When Arne Glimcher says, “I have a lot of self-confidence,” it’s impossible to dispute the assertion. After all, he founded Pace Gallery, an art-world power-house that was launched in 1960, when he was an undergraduate student at Massachusetts College of Art, and directed the blockbuster 1992 movie The Mambo Kings without any previous experience. “I believe in my eye, and I always have—maybe too much,” he adds with a laugh. “If you don’t know what you’re doing by the time you’re 80, I don’t know what you’re doing. I’m not a kid.”
Glimcher, at 82, is definitely no kid, but his inspiring personal conviction is allied to a childlike sense of wonder. It’s a formidable combination, one that has led the cultural grandee to cultivate one of the country’s most admired private gardens at his weekend house in East Hampton, Long Island. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” the native Minnesotan recalls once admitting to the sculptor Isamu Noguchi, a friend and client who had created more than a few important landscapes over his career. “Oh, yes, you do,” Noguchi insisted, adding, “It’s original, so just keep doing it.” That comment, Glimcher says, “gave me a lot of courage.”
The result is a dense, mysterious, and space-confounding landscape that Glimcher’s wife, Milly, an art historian, has colorfully called “ten acres of garden on five acres of land.” Adds the dealer, “It does seem larger than it is, with the multiple gardens and the routes that go through them. It’s full of surprises.” Paths meander, disappear, and reemerge, plunging visitors into a largely green environment in which they become momentarily lost as one section ends and another begins, like a botanical version of an M. C. Escher sketch. (Not one of Pace’s stable of artists, by the way.) Rising from the greenery are 19 modern and contemporary sculptures by some of the talents that Glimcher represents and which, for him, are as much aide-mémoire as visual punctuation. A lacy Louise Nevelson stands before a bank of junipers, a curvaceous Alexander Calder crouches beside the swimming pool, verdigris bronze boulders by Noguchi emerge from an emerald-green lawn, and a fantastical Jean Dubuffet folly—imagine a bubble-like garden house made of white polyurethane that has been boldly accented with abstract black lines, inside and out—beckons before a leafy copse.
“My first objective was to have some sculptures,” Glimcher explains, “but not until the garden was working the way I wanted it to.” Back in the early 1980s, though, the couple’s new glass-and-stone house, designed for them by brutalist architect Ulrich Franzen, was surrounded by nothing. “Just scrub and marsh,” the dealer says. “I didn’t really want to buy this piece of land, but my wife convinced me that we could do something wonderful.” Gardening was neither spouse’s forte, so they hired a prominent, purposely unnamed talent who installed a berm to camouflage the house from the road and then forested it with black pine trees that promptly succumbed to an infestation of beetles.