Nora Lawrence, associate curator at Storm King Art Center, was so taken with Peter Coffin’s piece Music for Plants at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris that she approached the artist about possibly creating a work for Storm King, the sculpture park whose monolithic metal assemblages positioned in a sylvan setting of rolling hills and green lawns offer motorists on the Thruway a tantalizingly glimpse of an Edenic art paradise. At the Palais de Tokyo, Coffin had asked musicians to compose music that they imagined would spur the growth and contentment of plants: an exercise that Lawrence said combined natural and cultural history in ways both “absurd and productive.” Subsequently, Coffin was commissioned to create an apiary at Storm King, which will attract bees to the 500-acre park and make them creatures of unusual scrutiny, transforming their activity into a living artwork.
What is it that makes Coffin’s apiary – which opens to the public on May 12 – an artwork rather than just another apiary? Context, replied Lawrence. “It’s an opportunity to ask our viewers, who are in part coming to expect a natural woodsy experience, to bring bees into an artistic context and think about what that means,” she said. “Art today is so much more a part of our lives than in the past.”
Lawrence said there will also be a “ritualistic aspect” to the piece: Every Saturday, a local beekeeper will be conducting tours, instructing people how to remain calm when near the buzzing insects, as well as explaining the role of sunlight in the bees’ activity, from the production of honey to their navigation back to the hive. That aspect fits in with the theme of this season’s large-scale exhibition at Storm King, which will also debut on May 12. Titled “Light & Landscape,” it consists of some 20 works ranging from sculpture to works on paper to installation to video. All engage with light as a central component, either from a conceptual or perceptual basis, and will be scattered on the grounds and in the museum building.
“I included the word ‘landscape’ to emphasize the fact that this is not a laser light show,” said Lawrence. “It’s about manufactured light.” For example, Lunar, a sculpture by Spencer Finch, is a geodesic dome that relies on solar power for its nighttime illumination, in a color matching that of a Full Moon that the artist once observed in Chicago. Lawrence said that the piece is visible from the Thruway, and also partially lights up in the daytime when the sky is overcast and gray.
Another intriguing piece is Katie Paterson’s Streetlight Storm, in which two old-fashioned lanterns hung on either side of the Storm King entryway flicker as lightning strikes in different parts of the world, from North Africa to the North Pole. The lanterns are hooked up to a device resembling a giant antenna that picks up the lightning, which the artist constructed in partnership with astrophysicists and other scientists. Other pieces are low-tech, such as the 18-inch-high shiny circle of solid-cast glass by Roni Horn in the gallery that changes color as the daylight shifts.
With the theme of harnessing and manipulating light, “We’re asking you to rethink your process of looking and slow down a bit,” said Lawrence. “A lot of the work is about looking attentively and watching for subtle changes, which is a great way to look at art in general.”
She said that the show was inspired by Mirror Fence, a piece on long-term loan whose row of pickets reflects back the viewer’s progress across the lawn in a rippling image. The artwork “changes depending on where you’re sitting or standing. It makes you think about the whole environment, not just the work itself,” Lawrence said.
Storm King is also bringing out a couple of pieces from storage for the exhibition. One is a work by Donald Judd consisting of a Plexiglas top and bottom tinted orangey-pink, whose glow changes with the ambient light. Other artists participating in the show include Anthony McCall, who contributed a 1972 film titled Landscape for Fire, Anish Kapoor, William Lamson, Alyson Shotz and Diana Thater. Coffin is contributing three other pieces, including a collage of found photographs of rainbows and Untitled Yellow Outline, consisting of a seven-inch-wide translucent frame pasted on the floor-to-ceiling window of the museum.
The exhibition, including the apiary, will be on display from May 12 through November 11. Admission to Storm King is $12, $10 for seniors and $8 for college students and kids age 18 and under; children under age 5 get in free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; the grounds are open until 8 p.m. on Saturday. For additional information, visit www.stormking.org.