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Storm King Art Center

Nestled on 500 acres in the lower Hudson Valley of New York state lies (lay?) the undulating hills of Storm King Mountain, where a majestic open-air museum sits in Mountainville. For fifty years, this unassuming treasure has been celebrated as one of the world’s leading sculpture parks.

Filled with woodlands, wildflowers and lush, native meadow grasses like switchgrass,  bluestem, purple top tridens, Canadian wild rye, and sideoats grama grass. The grass, hearkening back to landscapes of the Romantic Hudson River School is such an integral part of Storm King that a “tall grass program” has been implemented for over nineteen years by landscape architects.

Storm King Art Center’s distinguished collection comprises more than 100 sculptures by some of the most acclaimed artists of our era such as Alexander Calder, Claes Oldenburg, Louise Bourgeois, Bruce Nauman, Nam June Paik and more. Works at Storm King encompass the years from post-World War II to the present. It obvious that the curators focused on large-scale abstract sculpture. Towering in the meadows, almost looming behind leaves, stand steel anaglyphs, different from all angles, and giant mechanical simulacra like faux oil rigs across Texas. The collection also includes figurative work and sculpture in stone and earth itself.

A strange sort of time travel occurs when leaving NYC and traveling north. One passes the remnants of colonial America, its first battlegrounds, Fort Montgomery, tollroads on cliff-sides. One arrives at the park and encounters sculptures like extraterrestrials trying to communicate their nature through objects, or like ruins from an ancient civilization whose language we have lost.

Although Storm King was originally envisioned as a museum devoted to Hudson River School, by 1961 its founders had become committed to modern sculpture, and whatever the evolution of that terms mean. Every work is situated  with consideration of both its immediate surroundings and distant views, as if the artwork was meant to be one with the land all along.

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Just Kids

I will forever remember the sticky summer of 2014 as the season I read Just Kids by Patti Smith. A vulnerably honest and painstaking account of New York’s transient art scene in the late sixties and early seventies. Great personalities touching and circling one another like atoms, charged electrons sparking, personalities fading, and the never-ending array of those who were “allowed” to sit at the main table at Max’s Kansas City. Artists, musicians, socialites, pornographic film stars, transvestites, all knights as proverbial as Arthur’s round table. Smith casually runs into Dali, Joplin, Ginsburg, Corso, and a whole slew of indelible characters.

I mostly read the book with deep visceral aching, like a yearning to time-travel, or a wish to be born in someone else’s circumstances, or body. However romanticized and naive that might be, truly, I am jealous of Patti Smith. Waxing poetic on Genet, Baudelaire and her inspirations, it seems Bohemian ennui spans generations.

And yet, being truthful to myself, and to reality (that cunning thing), the streets were mean. The young children were dreaming in lofts with no heat, the gonorrhea infected souls in homes with no showers, no medicine, pee in tupperware on the floor, coffee of the instant variety. Without great luxuries, but embodying opulence. Her childhood somewhat picturesque, and yet also devastated by teen pregnancy leading to a secret adoption, and the end of formal schooling.

Flea-ridden artists describing their struggles, and not just the spoils of success, are hard to find. Robert Mapplethorpe and Smith, in their years of homelessness, pennilessness and struggle tried anything to succeed – writing; drawing; photography; jewelry design; theatre; performance poetry; installations, escorting.

I lived on 21st Street and 7th avenue for three years. In the exact footsteps of her journey, tiptoeing on the same pavement, and yet her ghosts didn’t whistle. I passed the Chelsea Hotel with not so much as a nod sometimes, in all its majestic beauty and history. Her NYC might be gone, but her beautiful love story (more about relationships as connections of human spirit) is an allegory that can occur anywhere.

And so, exactly as Patti would not want, here is a commercialized simulacra of her world – reducing her memories to things:
Patti Smith, Just Kids
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“Everything distracted me, but most of all myself.” ― Patti Smith, Just Kids