It's been gorgeous in the Northeast this weekend, and so, inspired by the 75-degrees and the white puffy clouds and by Maya Lin's new "Wave Field Storm King" earthwork art, we ventured down and across the Hudson to the Storm King Art Center on Saturday. Embarrassingly, since it's halfway between our home in Manhattan and our country home, this was the first time we'd been there.
There are a lot of contemporary art shrines and minimalist shrines and earthwork shrines out there, and I've been to most of them. Storm King -- I keep thinking of Storm Cat, the aging horse who used to pull in the biggest stud fee in the country and who lives (unless he died, but I don't think he has) on a gorgeous spread in Bluegrass Country owned by the brother of a friend of mine's wife, who also live there, if I have that all straight -- is on a rolling 500-acre estate that was turned over to the State of New York 49 years ago (correction: I'm told its a private not-for-profit entity). It has all sorts of outdoor sculptures looming over its wide-open fields and tucked away in bowers and among trees; and the setting, surrounded by Hudson Valley hills and mountains, is just as gorgeous as my friend's Kentucky horse farm.
Some of the work on display is beautiful (like Andy Goldsworthy's serpentine stone wall, right next to the Lin), some rather ordinary, some more striking and imposing than inviting (Calder and especially di Suvero dominate large swaths of the grounds), with lots and lots of big-name artists. There is a main house, in which right now is terrific Lin exhibition with some beautiful work that fills rooms, smaller drawings and a slide show; the woman sure has created a body of work beyond the Vietnam Memorial, which will always remain her best-known achievement.
Lin is a minimalist who works most happily outdoors, making incremental pieces in series in which small elements or water add up cumulatively to forms that emulate nature or harmonize with it. She grew up in southwestern Ohio, and since we had just come back from a pilgrimmage exploring Indian mounds, in particular Mound City and Serpent Mound, the influence is palpable.
"Wave Field Sorm King" is the third and largest in a series, the first two being in Michigan and Florida. The space (16 acres?) is generous and the earth has been shaped into undulating forms, each mound maybe 20 feet high and 50 feet long (those are guesses). When you look at whole field straight on you get a saw-tooth effect, with the peaks of one undulating line showing between the dips in the one in front. Photos show a wonderful variety depending on the season: lush green now, vibrant fall colors, pure white winter snow.
For me, the effect was slightly lessened by the vastness of the surrounding nature dwarfing the contained space of the actual shaped forms. I also found the roar of the adjacent New York State Thruway disconcerting, though the rush and whizzing of the cars are partly masked by trees and could, I suppose, be heard as oceanic.
The park has not quite gotten the manicuring of the "waves" in hand. Paths have been worn by people trekking among them, and people follow the paths because they think they're supposed to. The Storm King folk don't want them to walk on the parths or the ridges, but they also don't want to desecrate the naturalness by posting warning signs. The grass has grown in with patches and lumps, undercutting the rolling perfection seen in the well-maintained Indian mounds in Ohio.
But these are growing pains. I guess the reason that Storm King falls just short of the peak of my own personal minimalist shrine hierarchy is its lack of focus. The sheer concentration and power of Donald Judd's machine-tooled aluminum boxes at Marfa, or James Turreell's megalomaniacal but awesome Roden Crater or Walter De Maria's "Lighting Field" or the Richard Serra installation in the big long room at Bilbao all strike home harder because they aren't in competition with other work on the same sprawling site. Yet Storm King is still well worth many more visits, and we hope to make up for lost time by doing just that.
For an ongoing conversation and news reports about arts journalism, go to the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program, here.