John Stern reimagines Storm King, the 500-acre sculpture park created by his family

Mark di Suvero, Frog Legs, 2002. Lent by the artist and Spacetime, C.C., New York. Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson.

Mark di Suvero, Frog Legs, 2002. Lent by the artist and Spacetime, C.C., New York. Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson.

These days, the Storm King Arts Center isn’t your father’s or even your grandfather’s 500-acre outdoor museum/sculpture park. But it is John Stern’s father’s and grandfather’s 500-acre outdoor museum/sculpture park, and he’s only too happy – eager, even – to share the place with you. To that end, the president of this venerable and unique Mountainville haven for artists and art-lovers alike has been reimagining the center, making it at once more attractive to the sorts of visitors who may have confused it in the past with being an elitist (not to say stodgy) sort of place.

Storm King was founded in 1960 by John Stern’s maternal grandfather, Ralph E. Ogden, and his father, H. Peter Stern. John Stern has been president of Storm King since 2008, when he succeeded his father, who is honorary chair of the center’s Board of Directors. Ogden and the elder Stern were the co-owners of the nearby Star Expansion Company.

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Initially, what is now the Center’s museum building was envisioned as a museum devoted to the Hudson River School. But by 1961, Ogden and Stern had become committed to modern sculpture. Enormous modern sculpture. Pieces that could take up all the air – and much of the space – in a traditional museum. So the purchases that Ogden and Stern made were sited outside the museum building as part of a formal garden scheme.

Soon enough, even that space became too confining. After the center purchased 13 monumental works by sculptor David Smith, Storm King began to place sculpture directly in the landscape. And not just plopped there: Every work at Storm King has been sited with consideration of both its immediate surroundings and its spectacular distant views.

Since becoming president eight years ago, John Stern has ushered in a new era at Storm King. At every turn, he said, he has seen the need and helped create the opportunity to put the sprawling, beautifully landscaped site into as many artists’ hands and visitors’ eyes as possible. “It’s such an amazing resource,” he said last week. “My goal has long been to bring more of an audience here to discover it for themselves.”

Stern can already demonstrate the success of that reimagining. When he took over as president, the center could claim 43,000 visitors during its weather-driven season. Last year, those numbers had tripled – to 148,000.

As he begins enumerating the programs and innovations that have been happening at Storm King, his voice gathers momentum as more and more examples come to mind. “Saturday-morning yoga has proven very popular,” he said.  “And we’ve started offering guided moonlight walks in 2012; that’s also been hugely popular.”

Stern said that Storm King has increased its efforts to attract families. He doesn’t have to say it, but parents with young children don’t often find traditional museums child-friendly. When your space is as unfettered by walls, rules or velvet ropes as Storm King, it can be a go-to place for art-hungry parents who wish to introduce their children to the world of art. Families can ramble to their hearts’ content, as they always have, or can take advantage of a family-friendly tour of Storm King’s collection and its landscape on Sundays at 1 p.m.

Walking may not always be attractive or even possible for some visitors. Storm King has begun renting bikes, as well as offering tram service.

Then there’s the Shandaken Project. Stern’s voice grows especially excited in describing this unique residency program. “This is the Shandaken Project’s second year. The idea is Storm King awards 16 residencies of between two and six weeks from June until October, with three artists on the site at a time. The idea is for them to share their experiences there, while still allowing the artists to focus on their individual works.” After their residencies are complete, the artists come back for a return engagement, leading tours and sharing their experiences and the results of their stay at Storm King.

The Center will collaborate with Orange County’s Ferry Godmother Productions to present a cross-generational day of art and music at the site on Saturday, June 11. Six bands, playing six different genres of music ranging from country to swing to jazz to rock, will perform at six locations. Educational workshops will be featured throughout the day.

And, with a nod to Storm King’s best-known aspect: the presentation of an established artist’s new works – in this case, unique works titled Terrestrial Studio by the late Dennis Oppenheim. The exhibition will feature outdoor and indoor sculpture, installation, sound, film and photography, as well as two major earthworks conceived by the artist, but never fully realized in his lifetime.

There’s more, Stern said, but you get the idea. Whatever you may have thought Storm King once was, it has now become more than you may have ever suspected – monumentally more than ever before.

 

Storm King Art Center is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. until October 31, and until 4:30 p.m. from November 1 to 27. For more information, visit https://stormking.org or call (845) 534-3115.

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