Corrections or additions?

This article by Pat Summers was prepared for the September 5, 2000

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Artful Monuments of the Hudson Valley

Storm King." The name is allusive and kind of

exciting all by itself, suggesting Norse legends, Viking tales.

"Storm

King" is, first of all, a mountain in New York State, near the

Hudson River, and some 60 miles north of Manhattan. Between it and

Schunemunk Mountain, in a valley among the rolling Hudson Highlands,

"Storm King" is also a notable art center featuring a museum

devoted to contemporary sculpture and 500 acres of varied landscape

on which it is displayed. A sumptuous visual treat, as well as a

reason

for as much vigorous walking as you could want, "Storm King"

is a great destination for a day trip anytime from now to

mid-November,

when it closes for the winter months. If fall foliage is among your

pleasures, this year’s display, following summer months of rain, rain,

rain, is expected to provide spectacular color throughout the Hudson

Valley.

Hundreds of acres go a long way in siting monumental modern

sculptures.

And at Storm King Art Center, the extensive fields and woodlands that

make up those acres serve to further isolate from one another the

many gigantic works on view. Aerial views of the place best illustrate

the calculated spots of color located in the greenery, grassy meadows,

woods, and hills. The total number of works on site changes, but there

are more than 100 sculptures placed outdoors, with the museum’s

galleries

devoted to smaller, more delicate pieces, and related displays.

There’s

also a gift shop and information center at the art center.

After two visits in dramatically different weather — pouring rain

on a warm day last November, and a bright, breezy Maytime this year

— it’s easy to declare that the place warrants visiting at any

time in any wather. With congenial travel companions, the ride from

here to there, via Turnpike, Parkway, and Thruway, passes quickly.

There’s even a more than decent traveler’s pit stop near the end of

the Garden State Parkway.

Parts of the trip are quite scenic, with the road carved through

mountains,

and sun and shadows on green hills; the closer you get to Storm King’s

home in Mountainside, New York, the more unlike central Jersey it

looks. You’ll pass the outlet stores at Woodbury Commons on your way

in, and right over that row of mountains flows the majestic Hudson

River, with West Point and Bear Mountain State Park among the nearby

attractions. You may well have glimpsed the art center grounds as

you zoomed along the New York Thruway toward Canada. But be advised,

by the time you begin to view tantalizing sculptures from the highway,

you are seven miles beyond your desired exit, Exit 16.

A converted Normandy-style chateau that dates back to 1935 was once

the main attraction of Storm King, currently celebrating its 40th

anniversary year. The chateau, which serves as a museum, is the first

structure you reach after the park’s entrance booth. And from its

portico, you can almost reach out and touch a giant black Cor-ten

steel sculpture, Louise Nevelson’s "City on the High

Mountain."

Near the museum stands one of the newest works on view at Storm King

Art Center, and a harbinger of this season’s featured sculptor, Andy

Goldsworthy. Sturdy pieces of curved wood have been woven and knitted

into a colossal sphere, a tremendous wooden ball. Inside, a second

ball of sticks crowds the gallery space. While both are the same size,

they appear different because of the contexts in which they’re placed.

A native of Great Britain, Goldsworthy has created "elemental"

outdoor artworks all over the world. He also makes ephemeral works

that change and deteriorate through contact with nature and the

passage

of time.

"Andy Goldsworthy at Storm King Art Center" really began a

few years ago, when the artist began a commissioned sculpture: a

five-foot

high, 2,278-foot long serpentine field stone wall. Monumental in a

sinuous, horizontal sense, Goldsworthy’s "Wall that Went for a

Walk (Storm King Wall)" meanders all over the Storm King scene,

built of 1,579 tons of stone found on the park from the property.

The sculpture-wall crosses old farm roads, zig-zags around trees,

travels through a pond then moves across a field toward the Thruway.

Other Goldsworthy works on view at Storm King this season include

his preparatory drawings for the sculpture-wall and photographs of

ephemeral works he made in the area; a stone enclosure bridging the

inside and outside the building; and a gray-clay installation that

changes as the material dries. At first, it resembled a still-wet

cement floor; in time, the surface will crack and a wall-like form

will emerge, seeming to point out of the museum toward the woods.

Storm King was founded in 1960 by Ralph Ogden and H. Peter Stern,

then joint owners of Star Expansion Company. Ogden originally

envisioned

a museum of Hudson Valley painters, housed in the chateau, but became

interested in sculpture in 1961 when he visited a marble quarry in

Austria. When he subsequently saw David Smith’s monumental sculptures

set in open fields outside his home and studio in upstate New York,

Storm King purchased a large group of work from the artist’s estate.

This core group of 13 David Smith sculptures now anchor the collection

of works by modern masters that include Calder, Moore, and Nevelson.

In 1972 the art center began acquiring and commissioning large-scale

sculpture for its fruitful interaction with the grand natural site.

A significant part of Storm King’s post-1945 permanent collection

are the abstract welded steel sculptures of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s,

which, thanks to available technology and artists’ desire to work

on a huge scale, outgrew sculpture’s traditional indoor confines.

Like Cyrano’s nose, these pieces are, "well, rather large."

Sometimes several stories high, they need the uncrowded Storm King

venue, in which many works stand in splendid, necessary isolation.

At the same time, some sculptors’ works are grouped loosely together,

in their own ample space while yet in proximity. For instance, most

of Mark di Suvero’s eight angular, colorful works are within hailing

distance of one another; visitors can hike from "Pyramidian"

to "Mother Peace," and beyond "For Chris" to

"Beppe."

Walking facilitates coming upon each sculpture in its outdoor context,

and appreciating that, too.

A land transformation is underway at Storm King,

intended

to reintroduce native long grasses and wildflowers into fields that,

with the cessation of farming in the mid-20th century, had succumbed

to invasive plants. Now in the fourth of a projected six or seven

years, the program has already seen creation of "flowing

islands"

of alfalfa, buckwheat, and oats. It’s a beautiful — and functional

— sight: wide-mown walkways curving through growing fields to

provide access to sculptures. These, together with the art center’s

hills and woodlands, creates one dramatic vista after another, with

each sculpture appearing as a kind of flower in the landscape. And

another, more ubiquitous flower has adapted to the terrain: dandelion

shafts reach monumental heights to make their presence known among

the high grasses.

Most recently, David Smith’s sculpture — the 13 steel pieces that

are seminal to Storm King — was highlighted. Grouped in loose

proximity to one another, the works provided an amazing overview of

Smith’s oeuvre. The art center’s two works by Henry Moore are sited

near each other, as are two pieces by Barbara Hepworth, and, nearly

hidden on a shaded, grassy hillside, two low-lying and highly

enigmatic

works by Nam June Paik, "Waiting for UFO" (1992).

Three steel works by Alexander Calder are imposingly placed along

a wide hilltop, visible from many vantage points, while Menashe

Kadishman’s

"Suspended" is positioned to startling effect in a valley

surrounded by tall grasses. (Elsewhere, his "Eight Positive

Trees"

look like someone else’s work — they are so rounded and

soft-edged,

a diametrical difference from "Suspended.") Aphrodite is the

subject of at least two sculptures at Storm King: one, a supine figure

in a bed of close-growing vines; the second, Isaac Witkin’s abstract

"Birth of Aphrodite."

With his site-specific commission, "Momo Taro," Isamu Noguchi

provides a relief from the dominant angularity and ponderous steel

pieces. His 1977-’78 work in nine parts, made from Japanese granite

for a custom-built hillside at Storm King, is curving, welcoming.

One of just two sculptures that visitors are invited to touch, and

to sit on and in, "Momo Taro" attracted numerous children

and adults apparently eager for direct interaction with sculptural

form. Grace Knowlton’s "Spheres," comprised of concrete balls

of varied sizes and surfaces, holds ineffable appeal, and the

"Sarcophagi

in Glass Houses" of Magdalena Abakanowicz are, without a title

in view, sheerly, eerily, mysterious. Alexander Liberman’s tubular

"Adam," in orange-painted steel, contrasts beautifully with

the landscape in any season. His "Adonai" and "Iliad"

are here too.

Although picnic areas and vending machines are available, it’s

probably

wise to carry car snacks in case like us, you eat at unconventional

times; on neither of our visits could we find a notable spot outside

the art center grounds for a late lunch. In fact, we wondered what

area residents do at regular lunch times — that’s how slim the

pickin’s looked. Another possibility: have a hearty breakfast on the

parkway, then press on for a post-sculpture park supper near home.

So despite its imposing name, Storm King is a benign place that houses

some mighty works of sculpture. Benign, if not wholly welcoming. On

two visits, we found employees — its only living representatives

— to be reserved at best. But don’t go to Storm King to make new

friends. Go there for the sculpture and the setting — both

spectacular.

Storm King Art Center, Old Pleasant Hill Road,

Mountainville,

New York, 845-534-3115. Open daily 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., to November

15. Free guided tour daily at 2 p.m. Admission $7 adult; $5 seniors;

$3 students.

Directions: some 50 miles north of Manhattan, Storm King is

best reached by car via the New Jersey Turnpike to the Garden State

Parkway, then the New York Thruway (I-87) North. Take Exit 16,

"Harriman/Monroe,"

and turn right on Route 32 for 10 miles, then left after the green

bridge onto Orrs Mill Road.

— Pat Summers


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