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Where art meets the outdoors: Long Island sculpture gardens

"Tired of Generals on horseback wielding swords," as

Throughout the pandemic, exploring the outdoors has brought much-needed solace and inspiration. And when the landscape, unimpeded by walls, also contains and interacts with works of art, it elicits even greater awe and wonder. Fortunately, for Long Islanders, there is a plethora of opportunities to engage with and reflect on the beauty conjured from the intersection of mankind’s and nature’s creations.

Here we’ve gathered local sculpture parks and gardens worth seeing along with a sculpture at each likely to encourage visitors to linger. (And since we are living in unprecedented times, do double-check each location’s days and hours before planning your visit.)

Parrish Art Museum

While the Parrish Art Museum always planned to install sculptural works throughout the 14 acres of grassy meadows encompassing its spectacularly sited Herzog & de Meuron building, the pandemic coaxed that vision into a reality. "When we were closed and on lockdown it seemed critical to do something where we can meet our audience," said Alicia Longwell, the East End showcase’s chief curator.

Now the painted-aluminum brush strokes by Roy Lichtenstein that familiarly mark the entrance to the Parrish’s grounds also anchor "Field of Dreams," an evolving assemblage of some dozen works accessed by pathways that crisscross the venue’s expansive landscape.

Notable among the big names represented is artist Jim Dine, with two new bronze sculptures — "Hooligan," another one of his nods to the iconic status of the ancient Greek Venus de Milo statue, and "The Wheatfield (Agincourt)," a 1989 assemblage recently reworked by the Pop Art pioneer as a monument to his 60-year career (The recent addition of "Agincourt" to the title evokes the French town and its plowed wheat fields where English troops defeated the French in the Hundred Years' War). "Its wistfulness is not subtle," said Longwell, noting the gravitas of the giant-sized skull at the center of the extended tractor axle, which has become, in effect, a timeline of the artist’s signature themes and motifs, including tools, parrots and Pinocchios. "It is an endless well of visual tropes reflecting Dine’s own experiences."

"I don’t think sculpture has a chance to compete against nature, but I thought I would try," Dine commented in a video interview about his re-imagining of the piece. "I added objects, made it a grander still-life and a much more far-seeking landscape."

WHERE 279 Montauk Hwy., Water Mill

WHEN Daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

INFO Free, parrishart.org, 631-283-2118

Nassau County Museum of Art

Over the winter and early spring, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, and hikers seeking exercise and refuge in the idyllic 145-acre preserve that surrounds the Nassau County Museum of Art’s Gothic Revival mansion likely noticed a change in the landscape. Joel Perlman’s 1989 "Dreadnought," described by the museum as the first significant addition to its outdoor sculpture garden in more than a decade, has recently been installed near the property’s entrance, joining some 40 works by Richard Serra, Mark di Suvero, Ana Mercedes Hoyos and other high-profile modernist and contemporary sculptors. The 7-ton steel monolith, defined by shifting planes and asymmetrical cutouts, interrupts and frames changing views of the adjacent topography.

The 77-year-old artist forsakes preliminary drawings, preferring to see his work as evidence of an intuitive sculptural process. He begins by excising shapes from dense steel and then welds them together to create the spatial tension in his compelling structures. Perlman learned to weld as an undergraduate at Cornell University, taking adult-education classes off-campus with farmers and other locals. The technique, he has said, continues to fascinate him. "It's like magic. You touch a rod to metal, there's a flash and buzz, and two pieces become one."

WHERE 1 Museum Dr., Roslyn

WHEN Daily, 9 a.m. to dusk

INFO Free, nassaumuseum.org, 516-484-9338

Sagaponack Sculpture Field

Interested in views more open than what the ubiquitous hedges of the Hamptons allow, art dealer Louis Meisel and his wife, Susan, were strategic when planting the greenery surrounding their Sagaponack home. When they acquired the empty lot next door, the couple’s desire to share the visual splendor they enjoyed extended to the personal collection of sculpture that soon dotted their sprawling lawn.

Today, visitors to the Sagaponack Sculpture Field can traverse the lush grounds and engage with some 25 abstract and figurative works by 18 artists — all American with the exception of French artist Arman, whose bronze statue commands the Meisels’ front yard. But what truly takes pride of place here is Audrey Flack’s "Civitas (Rock Hill Goddess)," the influential photorealist painter and self-taught sculptor’s first major three-dimensional commission.

"Tired of Generals on horseback wielding swords," as Flack put it, she turned to making monuments of female goddesses, not in the idealized allegorical tradition but re-imagined as older, more assertive figures.

The sculpture, for which this is the artist’s proof, proved a true heroine.

"The town was struggling," said Meisel, whose stable of artists includes Flack, of the South Carolina metropolis. "Someone had the idea to have a New York Statue of Liberty or a Florence ‘David’ to get attention and publicity." It worked. Ever since Flack’s 12-foot-tall, 3,000-pound bronze has loomed over the city in different locations, Rock Hill has thrived.

WHERE Wilkes Lane, Sagaponack

WHEN Daily, dawn to dusk

INFO Free

LongHouse Reserve

While the spectacular display of azaleas in full bloom earlier this month has always been an irresistible draw to East Hampton’s LongHouse Reserve, the 16-acre grounds and residence of the celebrated textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen, who died last year at 93, offers up a continual array of pleasures to behold. Not only does the property boast a panoply of majestic plant specimens, but more than 60 sculptures by an international roster of artists sited throughout its gardens and wooded glens.

"It’s not so important who made the sculptures, but how you feel when you are here," noted LongHouse executive director Matko Tomicic. "The grounds are meant to offer inspiration and refuge — especially this year."

Nonetheless, it is hard to ignore the back story of Ai Weiwei’s iconic "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads," here on a two-year loan. The 10-foot-tall bronze sculptures representing the 12 Chinese astrological signs were recently installed to great effect around the reserve’s amphitheater.

A decade ago, the Chinese artist and activist came up with the idea to re-create the ancient heads that adorned a fountain clock in imperial palace gardens from the Qing dynasty — a period ruled over by Manchurian foreigners — that were then looted by French and British armies.

The irony of the Chinese nationalist uproar when two of the original heads reached the auction block as part of the estate of French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent was not lost on Ai Weiwei. By having the reproductions exhibited throughout the West, he continues to upend notions of globalization and cultural identity.

WHERE 133 Hands Creek Rd., East Hampton

WHEN Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, reservations required

INFO Free to $15, longhouse.org, 631-329-3568

Peconic Landing Sculpture Garden

Conceived as a way to encourage exercise and inspire creativity for its 350 residents, the Peconic Landing retirement community’s "Art Without Barriers" Sculpture Garden has reached beyond its 144-acre grounds on the North Fork to attract both talent and tourists. More than a dozen permanent and loaned works by such artists as Arden Scott, Marcia Grostein and Nova Mihai Popa (of the "Ark Project" in Water Mill) invite interaction, particularly with — quite surprisingly — the visually impaired.

"Touching the art is encouraged," said Peconic Landing curator Dominic Antignano, who notes that the collection catalog, available in large print and Braille, and descriptive audio guide were developed to accommodate many of the local viewers.

The resulting dialogue between the works and their audience is perhaps best epitomized in Phyllis Hammond’s "Conversation," a two-part aluminum sculpture where one element is fashioned from the forms cut out from the other. The process harks back to schematic circuit-board drawings the artist made working at a mainframe computer company as a college student in the late 1950s. Her sketches are then converted into a vector program and read by a machine that cuts the shapes out of the metal sheets.

Hammond’s conversation with her medium and her experiences incite visitors to have their own dialogue with their surroundings. "It’s a simple piece," said Antignano, "but it speaks volumes."

WHERE 1500 Brecknock Rd., Greenport

WHEN June through October, dawn to dusk, by appointment

INFO Free, peconiclanding.org (click on the drop-down menu for "Lifestyle & Amenities), 631-477-3800

The Leiber Collection Sculpture Garden

Like LongHouse, the Leiber Collection Sculpture Garden was the singular vision of a single individual — modernist painter Gerson Leiber. The artist and husband (for 72 years) of Judith Leiber, whose dazzling couture handbag designs are exhibited inside the property’s grand Palladian-style building, always considered the manicured shrubbery and varied vegetation a work-in-progress.

In its current iteration, some 20 new works by East End artists join the 40 sculptures created by many of the couple’s close friends and neighbors, including Bill King, Constantine Nivola and Hans Van de Bovenkamp, that make up the permanent collection. While most are sited between the garden hedges and brick walkways, Philippe Cheng’s "Cadence I," a site-specific installation, meanders through dense patches of ivy while carving a path through intermittent trees.

"It is a powerful visual element that brings associations such as water, light and breeze," said Ann Fristoe Stewart, the collection’s director and curator.

In Cheng’s own words, the sculpture, a glimmering flash through a blanket of leaves, "captures the light that cannot be seen." As a tour through their museum and gardens make clear, it is a concept that Gerson Leiber and his uniquely talented wife, Judith, spent a lifetime cultivating.

WHERE 446 Old Stone Hwy., Springs

WHEN Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., or by appointment

INFO Free, leibermuseum.org

4 more worth a visit

From the North Shore to the South Shore, here are four more places to visit.

Bay Walk Park and Nautical Art Museum, Port Washington: The two-mile stretch beckons with water views, well-placed plantings and 12 works of art, including kinetic sculptures by Lyman Whitaker and a stained-glass piece illustrating the history of yacht clubs along Manhasset Bay by Aaron Morgan. INFO: 64 Shore Rd., Port Washington; portwashingtonnorth.org

Fair Meadow Park, Huntington: Sandy Farkas’ life-size welded steel horse, which has been grazing in this North Shore public recreation space since 2010, has been joined by abstract and figurative works by a host of area sculptors. INFO: Park Avenue and Pulaski Road, Huntington Station; huntingtonny.gov

Milton L. Burns Park, Riverhead: This downtown sanctuary surrounded by water is filled with art addressing themes of light and reflection that wows visitors one night a month when illuminated to the sound of live tunes. INFO: 55 Columbus Ave., Riverhead; artintheparkreflections.com

Patchogue Arts Council (PAC) Sculpture Garden: A corner lot at the cross-section of Terry Street and South Ocean Avenue boasts some half-dozen sculptures by Long Island artists, including Massapequa artist John Dunlop’s “Angel Fish” and new addition “Because” by Bayport’s Brian McAuliff. INFO: patchoguearts.org

— Deidre S. Greben

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