CORNWALL, NY (NYT NEWS SERVICE).-
This week Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all regions of New York except New York City have entered the fourth and last phase of reopening, which authorizes museums, historical sites and other cultural institutions to welcome visitors once more.
Not so fast. From Albany to Suffolk County, almost all of the states regional museums have declined to open immediately and are using these next weeks to prepare to exhibit art under new sanitary conditions and the new financial constraints that result from them.
Where to go this summer, for the art-starved? You want to be careful, you want as much space as you can get, and more than anything you want to be outdoors. Right now that means your smartest move is the immense Storm King Art Center, a sprawling sculpture park here in the Hudson Valley, which reopens to the public July 15 after a preview this weekend for members and front-line health care workers. This Arcadia of large-scale and site-specific sculpture, about 70 minutes north of Manhattan in COVID-thinned traffic, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, offering a restorative dose of nature and culture for those in the grip of agitated cities and glaring screens.
Storm King usually opens to the public every April, but the sculpture park used the spring to develop safety protocols and slightly rejigger its program. A visitor center with a small suite of indoor galleries wont open this year; large group visits are barred, various public programs are suspended, bike rentals are unavailable. To visit you need to book a time slot in advance, and youll need a car or a taxi because there wont be the usual shuttle service from the Metro-North station in Beacon. The on-site cafe is closed, though restrooms are open.
Bring a mask you have to wear it when social distancing is impossible, though theres ample space here and check the weather: I visited on a flesh-scorching afternoon, trudging across this 500-acre outdoor museum until my head started spinning. (Critics pick: a water bottle and a drugstore umbrella!)
Across Storm Kings open fields and rolling meadows are giant works by Sol LeWitt, Alice Aycock, Ursula von Rydingsvard; ensconced within the paths of a wood is smaller, earlier statuary by names grown obscure, as well as a weathered, trowel-nicked concrete slab by Mia Westerlund Roosen, a post-minimalist sculptor well overdue for rediscovery. A few sculptures here, curators have observed in years past, are notorious for attracting close inspections and caresses: Joel Shapiros 21-foot-tall geometric totem of a walking figure; Nam June Paiks bronze Buddhas watching TV. They have been ringed this season with thin black ropes; not lovely, but youll live.
In these first days of artistic reentry, you might find yourself drawn as much to the lush landscape as to the large sculptures that punctuate it. The meadow grasses and wildflowers have grown high around Richard Serras Schunnemunk Fork (1990-91) a suite of four weathered steel plates that originally sliced across the mowed lawn but now nearly disappear into the brush.
Nearby, Maya Lins Storm King Wave Field (2009), an 11-acre earthwork of grassy knolls that ripple like the sea, has been reseeded. This undulant non-site, neither properly architecture nor properly sculpture, feels more solemn today than it might have in years past, more of a burial ground than a surf.
Turn your back to the Wave Field, take off your mask, breathe in, look out.
Across the southernmost fields of Storm King, Mark di Suveros titanic steel articulations remain the paradigmatic sculptures of Storm King, their abstract concatenations of beams and panels towering majestically over the grassland. Among the 10 monumental works here by di Suvero, the newest arrival is also the largest: the 90-foot-tall E = MC2 (1996-97), a square pyramid of rusted steel H-beams topped by four stainless steel planks that extend into a sort of crown. It may be giant, but its not overawing. Di Suvero understands better than almost any artist the distinction between size and scale and this serene work, breathing easy in Storm Kings largest field, feels as approachable as a family member.
Along with its permanent sculpture collection, and long-term loans like di Suveros E=MC2, Storm King also presents annual exhibitions of new commissions. One of this years planned shows, by Kiki Smith, was meant to take place both indoors and outdoors. The indoor part was scrapped, and what remains is of limited interest: River Light (2019), a circle of nine flagpoles whose banners derive from cyanotypes (or cyan-blue prints) she made of the East River of Manhattan, its surface flickering with reflected luminescence.
(A 10th flagpole, off to one side, supports a flag depicting a Hudson River sunset.)
In the pastoral setting of Storm King, these flags have a pseudo-governmental overtone that feels discordant; they look uncannily like the rows of identical blue flags outside the institutions of the European Union in Brussels. Within this abstract eden, her bronze statues of humans and animals might be a more natural fit.
More compelling is a new project by young artist Martha Tuttle, who has cleared 8 acres of tall grass (near Lins Wave Field) to present a quietly persuasive sculptural installation, titled a stone that thinks of Enceladus. (The title refers to an ice-covered moon of Saturn with a highly reflective surface.)
Tuttle has gathered boulders from Storm Kings property, most of them about knee-height, and placed them around the clearing with a contrapuntal casualness; resting on each boulder are delicate sculptures of rocks, crafted in the artists studio from milky glass or solid marble and arranged with the same tossed-off elegance as the boulders themselves. These humble cairns conjoin real and artificial stones, not to mention the lichens growing on the boulders surfaces and the grass beneath your feet into a poem of vibrant matter.
At one point here I crouched down in the grass to inspect one of Tuttles boulders, its beige surface speckled with green-gray algae that rhymed with the blue-gray tint of a glass stone and rhymed too, I suppose, with the surgical mask I sported over my nose and mouth. Her installation, when it was commissioned last year, would have already resounded in a time of climate emergency, when the distinction between natural and man-made things had begun to lose its sense. It has just as much poignancy in these days of pandemic, when a microscopic pathogen has as much power as humans do to design our environments and shape our world.
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