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.
Photo of Suspended, Menashe Kadishman (1977), by smulligann, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Maureen Doallas, author of Neruda’s Memoirs: Poems.
Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99 — Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In May we’re exploring the theme Swan, Swallow, Phoenix.
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Laurie Flanigan says
Beautifully written, Maureen. This makes me want to go there. I especially enjoyed the wording of the first paragraph.
Maureen Doallas says
Thank you, Laurie. Storm King is one of my favorite places.
Goldsworthy’s wall had a predecessor in the U.K., in Cumbria. The name used here is how it’s popularly known (and is far more poetic than “Storm King Wall”). It’s derived from the late poet Norman Nicholson’s “Wall” that begins: “The wall walks….” The poem is included in the book “Wall” available. The audio of the poem is here:
L. L. Barkat says
The wall is my favorite sculpture on the property.
I love how you write about art, Maureen. How it speaks directly into you and you turn that around and give it to us fresh.
All true, what you say here about Storm King. And the place invites a person to come in different seasons. How different and same a piece looks in summer sunlight versus misty autumn.
Maureen Doallas says
I agree about going in the different seasons. The fall is a time I love there, because everything is changing over.
During one of my visits the site for Maya Lin’s Wavefield was being excavated. What’s particularly wonderful about her work at Storm King is that its effect changes as nature moves in on it. It’s taking time for the grasses to cover the mounds; changes in light throughout the day shift one’s perspective; and snow there creates an entirely different environment for the work.
There also are whimsical and just plain fun pieces there, giving lie to the notion that art is or has to be something deadly serious. I have seen many happy children there, and parents joining their kids in rolling down those hillsides.
Charity Singleton Craig says
Maureen – This was a beautifully written piece, reflective and descriptive. I believe I’ve read about this wall before in something Laura wrote years ago . . . Laura, is that right? (Found it! http://www.thehighcalling.org/attitude/feeling-its-just-plain-work#.UZPXvcoduSo)
The Indianapolis Art Museum has an area they call the Hundred Acres, and there is lots of art tucked in with the Great Art of nature. And it gets confusing – wonderfully so – trying to figure out what some curator planned and what evolved through all that happens when nature encounters a thing.
Thank you, Maureen.
Maureen Doallas says
Thank you, Charity. I did not know about L.L.’s earlier piece. I appreciate having the link!
I know about IAM’s Hundred Acres, though I’ve not visited there. I follow the museum’s blog, which often has posts about the plantings and, of course, art. Maybe one day I’ll get out there. I also think of Pooh when I hear the nam. I think I might next write about our National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden on Constitution Ave.; I have some favorites there, Lichtenstein’s “House I” among them. It’s far more manageable in size than Storm King. The fountain becomes an ice rink for us locals in winter, though I no longer own skates (my knees no longer can take the falls).