Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre outdoor museum in Upstate New York, is the perfect place to visit that combines art, the outdoors, and easy social distancing. Their permanent exhibition features several large metal sculptures and numerous earthworks and site-specific art interventions. I go back often because a) it’s hard to see everything in one visit, and b) the temporary exhibitions are always interesting and feel like they are the outcomes of creative problem solving by guest artists. Instead of consistently lit white walls, artists have to contend with the vibrant backdrop of rolling hills and verdant greens that can easily swallow whole traditional tabletop sculpture. On view through November 9th are Kiki Smith River Light and Outlooks: Martha Tuttle, two separate exhibitions that share an installation art character in that they are made of many parts, but otherwise very different in feel and temperament.
Kiki Smith’s River Light (2020), sits high on the Museum Hill right outside of the Museum Building, which is the main gravitational hub of Storm King. Nine cyanotype* printed blue flags, made from plexiglass etchings of photos of sun glints on the East River, fly in the wind atop stainless steel poles. They are arranged in a ring and while each one is unique, when seen together their difference is minimal and they feel like a coordinated allegiance to some esteemed and mysterious entity. Made a year before our current political upheaval and frequent national protests, this work can’t help but feel like an alternate option that offers reflections from daily contemplative walks along the East River in Manhattan. Smith’s other work, Hudson River (2020), is more varied in its chromatic range and presents a single flag flying with an image of a color-saturated sunset along the Hudson River. Combined, these two works create a bridge between Downstate and Upstate New York. Smith’s work elegantly captures sunlight at different times of day along important New York waterways. Even in her direct approach, Smith maintains a mystery in her work, but it is one largely provided by nature and celebrated by the artist for us to observe and enjoy.
Martha Tuttle’s exhibition in Storm King’s Outlooks (part of a series featuring emerging and mid-career artists) really requires you to search to find it, to seek it out: at the very end of the property where the sound of the cars driving along I-87 can be heard. Even the audio guide shares the artist’s perspective in a whisper, lulling the listener into a quiet mental space. Tuttle’s site-specific project is entitled A stone that thinks of Enceladus (2020). Tuttle writes a series of 23 brief statements that give us a clue about the depth of her philosophical inquiry into the nature of the land, the solar system, and our connection to the earth. These statements are informational and poetic. The work itself is composed of several large boulders dotting an amorphously mowed field. The boulders are roped off with wooden stakes and string, making them feel like archeological dig sites. The boulders have a stacking of rocks and glass sculptures cast from rocks with all their cracks, crannies, and imperfections. Cairns come to mind, as does the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi, an approach to art and design that emphasizes the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Asymmetry, roughness, and simplicity are also virtues of this work. Unlike Smith’s more direct approach to the prompt of making art to be seen in nature, Tuttle forces us to meander, squat, bend, and look from multiple angles before we are rewarded with beautiful and profound visual moments. Circling back to the title and story of Enceladus, not only is he the mythological giant offspring of the earth and sky, but it, personified in a moon, is also the most reflective in our solar system, making Enceladus a fitting beacon for sending and receiving light as an affirmation of existence as Tuttle proposes for us to ponder in this work.
*A cyanotype is a historical photographic printing technique that uses UV, usually direct sunlight to expose the “blueprint” image. Thus Smith’s use of the sun’s light to make manifest an image that captures sunlight further unifies the work.
Katerina Lanfranco is an artist who writes for POVarts. Her recent solo exhibitions include Mystic Geometry, Talk to the Moon, and Shadow Light, upcoming shows include Nature Poems and a group show From Prayers to Urns at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery. You can find out more about her work on her website: www.katerinalanfranco.com and follow her on Instagram @katerinalanfranco
All photos courtesy of POVarts.