On Sculpture

The Hurford Humanities Center’s Dialogues on Art program sends students and faculty on interdisciplinary outings to museums, exhibitions and performances. A group recently traveled to the Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre sculpture park in the Hudson Valley.

On the last sunny Saturday morning of November, five intrepid art-loving students and two professors piled into a van to go see some big names in art—and I mean big. So big, in fact, that they literally can't fit inside a museum. I’m talking about the gigantic creations that dot the landscape at Storm King Art Center, a five hundred-acre sculpture park in the Hudson Valley about an hour from Manhattan. Organized by Laura Gilroy ’11, the trip was one of about three cultural excursions a year funded by the John B. Hurford ’60 Humanities Center’s Dialogues on Art program. The program brings together groups of students and faculty for visits to exhibitions, performances and screenings in the greater Philadelphia area and allows them to  continue their conversations over dinner.

Gilroy, an upstate New York native, read that the art center was celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and applied for HHC funding to visit it. Going along with Gilroy on the trip were Hannah Garner ’12, Rachel Cholst ’11, Tom Apicella ’12, and myself, Ellen Freeman ’11. Also part of the group were Visiting Assistant Professor of Fine arts and Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow John Muse, and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Joshua Schrier.

From any vantage point at Storm King we could see sculptures rising strangely in the distance like grasshopper oil rigs or pagan monuments. The clear sky and late autumn leaves provided a backdrop unparalleled by the plain white walls of a traditional museum. In fact, breaking the 'rules' of art-viewing seemed what the place was all about; we were encouraged to leave the paths and cross the expanses of lawns, wild meadows and woods to get up close to the sculptures—even if it resulted in a few muddy feet. The one rule they do enforce at Storm King, though, is "No Climbing," which professor John Muse discovered the hard way. He ascended a 1971 piece by Robert Grosvenor—a long, steel balancing beam of sorts with ramps at either end which practically begged to be climbed on—and swiftly attracted the attention of a guard who threatened to throw all of us out. (Ok, I might have been right behind him on the ramp.) Luckily, though, the authorities let us trek on to take in the rest of the fantastic and varied sculptures until, tired from all the walking, we stretched out on the grass under Mark di Suvero's vast construction of pendulous steel beams called Pyramidian.

Dialogues on Art trips are designed to bring students and faculty together to inspire interdisciplinary conversations about contemporary cultural events, and our post-trip discussion at Ekta Indian restaurant in Bryn Mawr was just that. Over tandoori lamb and eggplant masala, the group, which included chemistry, history, anthropology and comparative literature majors, chatted about the unique way the sculptures at Storm King work with the elements and engage with their natural surroundings. Everyone had their favorite, but agreed-upon highlights included a mile-long winding stone wall by land artist Andy Goldsworthy, a cube by Menashe Kadishman that created the optical illusion of being suspended in midair, sheets of steel that sliced through the hillside by the famous sculptor Richard Serra, and even a chair made out of welded-together JFK haf dollar coins by an artist named Johnny Swing.

--Ellen Freeman ’11