These trees are magnificent, but even more magnificent is the sublime and moving space between them, as though with their growth it too increased.
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
Follow, beginning to end, Andy Goldsworthy’s The Wall That Went for a Walk (1997-98) at Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, New York, and only then do you begin to appreciate the poetry inherent in stone: its heft in bare hands, how it accepts being put in place just so, to make first one and then another and another rounded corner, how it insists on twisting and turning before allowing your eye to travel through a line of old-growth trees to dip into a pond, where the wall submerges before rising again to snake along the grassy slope opposite. The wall stops dead, and you don’t move.
Goldsworthy’s meandering, 2, 278-foot-long hand-built Wall (one of my favorite installations by any artist) is among many other extraordinary works — more than 100 sculptures, most abstract, many in weathered steel — that grace Storm King’s well-manicured but never fussy grounds.
I’ve made the trip to Storm King a number of times since first visiting with my son when he was a child (he’s 24 now). What I find there is inspiring evidence of how nature works hand-in-hand with the artworks to reveal the drama and the harmony of the “perfect fit.” The landscape is as integral to the artworks as the eyes are necessary to see.
To put each sculpture in perspective, see how it is sited with particular regard for its surroundings and for viewing at a distance, it’s best to explore Storm King on foot, or by tram or rented bicycle; give yourself lots of time (at least the four to six recommended hours) to read the land and its steep slopes and gently uneven undulations. Walking also makes for serendipitous finds. One visit, as the center says, is never enough to take in everything but with a little advance research, you can be sure to find the works of the artists you most want to see. (Go here for a list of the stellar artists in Storm King’s collection.)
With its hulking namesake Storm King Mountain to the east, overlooking the Hudson River in Cornwall, the nonprofit sculpture park can run riot with deer, groundhogs, coyotes, red tail hawks, reptiles, turkeys, insects, and other wildlife, though sometimes the park’s two-legged human visitors are the least tame life you encounter. Bird-watchers thrill to the songs they hear, while couples try to plan for a chance for a moonlit walk. Poets read aloud here; musicians give concerts; artists engage visitors in conversation; and yoga, outdoors among the sculptures, frames your sight in new ways. The real poetry, though, is in the art, always waiting to be discovered.
Art at Storm King is as apt to rise from or lie close to the ground as to secret itself behind an earthen mound or suddenly jut through the morning mist cloaking Maple Allee. Zhang Huan’s massive Three-Legged Buddha (2007) turns your gaze upward and down again; if you listen closely, you might hear the ground thundering under a huge foot. Mark di Suvero’s graceful, towering, wind-tipped pieces in South Fields force your eye into alignment with another man’s monumental vision; they’re like some primitive monster’s surveying instruments. Isamu Noguchi’s Momo Taro (1977-78) leads you into contemplation. Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Sarcophagi in Glass Houses (1989) impel you to considerations of loss. Mermaid (1994) by Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein makes you think of sea-toughened sailors itching for a shore pass and a chance to run a hand through a beauty’s golden tresses. The long grass-covered ranges of Maya Lin’s Wavefield (2009), occupying a former gravel pit, instill calm and wonder, while Alexander Calder’s red stabiles open you to experience the kind of uninhibited delight children have no problem expressing. You can’t play with the sculptures but they play with your mind and emotions.
Visiting Storm King requires nothing more than open-mindedness and a willingness to look to see. After a day there, you find yourself thinking about how you might make form fit the space in your environment, how sculpture breathes when given enough room, how nature and art enact daily, many times over, a call and a response. Storm King’s a place to engineer your own poetry, if not in words, then in memories built of wood and glass, steel and stone.
Storm King is open from April until December. Day packages via public transportation from New York City are available. If you live hours away, as I do, go by car. Depending on the time of year, you can stop along the way at apple-picking farms, vineyards, and wineries and spend a night at a local B&B. Fall is my favorite season to get out of town and explore those unpaved back roads of New York.