Saturday, October 15, 2011

Storm King

Last Saturday, VM and JF drove GH and I to Storm King. We first took a long hike on the mountain, and then made our way to the Art Center. The grounds of the sculpture center were beautifully landscaped. The museum building overlooked the meadows to the North-west and the North woods. To the south was the leisurely undulating South Fields where gentle knolls raised monumental works like Mark Di Suvero's Pyramidian (1987/88) against a background of sky, and a mirror-clear serpentine pond provided the perfect playground for Roy Lichtenstein's Mermaid (1994). Yellow-brown grasses that came up to the knee were sculptured for contrast to the green fields.

At the very end of the South Fields was the highlight of the walk for me: Maya Lin's Storm King Wavefield (2007-08). The artist who designed the darkly shiny Vietnam War Memorial worked here with mounds of earth. The grassy mounds did not look very special when we walked past them, though they were taller than we were and quite massive. Viewed from the necessary vantage point, however, the work was a moving miniature of the hills behind it, without being literal in its imitation. It helped me grasp, perhaps for the first time, the power of a truly site-specific work.

Close by was another striking site-specific work, Andy Goldsworthy's Storm King Wall (1998-98). The dry wall ran down to the pond, as if disappearing into it, and re-emerged on the other side before looping round and round a row of trees. It was an excellent example of the playful artistic use of a practical building technique. Like Maya Lin's Wavefield, Wall spoke of long tradition but also of individual talent.

Of the current show "5+5: New Perspectives" the piece that spoke most to me was Darrell Petit's Kiss (2008). Two big blocks of stone, curving in different ways, were leaned together, touching at one high point only. The other works were often witty but could not hold their own against the natural landscape. Storm King could be very cruel to less ambitious art.

I saw it from a distance but would have missed truly seeing it, if VM did not remark on Alexander Calder's Five Swords (1976). The martial abstract sulpture, in screaming red, thrust forward its bristling blades from a steady waist. Familiar only with Calder's mobiles, I was very pleased to see one of his stabiles. Because the center was closing, we had to find another place for our picnic. The spot we found after driving around a bit was stony and a little trashy but a river splashed in front of us while a meadow stretched behind us, into the growing darkness. The pleasures of the day sat around with us like friends.

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