Art in Nature: Goldsworthy’s Storm King Wall

A short stint from NYC lays the Hudson Highlands. What is now a soft expression of rolling hills bathed in an ever-changing display of pinks, whites, greens, reds and yellows was once a momentous and towering range of mountains that would rival the Rockies in height and intimidation in their youth. The mix of igneous and metamorphic rock that shapes the core of these forms was produced by volcanic activity and compression over 1.3 billion years ago and uplifted from a series of shallow seas only 200 million years ago.  Depressed and shaped by the advance and retreat of several ice ages and millions of years of wind and water erosion, we bask in the antiquity of these short foothills and their hospitable environment. They are the product of patience and respect. Humbled by the forces of nature that shaped their form, transitioning their extreme height and rocky state of youth into a series fertile foot hills and valleys. Our only indication of their prehistoric state are the rocky ruins that we find scattered about the land. After millions of years of water seeping into the cracks, freezing, expanding and forcing the rock apart we find them forcing themselves up from beneath the soil in an assortment of shapes and sizes.

At one point in our history over 250,000 miles of these rocks crept along the hills of the northeastern United States in the form of manmade stonewalls; one of the first of many architectural impressions we would leave on the wild landscape. In lines that necessitated boundary and swales of convenient piling the ruins of these built forms function as a visual interpretation of our once daily interactions and relationship to the landscape.  As our American civilization has rapidly evolved we have departed in many ways from these natural materials and site-specific works, leaving little with the staying power of stone in our wake. Any true use of these techniques and materials in today’s landscape is produced with a detailed craft and at times a bold and playful statement, representing our current recreational and artistic view of a wild America.

Andy Goldsworthy’s Storm King Wall compiles the rocky ruins found on the site of the Storm King Art Center into an artistic revival of this near ancient craft.  Built over a two-year period the 2,278-foot long wall has no intention of division.  At the meeting of an open field and a patchy forest the seemingly soft wall weaves along the edge of this habitat boundary, peeking in and out and threading disparate patches of the property together.  Echoing the contours of rounded trunks, the wall loops around the trees, heading west through the forested edge and cascading down the hillside towards the pond. Upon reaching the bank the wall submerges itself, diving beneath the surface of the water and re-emerging on the far shore. Here it makes a quick turn, creeping up to its full height, before heading in a straight rush up a steep hill and across an open field. The wall stops a few yards short of the busy state thruway that forms the parks western boundary, leaving the visitor in a mystified state after having a trail of precambian bedrock lead them to confront a wall of noisy modern traffic.

Goldsworthy’s wall is artfully crafted, its puzzle like structure enduring through form and gravity, gracefully accepting its changing backdrop throughout the seasons. Its playful humor keeps you in awe of its conception, inviting you to lazily trail in its wake, appreciating its natural inspirations. Its slow decay promises to be as elegant as its construction, exposing the structural skeleton of the art maker’s intelligence overtime.  A process I look forward to witnessing over a lifetime of visits.

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