Saturday, June 14, 2014

Storm King

I've been a fan of Storm King Art Center's embellished landscape since I was twenty, a trip inspired by a professor who chased me down after class to tell me all about it. I recall that first visit, an installation by Ursula von Rydingsvard and a team of assistants were actively chainsawing one of her large sculptures. I loved the idea of art made in, of, by or for the landscape.

Above is a sculpture by Barnett Newman, a sculpture that takes advantage of Cor-Ten steel -its red rust inserted here into a haze of lush greenery. You will find the contrast of rust and vegetation again and again at Storm King and most sculpture parks, but rarely done as well as Newman's 'Broken Obelisk.' Its siting lays bare an intimate dialogue between Modernist geometry and formal Wilderness, a contrast more surprising than Houston's Rothko Chapel siting (admittedly, one I have not seen in person), and a work worth experiencing as much as any other at Storm King. Its power resides in its planes concentrated at the point between two pyramidal forms, one darkened in shadow and the other lit by the sun. The work displays exceptional poise, balanced as it is at this point, but its formal grace is interrupted by the jagged, "broken" top plane which roughly mimics the angle of the base pyramid, forging an undecipherable relationship between the grounded pyramid and the precariously balanced, broken obelisk. That uneven, broken edge disturbs the precisely manifested union, threatening to topple the obelisk. The implicit movement creates an experience of inherent kineticism, a monument about to fall.

Andy Goldsworthy's 'Storm King Wall' is as innocuous as any New England dry laid stone wall as it approaches the body of water, but then emerges a serpentine folly on the other side, rising up into the forested hillside.

This playful work heightens an awareness of the frivolity of artistic labor via the urbane interest in a landscape demarcated by hard won assemblages of stones dispatched from difficult fields.

Zhang Huan's disembodied Buddha head, glimpsed while climbing a minor hill, first suggested to this painter my memory of a Philip Guston work, below. A head not fixed, its connection to the earth concealed by lushly growing field plants, but one in motion, rolling uphill. It is a sight both haunting and comic.

Which is the case for many of Huan's pieces and yet their humanity is inescapable despite the sculptures' grotesque distortions. I find myself applauding their perverse acrobatics.

At play here is a sensibility for relic and ruin, sited in landscape, and excited by landscape. Huan's broken monuments suggest ancient religious ideologies breaking under the force of cultural upheaval. This is complicated by placement in a Western landscape where the sculptures become a ruin enhancing the romantic aura of Storm King's Hudson Valley site. The ancient Chinese culture transmogrified by these works is conflated with Western imagery, bridging the destructive aspects of Cultural Revolution with the exertions of Western political, economic, and cultural influence.

In the southern reaches of the five hundred acre campus is one of Storm King's few projects that actually is formed out of the land -Maya Lin's "Storm King Wavefield." Here a sea of grass becomes an illusion of fluid rumpled by the transference of energy through it, a display that would be menacing if its artifice wasn't so apparent. The waves have direction and when seen from below, they subtly evoke the surrounding mountains. Lin's interested in wave forms, although concocted from scientific observations and technological means, generate an abstraction that is most analogous to a raked zen garden. The view from the amphitheater encourages this comparison because it enables you to take in the whole field, much as we view a zen garden as a whole, from the outside. 

But when drainage permits, visitors are given access (we were not) to the field, offering an uncanny experience of a landscape of perpetual, immobile waves. One can travel the length of peak or valley, or tack diagonally, cresting and falling with each "swell" so that we become the motion to a fixity of earthen waves. 


  1. Very good job done by you...always wanted to visit, but no car and now I live in France....but, thanks

  2. That is one of my favorite places to visit! Love that place.


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