Just a hop and a skip over the Bear Mountain Bridge and north on Route 32, Storm King Art Center gestated in the mind of its late co-founder Ralph Ogden 50 years ago when he visited a quarry in Austria. The sensuality of stone drew Ogden to David Smith and a number of now-obscure sculptors working through the prism of modernism on a human scale.
The lack of elitism in Ogden’s collection has always been one of the more endearing attractions of Storm King, the other being the perfect symmetrical equivalence between its sculptures large (the di Suvero meadow) and small (the circle of David Smiths). A recent visit revealed rolling vistas, geese droppings in the hay and Constablian clouds unchanged.
Storm King has always brought to mind oft told stories about Samuel Johnson: his refutation of Bishop Berkeley’s theory that nothing in the universe has substance, by which Johnson kicked a boulder, announcing "I refute it thus!" and Johnson’s fondness, even as an elderly writer, for rolling down hills. Indeed we envied the small boy in orange sweatsuit rolling down a hill and the little Spanish girls kicking Calder’s large black arc, which was caked on one side with white birdshit.
Bowing to museoelitism, Storm King now has Acoustiguides featuring only "highlights of the permanent collection" and the obligatory, roped off Louise Bourgeois spider. Let not these things distract you from enjoying some of the center’s lesser offerings, such as the Easter Island Head pastiche made from paving materials in a lower meadow, or Yerassimos Sklavos’ Eyes of the Sky, which responds nicely to the touch, like many of the inferior pieces in the Ogden collection. On the side of excellence, Alice Aycock’s soaring white staircase has all the grace and musicality of the G clef which it resembles.
Time and money appear to have depleted Storm King’s ability to purchase much new art, which is all for the best. The only apparent acquisition in this decade (2006) is a delightful bench made of plated nickels by the South Bronx’s own Johnny Swing. All the better, because Storm King is the great exalting leveler of sculpture: once you are in the meadow, time and change and hedge-fund-hysteria will never be able to roll away your stone. I’m talking about you, Josef Pillhofer, and your brace of sculptural rescues from the quarry. May little kids, in this upstate paradise, kiss your dreams away forever.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).