Donors threaten to pull millions from East Hampton sculpture garden


The mysterious firing of a longtime East Hampton art director has longtime donors to a storied sculpture garden reconsidering their big-bucks contributions.

The sudden termination of Matko Tomicic, executive director of the Longhouse Reserve, coupled with a shakeup of its board of directors, has upset donors just months after the death of the nonprofit’s founder, Jack Lenor Larsen.

“They’re pulling their funds,” said Hamptons-based artist and donor Jane Johnson, who contributes to the park through a family foundation. “People are calling their lawyers and changing their wills until this board resigns.”

Another philanthropist, who has donated to LongHouse for a decade, is demanding answers.

“A number of donors are concerned and dismayed by the direction of this board,” said Susie Gelman. “There seems to be a real lack of transparency.”

The controversy became public last month after the nonprofit board that runs LongHouse abruptly fired Tomicic, who had overseen the park as its executive director for nearly 26 years, donors told The Post.

The Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads sculpture by Ai Weiwei at the LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton.
The Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads sculpture by Ai Weiwei at the LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton.
Newsday via Getty Images

Tomicic had worked closely with Larsen, a renowned textile designer who created LongHouse on his lush 16-acre Hamptons property, opening it to the public in 1992. The setting is inspired by a 7th-century Japanese Shinto shrine and includes sculptures by artists such as Willem de Kooning, Yoko Ono and glass artist Dale Chihuly.

Larsen, whose textiles are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, died in December. He was 93.

Matko Tomicic attends LongHouse Reserve Annual Benefit - Celebrates Brooklyn at LongHouse Reserve on July 21, 2018 in East Hampton, NY.
Longtime donors question why Matko Tomicic was fired after nearly 26 years as Longhouse Reserve’s executive director.
Patrick McMullan/PMC

“I don’t know why he was summarily fired,” said Anne Roos, a longtime donor who lives between homes in Montauk and Tennessee. Roos told The Post she is also mulling ending her support for the organization.

More than 85 percent of the non-profit’s total revenue of $1.9 million came from contributions and grants in 2019, according to LongHouse’s most recent federal tax filing.

Longhouse Reserve founder Jack Lenor Larsen
Longhouse Reserve founder Jack Lenor Larsen died at the age of 93 in 2020.
Getty Images

Larsen had originally left some $6 million in a trust to continue funding LongHouse after his death, donors said.

The trust was then amended in the months before he died, splitting the funds between the non-profit and his partner of more than 30 years, Peter Olsen, who is a member of the LongHouse board, donors told The Post.

Former New York Botanical Garden president and CEO Carrie Rebora Barratt
Former New York Botanical Garden president Carrie Rebora Barratt replaced Matko Tomicic after his unexpected ousting.
Getty Images

Longhouse and Olsen “have always been” the beneficiaries of Larsen’s estate, a board spokesman told The Post, adding, “Near the end of his life, Jack made sure that Peter would be cared for.”

Tomicic could not be reached for comment Friday, but told the Sag Harbor Express last week the agreement he signed with the board prevented him from speaking publicly about his dismissal.

Tomicic and the board “agreed to part ways” last month as a result of a “strategic planning process” which began before Larsen’s death, said board co-presidents Nina Gillman and Dianne Benson.

The LongHouse board recently named Carrie Rebora Barratt as interim director. Rebora Barratt was named the first woman president and CEO of the New York Botanical Garden in 2018, but stepped down last year.

At least one board member has left the LongHouse following the controversy. Alex Feleppa, the chairman of LongHouse’s garden committee, departed after Tomicic’s dismissal.

“There is a small group who are close to our former director and we are trying to address their concerns,” the LongHouse board said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the loudest voices are sometimes negative. We have also heard from many members of our community positively expressing their continued support for LongHouse.”

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