located at 133 Hands Creek Road in East Hampton. For more information, visit www.longhouse.org.