The Big Steel
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
One of the best outdoor art experiences available to New Yorkers is just an hour’s drive from the George Washington Bridge. Storm King’s 500-acre sculpture park, set in the Hudson Valley amid rolling mountains, fields, and a boundless sky, provides viewers with the opportunity to see large outdoor sculptures by Alexander Calder, David Smith, and Isamu Noguchi in a natural setting. Trees, clouds, birds, and rabbits expand our experience of the artworks. At Storm King, not only are we reminded of Renoir’s statement that there is no such thing as a straight line in nature; we also are made aware of the fact that a stainless steel curve, especially when it is compared to an I-beam, a spider’s web, and a crescent moon, can suggest an almost infinite range of metaphors.
This summer, Storm King has mounted “Richard Bellamy and Mark di Suvero,” its second and final installation of abstract artworks by Mr. di Suvero (b. 1933) and photographs of Mr. di Suvero’s sculpture by Bellamy (1927–98), the artist’s longtime friend and dealer. The exhibition of 16 large-scale outdoor sculptures is complemented by an indoor exhibition of numerous smaller sculptures and drawings, as well as dozens of photographs of the works in situ all over the world. A new, lavishly illustrated catalog, “Richard Bellamy, Mark di Suvero,” has been published on the occasion of the show. Filled with outstanding photographs by Bellamy and Jerry Thompson, the book offers contrasting seasonal views of the installation from various angles and in all kinds of weather.
The exhibition, organized by David Collens, has not changed drastically since last year, but it is installed more beautifully. “Joie de Vivre” (1997) has moved on to its Manhattan location at the corner of Cedar Street and Broadway; “Ad Astra” (2005) has gone to Texas; and the small, gorgeous indoor work “Moonrise” (1961–62), in which two stainless steel arcs appear to be rising out of its base, is no longer on view.
However, most of the same dramatic steel sculptures, made of curling planes and I-beam Xs, continue to occupy their footings on Storm King’s grounds. “Shang” (1984–85), supporting a heavy, noisy swing, remains as the 25-foot tall gateway to the fields.The sculpture’s welcoming arms are splayed upward like the roof of a pagoda, and it stands on a hill like a samurai. Located just behind the museum, “Shang” offers an imposing, shrine-like entrance to the outdoor installation. Another interactive work, “Beethoven’s Quartet” (2003), with its rubber mallets and 25,000-pound twisting stainlesssteel gong, still provides viewers with the opportunity to be enveloped within a canopy of long, reverberating moans.
“Mother Peace” (1969–70), a roughly 40-foottall orange work made primarily of I-beams, is still on view. The sculpture — with its rigging, masts, arms, and broad stance — has the presence of a tall sailing ship rolling across the field and ready for battle. A cutout peace sign, like a cattle brand, marks the end of the sculpture’s suspended I-beam. At once a battering ram, sword, cannon, and phallus, the extended Ibeam suggests that peace is possible only through interaction.
Many of Mr. di Suvero’s large sculptures initially announce themselves like a thunderclap. At times their heroic scale and machismo can overpower their ability to unfold in more subtle ways. Yet, working at a smaller scale, the artist also can create more intimate and understated works.
Indoors are the smaller wonderful sculptures “Bachpiece” (1962), in which a mountainous chunk of rough-hewn timber is contrasted against three tiny steel figures on an arching steel plane, and “Sunrise” (1962–63), a steel plane supporting a section of I-beam and a rising steel arc. The I-beam, as with nearly all of Mr. di Suvero’s works, has been scratched, and it is difficult to tell if the marks are accidental or intentionally added by the artist. Either way, the childlike scrawl — a pictographic conflation of an arrow and a sun — adds tremendously to the artwork’s success.
Both “Bachpiece” and “Sunrise” command the galleries. So does “Untitled” (1996), a surprisingly complicated and rich work that, shooting downward like an arrow to its target, resembles medieval ironwork, plant life, and a crossbow. Also on view, among the seemingly quick studies for the sculptures (Mr. di Suvero does not make maquettes) is “Untitled” (1972), a calligraphic ink drawing in which, like leaves to bamboo, horizontal marks hang precariously yet in ideal tension from a leaning vertical swath.
The show stealers, though, are two new massive sculptures that have been added to Storm King’s installation this year: “Beyond” (2004), which was on view at Manhattan’s Madison Square Park in 2004, and “Jambalaya” (2002–06).
“Jambalaya” is bright orange and 60 feet tall. The leaning sculpture, made from standing I-beams and a circular belly, explodes like a starburst. The sculpture, like most of Mr. di Suvero’s works, seems to have a face, and its greatest impact is felt from below and dead on, a position that gives it the sense that it is falling forward and expanding outward simultaneously.
“Beyond” is a lithe, interweaving configuration of curlicues held by five splayed legs. Its forms corkscrew as if they were propellers, and a one-two punch — a kind of double take in which your eyes are drawn from low to high and from side to side — gives the sculpture a rubbery torsion and aliveness. Looking at “Beyond,” it’s as if the sculpture were a steel dinosaur suddenly lifting and turning its head to greet you on your approach.
Standing next to “Jambalaya” and looking downfield toward “Beyond,” offers a view of three of Mr. di Suvero’s works: “Frog Legs” (2002), “Beyond,” and “Mozart’s Birthday” (1989). “Frog Legs,” a calligraphic figure on a hill, stands like a sentry or an archer and overlooks the other two works. None of these three sculptures has the breadth and richness of the Smiths or Calders, which, nearby, also people the grounds; but part of the magic of Storm King is seeing sculpture and nature interact.
The grouping of the three di Suveros, in which, like living machinery, the sculptures’ frolicking curves and taut diagonals kick-start and play through eachother across great distances, is what going out to Storm King is all about. The sculptures’ similarities and differences, their strengths and shortcomings — seen within the greater context of nature — blend with, accent, and open up their surroundings. Mr. di Suvero’s artworks help us to become aware of the trees, and the trees, in turn, help us to become aware of his sculptures. In this setting, looking at art is not so much about good or bad, successful or unsuccessful.The act of judging or comparing works tends to fall away, and one is inspired, instead, to make connections and to enjoy the mystery.
Until November 15, Storm King Art Center (Old Pleasant Hill Road, Mountainville, N.Y., 845-534-3155).