Storm King Art Center
LET THERE BE LIGHT
In 1960, industrialists H. Peter Stern and Ralph Ogden first opened the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, N.Y., and filled it with landscape paintings by Hudson River School artists. Soon after, the pair developed an interest in sculpture and, in 1967, bought 13 Abstract-Expressionist works by David Smith in one swoop, forming the backbone of a new collection. Today, the 500 acres of rolling hills are known as a sprawling sculpture park, home to works by modern masters like Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson, Mark di Suvero and Smith, with scarcely a trace of its painterly past.
Now, as a tribute to those early sun-streaked vistas and sparkling rivers, associate curator Nora Lawrence has organized “Light and Landscape,” May 12-Nov. 11, 2012, an exhibition of 25 mostly sculptural works scattered across the grounds and inside the galleries. Here the Hudson River School’s use of light -- exalting natural landscapes to quasi-religious, God’s-eye-view panoramas -- is viewed largely through the lens of science, a kind of 21st-century religion in its own right.
A few works in the exhibition trace humanity’s connections to the otherworldly through simple science experiments. Katie Holton’s sun dial sculpture, for instance, is a strip of aluminum marked with the names of the month and laid out on the grass. Surrounding it is an arc of a dozen globes made of papier-mâché, each labeled with a number, one through 12. Viewers can stand on the current month and their shadow falls on the globe corresponding to that hour of the day.
Brooklyn artist William Lamson baked sugar into translucent yellow, orange and red glass panels, which he then assembled into a greenhouse. In photosynthesis, plants produce sugar from sunlight, but in Lamson’s whimsical Solarium (2012), the process is poetically reversed. Visitors can enter the structure, perched in monastic solitude at the top of a hill, and meditate.
A whimsical approach to a miraculous natural world is fairly common. In Untitled (Rainbow) (2012), Peter Coffin explores that wondrous optical phenomenon via snapshots of rainbows he found at yard sales, Duane Reades and thrift stores. He collages the photos together to form a single spiral rainbow, converting Robert Smithson’s emblem of entropy -- the Spiral Jetty -- into a mystical spectrum.
For Spencer Finch’s igloo-sized lunar model, the artist replicated with a colorimeter the peachy tone of the moon on a July night. Outfitted with solar panels, the geodesic structure absorbs the sun’s energy each day so that, by nightfall, LED lights power up a portrait of the moon as Finch saw it on that Chicago summer night.
Anish Kapoor more abstractly invokes the divine with his stainless steel dome mounted on the side of the museum. The reflective, polished surface diverts attention from the object, in a perfect demonstration of the artist’s signature transcendence of his physical materials.
“In a world where most things are explainable,” Kapoor told Modern Painters in 2000, the fact that “art remains unexplained and unexplainable is absolutely crucial.” That kind of awe and reverence links the art in “Light and Landscape” to Storm King’s traditional celebration of the wonders of the natural world.