Walking through the art-laced gardens of the LongHouse Reserve, we were struck by the Young and the Beautiful: a whole new Junior contingency, girls in summer frocks, men in summer jackets — another layer of beauty in bloom.
Winged fairies on stilts and young women on flutes welcomed them. True to its “MidSummer Dream” benefit theme, Puck was there on horseback, blonde hair flowing, elfin ears flaring. Further on, a Merman vamped in a pool. Trapeze aerialists and acrobats completed the picture. All by Adrian Pia for Hamptons Fly.
“Everything is new, new, new!” proclaimed Dianne Benson. So is her title: President Emeritus. Founder Jack Lenor Larson has been gone for long enough to be well-memorialized, his absence absorbed. But, the estate he created remains. And flourishes. Besides the Buckminster Fuller, Dale Chihuly, Yoko Ono and Willem de Kooning sculptures, rotating exhibits of 60 other pieces adorn its 16 acres.
And so, new director Carrie Rebora Barratt is fulfilling Jack’s vision for the future: “‘To be relevant, not reverent,’ was what he always told us,” President Nina Gillman said.
“It’s the same wonderful LongHouse — plus,” Dianne Benson continued. As beautiful, but, like any good facelift, fresher. “We brought in so many people that we have never worked with before: the decorator, the caterer, the event planner. There’s so many people here I don’t even know, which is great!”
Those new faces were thanks to Junior Chair Emma Wrazej and her committee: Hilary Cianciolo, Noah Erni, Emma Grayson, Mary Kantor, Robert Ladov, Vivienne Lange, Victoria de A Lesseps, Sami Lyons, Owen McGowen, Ben Mitchell, and Morgan Wilkins, who carried on into the afterparty. “They are not only looking to become part of a viable social scene,” Carrie told me, “but they’re young and generous philanthropists.”
Barratt knows how to throw a glamorous garden gala. She was president of the New York Botanical Garden after spending 34 years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “So, I learned from the best,” she says.
Gala Chairs were Dianne Benson, Cindy Sherman, and Robert Wilson, Art Chairs Pamela Willoughby and George Negroponte. Artist Mary Heilmann (introduced by Almond Zigmund) and the literary genius (introduced by Laurie Anderson) were honored. LongHouse Trustees Louis Bradbury, Emma Clurman, Sherri Donghia, Anne Erni, Dr. Derick T. George, Mark Levine, Alexandra Munroe, Deborah Nevins, Peter H. Olsen, Suzanne Slesin, Linda Willett, Gael Towey, and Jim Zajac were there. Also: Alice Aycock, Roseanne Cash, Michele Cohen, Suzi Cordish, Renee Cox, Bjorn Amelan and Bill T. Jones, Fitzhugh Karol, Laurie Lambrecht, Tinu Naija, Lisa Perry, Toni Ross and Lee Skolnick.
For the first time in awhile, there was a tented, sit down dinner. East Hampton’s Vin74, Chinola, Sagaponack’s Sagg Distillery and Matchbook Distillery provided good spirits. DJ Amber Valentine kept the after party going.
In keeping with LongHouse’ strong culture of … culture … gala speeches were lyrical and literary. Particularly striking was Laurie Anderson’s introduction to A.M. Homes. The relationship of technology to art and humanity is a leitmotif of Anderson’s work. With all the talk about A.I. threatening artists, here she was talking about harnessing it for her craft, calling it “one of the most powerful tools for writers.”
Anderson has created a super computer program “trained on all the words I’ve used in songs, books and talks …. The language it produces is a mix of moronic and sort of profound.” Since A.M. writes about talking trees, Anderson put that into her computer, and read a short segment of the 9,000 words it ground out:
“The words, the words, the words are the words. And the birds? What about you? You’ve been out of reach for a while now. But don’t give up hope. Dreams are made of smoke.
A.M. P.M. A.M. P.M. She’s a poet and a writer and she writes in her head. At 3 A.M. At 4 A. M. At 5 A.M At 6 A.M. At 7 A.M. Morning At 8 A.M. Evening At 9 P.M. Noon. Meeting at 12 A.M.
Get to work at the top of the tree. She’s talking about her new book It’s called The Art of Attention and it’s written by a woman named Homes. And she’s at home. At first it seemed like a good place to hide. Only I was someone else’s daughter. Talked myself Into a corner of the square.
A.M. said: I knew everyone had a story. Mine were as sad as theirs and that made me cry. More to come.”
Moving from one hard to define artist to another, we caught up with Co-Chair Robert Wilson. “It’s always great to be at LongHouse,” Bob told me. “I knew Jack from the time I was a student at Pratt Institute and heard him speak. I went up to him and he invited me for lunch. He had a beautiful studio in lower Manhattan. So, I’ve watched LongHouse grow and I feel a part of the family.”
The Internationally celebrated avant-garde theater director stages his own magic in the woods — at the Watermill Center gala, where theater meets art in their forest. This year, the master, himself, was directing Ubu, by Alfred Jarry, the late 19th century French symbolist writer often cited as a forerunner of Dada, Surrealism and Futurism.
Bonnie Comley, who started out as an actress before becoming a producer, with husband Stewart Lane, then founding BroadwayHD, was in it.
“Bonnie is my star!” Bob proclaimed. “She’s gonna play Mama Ubu! She’s an actress and she has a sense of humor. That’s why we make theater. She has a little smile, which is a secret to her mystery.
“The author of Ubu Roi was a big influence on me when I was young. It’s an absurdist play, and my work was very much related, in the beginning especially, to the absurdist movement. I hated naturalism, and this is the furthest thing you can get from that.”
“Bob’s a G-d in Europe,” Bonnie told me. “They teach college courses and write books about him. The lighting, the style, the slow movement! This show is in Barcelona. He didn’t want to bring the European cast over here, so it’s an amazing opportunity. I’m living my best summer getting to be directed by him!”
What is that like? “At the audition, he did a little choreography piece without talking,” Bonnie told me. “He put his arm up, moved it, and then had us copy the movements.”
Once cast, Bonnie said, “We were living in slow motion, rehearsing for hours — and there’s no dialogue. One of the things he told us: when you’re moving, the distance and space behind you is just as important as in front of you.
“The genius, the passion, the work ethic, the commitment to his craft is beyond. Watermill is a ten acre performance laboratory. There were 19 art installations happening at the gala, and he had his fingerprints on all of them, while simultaneously directing the show. Everything is exactly the way he wants it and he tells you why.”
“For example, his world is about doors and entrances. So, there are welcoming bowls of fruit when you arrive, served in dishes the has collected from all over the world. When you take a piece of fruit out, you have to artistically arrange it so it looks good for the next person. He has more than 6,000 pieces of art. He knows where and when he got every single one, its significance and history. Everything is inventoried with bar codes on stickers.
“He sleeps with art from all over the world around the bed, on the floor, on pedestals, on the walls framing windows. Nothing is in a cabinet behind glass. Some objects are 5,000 years old. ‘This is what it’s meant to be,’ he says, ‘lived with and appreciated in this way.’”
Bonnie continued: “He’s developed and curated every inch of the woods. The paths — wood chips, pine needles, gravel — are all arranged as to color, texture — and sound. There isn’t one pine tree, but, he imports pine needles because he likes the way it sounds when you walk on it. He also designs different paths with either wood chips or two types of river stones — because the textures make different sounds when you walk through the forest. It feels very native American, the spirit in the wood, in the ceramics, the breeze, respecting objects.”
And there are libraries. “‘Go through everything,’ he says, ‘learn, study.’ Again, just put it back in its place. He’s fascinating. To spend that amount of time with him has been a gift.”
Still, as they say, man plans and G-d laughs. Saturday night, there were fits and stops of pouring rain. Not good for Ubu costumes and sets made entirely of newspaper. Actors rushed off and sets were cleared — three times.
“Finally at 10 p.m., we went on stage, only to find the sound system flooded,” said Bonnie. “So, Bob narrated the show with people racing across the soaking stage — and everyone LOVED it! They said it was magical. His show’s are always so slow moving, choreographed to each breath. So a 15-minute version with Bob narrating was a once in a lifetime experience!”
Photos: Sean Zanni /PMC (LongHouse); Madison McGaw/BFA.com (Watermill)