October 8, 2010

October 1: Storm King to Cochecton

Storm King 02, originally uploaded by Rodger Coleman.

FRI OCT 1: We managed to sleep through the thunderstorms that ravaged the area overnight. The blinking alarm clock indicated power outage and rain was pounding on the windows. We turned on The Weather Channel to see what was going on: flash flooding all up the coast with the New York/Newark airports shut down and thousands of people stranded. That could have been us! We were grateful to be safe and sound, but the weather outside of our comfy hotel room was exceptionally grim: dark, windy and inclemently warm and muggy. Tropical, indeed. Were we really going to go wander around Storm King in this?? We examined the hotel handout regarding area attractions and contemplated our options. FDR’s Hyde Park mansion was not too far away and there are a number of other historic houses around there, but it’s not really our thing to tromp around someone else’s home. What we came here to do was look at art before heading out to Cochecton for the wedding festivities. Instead of making a decision, we went out for breakfast at the good old I-84 Diner for a real stick-to-the-ribs meal. It was going to be an adventure, no matter what; better bulk up.

I sat staring out the window of the diner at the plumes of water spraying off the I-84 overpass as oversize speeding vehicles traversed the obviously sizable and dangerous puddles above. My flood-related PTSD kicked in with my coffee and I panicked about having to drive in such hazardous conditions. We glumly ate our eggs and potatoes. Meanwhile, it did seem as if it maybe wasn’t raining so hard. “It’s getting brighter,” I said (alluding to an old family joke I don’t have the time to go into here). Lizzy smiled at me and I began to feel better. She reassured me the worst of the storm was supposed to be rapidly moving up the coast to Boston and they were merely predicting “showers” for this area in the afternoon—and, besides, we were headed west, away from the storm.

“We both have umbrellas, why don’t we just go and make the best of it?” she suggested.

Lizzy had a point. And she looked so beautiful making it.

“OK. Let’s go.”

We programed the GPS for the street address in Mountainville we obtained from Mr. Google and hit the road.

Despite a misunderstanding between me and Ms. Garmin, she got us to Storm King about an hour later. In fact, I’m not sure I could have found it without her. The appropriately named Storm King really is out in the middle of nowhere, in stunningly beautiful countryside: surrounded by mountains, the stormclouds created a dramatic backdrop to the colorful, monumental art. Miraculously, it was not raining when we arrived. As we wandered towards the visitor’s center, admiring the David Smith sculptures, we immediately encountered a super-friendly and enthusiastic docent:

“Oh, you’ve come at the perfect time! It’s not raining, and there’s nobody here and this place is so amazing and you’re going to love it!” she exclaimed.

Well, alright! I asked if she knew where the “sound sculpture” was, being the only particular piece I vaguely wanted to see.

“Oh, the Mark Di Suvero ‘Quartet’! Yes, that’s right down here in the South Fields. I’m not sure if the mallet is still there; last I heard it was missing. But that would be a wonderful route for you to take, out to the Maya Lin and back around up Museum Hill and the North Fields. You could have lunch at the café—it will be great! Now, come look at this new acquisition…!”

After such a warm welcome, we eagerly embarked on our journey. Now (again) I have to admit my almost-philistine aversion (this time) to a lot of modern sculpture. Like ballet or opera or poetry, sculpture is one of those artistic realms that simply feel alien to me. I lack the vocabulary to discriminate. I can appreciate it, but I have a hard time loving it. But on this day, as we gazed across the South Fields, freshly mowed with the enshrouded mountains in the distance, dappled with green, yellow and organge foliage, the monumental sculptures scattered across the landscape, some rusted and dark, others painted a vivid red, all of creation, God and Man's, seemed engaged in deep dialog. It was a stunningly beautiful tableau and the distant sculptures beckoned, made me want to look, to see. I thought back to my experience of the massive Richard Serra pieces crammed into seemingly tiny rooms at Dia:Beacon and had a tiny epiphany. Ah, yes, sculpture is in three dimensions! Duh! Maybe I was having a breakthrough on the sculpture front. The experience was truly awesome, and I don’t say that in the glib and flippant way the word is usually tossed around these days. Art is my religion and Storm King is High Church.

As we descended into the South Fields, we really felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. It was like our own personal dreamworld. It was damp and warm to be sure, but not soggy and unpleasant, even on the grass. The mallet was indeed neatly placed inside Di Suvero’s “Beethoven’s Quartet” and I duly but cautiously struck the silvery metal structure. It emitted rich, gong-like tones which echoed across the valley. Wow! I took numerous photographs (many of which can be seen on my Flickr Photostream) and savored every minute of our leisurely stroll around the grounds. It was one of the most sublime art experiences I’ve ever been privileged to enjoy. While many of the sculptures would have left me scratching my head in the rarified atmosphere of an institutionalized museum, here, amidst the wild and rural background, they seemed poignantly dignified, defiant of the elements, and proudly modern: humanism at its best.

Just as I remarked, “Hey, not a drop of rain,” it started to sprinkle. And by the time we got to the café, it was really coming down. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. There was much more to be seen, but it had become decidedly unpleasant. Other tourists sought shelter with us and commiserated. As we made our way back to the museum building, I continued trying to take photographs one-handed under my umbrella. It was not very much fun, but I’m glad I did as it really brings it back, the works themselves unperturbed by the elements, indifferent to my greedy presence. We toured the museum building (a converted 1930s Norman chateau), with its fascinating historical exhibit supplemented with some of the more fragile works by David Smith and Louise Bourgeois that had to be removed from the grounds due to the elements and vandalism. There was another room on the third floor devoted to the unique preservation challenges posed by this rural sculpture park: some works have to be periodically disassembled and restored or else they would disintegrate altogether. These modernist masterpieces may appear forbiddingly autonomous, but they depend of the loving care of humble curators to retain their mysterious power. As we drove away, we felt sated, having experienced a substantial part of Storm King despite the most adverse circumstances.

As we continued west, we could see the clouds parting on the horizon and by the time we got to Yasgur’s Farm, the sun was shining brightly in a clear, blue sky. Ms. Garmin had become cryptically silent, but the screen still seemed to register every time State Route This became County Road That, which was at least reassuring. She woke up just in time to tell us to turn right on Skinner’s Falls Road and guided us to the quaint Lothian House, a Victorian B&B where we would spend the rest of the weekend, along with the bride and groom’s family and friends. After the rehearsal, we all had pizza and beer and got to know each other, more guests arriving as the night wore on. It was a lot of fun, culminating in a trivia contest about the happy couple (handily won by the mothers, of course). Our room was nicknamed “The Governor’s Room,” after the furniture, which was formerly owned by the governor of Tennessee, circa. 1890. How appropriate!

Tomorrow was the big day! We are so happy for Scott and Rose and we were so glad to get to share in their wedding celebration. More on that tomorrow.

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