On a recent visit to Storm King Art Center in Orange County’s Mountainville, I stood at the summit of the outdoor sculpture park looking down at the fields against the backdrop of the Hudson Highlands, absorbing the sight of the monumental works of art in the distance, seemingly dwarfed in the vastness of the setting. Although “setting” is not, perhaps, the correct word to use; that implies something waiting for adornment. And from the Art Center’s inception half a century ago, the intention was always to integrate the sculpture with the landscape and sky into a unified experience. One can’t fully appreciate either the art or the landscape in this location without considering the partnership of one with the other.
Works of art at Storm King were never just plunked down wherever there was room to put them. Each piece was – and still is – carefully sited in its location, the landscape frequently altered to enhance or accommodate the piece. Some of the works are site-specific, like Andy Goldsworthy’s fascinating serpentine Storm King Wall out at the farther edges of the property. And in the same way that we make a space our own when we move into it, so do the works here seem to do so. Artworks installed at Storm King occupy their piece of the land as if they grew there.
But grounded in their environment as they are, the sculptures relate just as strongly to the sky. (As John Lennon wrote, “Look up in the sky…which extends to the ground. We are all part of the sky, more so than of the ground.”) When a massive stabile by Calder is installed outside a public place or a museum building, the sightlines end there. At Storm King, the sheer extent of the land – more than 500 acres – allows for a generosity of space around even the largest works, their forms creating negative space beautifully delineated against endless sky.
All of that room to breathe, however, means that visitors have to make an effort to see it all. Five hundred acres is a lot of ground to cover. It’s worth it, but the visitor shouldn’t expect this to be a passive experience in terms of the exertion required, in the way of traditional museums that one can explore by slowly strolling through.
When I worked in the visitors’ center at Storm King Art Center for two seasons more than a decade ago, the only thing we heard more than “This place is incredibly beautiful” was “Why didn’t anybody tell us we were going to be doing so much hiking?” It was fairly predictable on any given day that at some point in the afternoon, people would come through the doors of the Normandy-style château that serves as visitors’ center, gallery space and museum shop (the only indoor space at Storm King, and thus the only heated or air-conditioned area) and sort of collapse on the counters from their exertions while making this query of us. Clearly some preparation would have been helpful.
So when my editor at Almanac Weekly asked me if I’d like to write about the new events and programs that the Art Center is doing these days, I thought that it might be useful to preface that with some recommendations. After all, what good is personal experience if not to learn from?
Dress for a hike, not for a stroll. Wear the right shoes. (We just used to shake our heads when we’d see a woman clip-clopping up the path wearing heels.) Wear a hat, and use sunscreen; there’s not a lot of shade. You’ll be in full sun much of the time. Bring bottled water along. There are paved and gravel paths, but there is also a great deal of hillside, and fields of long grasses to tromp through. The landscape at Storm King Art Center has been molded and shaped, but there is some wildness still. Those visitors were right: The place is incredibly beautiful. Just plan ahead and expect to take an active part in your experience.
Storm King is fascinating to visit in the rain, too, assuming that one is prepared for it. One of the pleasures of working there was the opportunity essentially to live with the art five days a week for seven months at a time; seeing the works in all types of weather and the changing seasons revealed something different with each change of light and conditions. Gloomy days create nuances in works not seen in the starker shadows of bright sunny days. (The Art Center is closed from December through March, but membership brings the perq of a special members-only winter walk.)
And the person not particularly interested in 20th- and 21st-century sculptural works can enjoy the day there on a different level, as simply a beautiful park in which to have a picnic or let the kids run around. There’s a certain kinship to Innisfree Garden in Millbrook, in that one can’t take it in with a glance; walking through it greatens your perceptions, and it’s a process of exploration to experience it.
The Art Center has made huge strides in terms of assisting visitors in getting around the place since I worked there; it now has an elevator up and down the steep hillside and a continuously running tram that takes visitors out to the nether regions. One can even rent a bicycle on the grounds, although not all of the works will be accessible that way. (Personal bikes aren’t allowed, for liability reasons.)
But I digress. If my editor hasn’t already taken the virtual red pen to my musings, she’s probably asking herself, “When is she going to get to the events and programs?” So here are a few highlights coming up this summer, all included with the price of admission:
Thursday, July 30 and Thursday, August 27 are free admission days for all visitors. The regular cost of admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $8 for students with ID and free for kids age 4 and under and for members.
Saturday, August 29 will be the next Moonlit Walking Tour at 8 p.m. Explore the phosphorescent qualities of Hills and Clouds by Lynda Benglis, part of this season’s special exhibition. The after-hours walk requires an RSVP by August 26 to [email protected]. The walk is 45 minutes to an hour in length and covers a distance of two miles over uneven terrain, long grass and wet ground. The Art Center suggests bringing flashlights and bug spray and wearing proper shoes and light-colored clothing. Strollers are not allowed, due to the terrain. Required check-in begins at 7:45 p.m.
Every Saturday through September, outdoor yoga sessions are offered on the hilltop by the columns at 10 a.m. Bring your own mat; beginners are welcome.
The Outdoor Concert Series on Sundays at 2 p.m. showcases Lee Ranaldo (a founding member of Sonic Youth) and Kevin Morby on Sunday, August 9. The Feelies with special guests Alex Bleeker and the Freaks will perform on Sunday, September 20. Beer is provided by the Brooklyn Brewery.
The weekends bring a range of family programs. Saturday afternoons at 1 and 2 p.m., beekeeper tours take participants out to Peter Coffin’s 2012 work, Untitled (Bees Making Honey), where one can learn about the ways that honeybees make use of sunlight and take home a sample of local honey. Space is limited on each tour. The next event takes place on Saturday, July 25.
“Wanderings and Wonderings” is a series of artist-led tours for kids held on various Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 25 will find collaborative performance artists Alan and Michael Fleming, identical twins, leading an imaginative exploration of Storm King. Sunday, August 2 at 2 p.m. will feature artist Amy Beecher leading the tour.
On Sundays at 1 p.m., hands-on programs for children and families are offered. On Sunday, July 26 at 1 p.m., kids age 4 and older can explore how to emulate the work of artists Alexander Calder and Alexander Liberman by using colorful card stock to transform flat shapes into sculptural forms. And on Sunday, August 2 at 1 p.m., the Art Center will offer a family field sketching event.
Other special events include birdwatching, conversations with artists, poetry readings and traditional guided tours. Call (845) 534-3115 or visit https://www.stormking.org for details.
Storm King Art Center, 1 Museum Road, Mountainville, (845) 534-3115; https://www.stormking.org.