Sculpture and nature come together in the Hudson Valley

Although the official entrance to Storm King Art Center is pretty much right where the bus let us off, near the parking lot and picnic area, I did not feel as if I had truly arrived until I had hiked up the hill to the bathroom and wandered through a row of Ionic-style columns crumbling tastefully at the summit.  Emerging as if through the Sun Gate of a lost civilization, I looked down upon the valley below, at the works of art sprinkled haphazardly, and felt , as its creators no doubt intended, like Simba beholding my domain as far as the light could touch.

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To describe Storm King as a “park” or “garden” doesn’t do it any justice at all.  To call it a “museum,” while perhaps more accurate, takes away the sense of fun and discovery one has immediately upon arrival.  In that sense, it is closer to a theme park, though featured artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Alexander Calder would surely balk at such a description.  But the joy inherent in, for example, the discovery that one Mark di Suvero’s massive towering steel installations has, of all things, a raft swing that you can lay down on and watch the clouds float as you float yourself is clearly something that Storm King delights in, and is not wholly different from the whimsey of Disneyworld.

Located in the Hudson Valley, about an hour and a half outside of New York City and easily accessible by car or public transportation, Storm King opened in 1960, as a more formal museum.  However, to take advantage of its beautiful and diverse landscape, it began acquiring sculptures and placing them strategically among its natural fields, lakes and woods.  The placement and surroundings of each work of art is considered very carefully, as is the structure of the park as a whole.

Seeing something interesting from far off and knowing that you can go to it and probably interact with it is the great pleasure of Storm King.  More than once I headed off towards something I saw, and got distracted by something else on the way, like a big open world video game where I kept being waylaid by side quests.  After three hours or so tromping through fields, woods and lakes, we went off a quiet nature path and inadvertantly reached the northern border: a bubbling brook, so perfectly parochial that I wondered at first if it were also a work of art. But no, it's an escape from the escape, a stream of untouched wilderness.  

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On our way back to the shuttle stop, we ran into one more surprise: Maya Lin’s Storm King Wavefield, a series of artificial hills that ripple like an ancient desert reclaimed by green.  Suddenly we were giants, stomping along those ridges, wreaking havoc on the valley below (although we found out later that, of course, you’re not supposed to climb them).  The true magic of Storm King is not a landscape transformed by art or vice versa, but how both of them together transform you.

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