Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Storm King

Last Friday, NCT and I made the journey from Port Authority to Storm King, which is in the Hudson Valley just north of West Point. Storm King has been on my day trips list since the Times profiled Maya Lin's newest work, "Storm King Wavefield", and since I saw Andy Goldsworthy's "Spire" in San Francisco in May. Aside from its famous Goldsworthy and Lin, however, Storm King also possesses a plethora of striking sculpture, much of which must be approached from afar, across long open fields of grasses and clover. 

The Marc Di Suvero field (top), which includes his piece "Mother Peace" (bottom)
William Least Heat-Moon describes his journey by boat across North America in his book River Horse, and as he commences his trip in New York City, Storm King is one of the first mountains the boat passes as it heads north up the Hudson. Heat-Moon writes, "the massive, almost barren rock that is Storm King rose steeply from the west shore. Entering the Highlands, we were about to cross the Appalachians on tidal water [....] the [Storm King name] has stuck because it is more accurate than the others, given the way the mount twists wind and weather to alter them into afflictions as a heartless monarch does laws [...] lore says old Dutch captains paused to douse their green crewmen in [Pollepel Island] water to immunize them against the bedevilment of hobs from Storm King and the dim, wet cloves that surround it". 

Roy Lichtenstein's "Mermaid" (top) and Richard Serra's "Schunnemunk Fork" (bottom)
NCT and I didn't see any "hobs" or heartless weatherly afflictions during our trip--although we were treated to two rolling thunderstorms, which intermittently turned the sky a fearsome dark grey but only sprinkled us with a few raindrops--but some of the sculptures did seem ethereal, in particular Serra's "Schunnemunk Fork" and Lin's "Wavefield". Perhaps the art center's placement on the back side of the mountain, as opposed to the front, where its eastern face falls in one sheer drop into the Hudson, protects it from these more malevolent spirits?
Maya Lin's "Storm King Wavefield"
The recent rain prevented us from clambering over the "Wavefield" as I had anticipated, and so NCT and I were only able to experience its undulations from afar, by hiking to the top of the hill that surrounds it. Still, the "waves" were as striking from above as they may have been from up close, and I found the mountainous backdrop to be even more resonant with the work in person than through photographs. Storm King's museum building also exhibits several of Lin's mock-ups of the "Wavefield", and in different media, so the effect of seeing the actual "Wavefield" is that much more forceful (one of the mock-ups features an impressively minute set of precisely stacked matchstick-sized pieces of wood, which NCT and I soon dubbed "the intern's project", in empathetic reference to the theoretical summer intern whose three month job must have been its construction).

According to the Times article, which cites Lin's autobiography Boundaries, Lin stated "my affinity has always been towards sculpting the earth", and each of the three Lin pieces that I've encountered--"Storm King Wavefield", the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the clock/sculpture "Timetable" at Stanford University--attest to this affinity, albeit in their own distinctive ways. What I found myself appreciating about "Wavefield", however, was that it pushed beyond the tactile level engendered by the Vietnam Memorial and "Timetable" (specifically a desire to feel the smooth stone that constitutes each) and into a more comprehensive one. The waves not only visually evoke the mountains behind them, but one can also feel that undulating evocation with one's hands, as well as experience that undulation through walking over the waves and wave troughs. 

Andy Goldsworthy's "Storm King Wall"
Andy Goldsworthy's "Storm King Wall" inspired other feelings, in particular a reminiscence for "Stone River", which is at Stanford along with Lin's "Timetable". Goldsworthy constructed his wall over the course of two years out of rocks found around Storm King, and he built it roughly over where an old stone wall had once stood (a ruined section of that wall joins Goldsworthy's at its eastern end). 

The detritus of the old wall (top), and the "Storm King Wall" up close (bottom)
NCT and I followed the Wall from one end of its 2200 ft length to the other, from a steeply forested bank, which stood above a creek rushing with rainwater, down to a pond surrounded by willows, and up through a field of blooming clover to the ridge above "Storm King Wavefield". I found it remarkable that "Storm King Wall", in addition to the "Wavefield", could look both so manicured and so, well, rambling, at the same time. The tension between structure and movement, between the waving calf-high grass and the solidity of the wave-hills and wall-stones--whose serpentine design further underscored this tension--struck me as the most profound characteristic of Storm King. On the one hand the dichotomy seems so simple, but on the other it seems clearly calculated, but in a pleasing way. If that makes any sense. 

Never one to miss an evocation of Northern California, I couldn't help but notice the way that Storm King's fields occasionally looked like those dry golden ones of the Bay Area, particularly in the late afternoon. After all, isn't that art's purpose, to show us new ways of experiencing what we know, by either casting what is known in a new light, or by revealing what is already known to us through new pieces and places?

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