Following the 1965 death in an automobile accident of Abstract Expressionist sculptor David Smith, one of the executors of his estate, Clement Greenberg, had the white paint stripped from five of Smith’s monumental steel works. The news came out about a decade later and caused a furor in the art world. A critic who pooh-poohed the entire movement toward polychrome sculpture, of which Smith was one of the major innovators, Greenberg’s rationale for his audacity was that Smith’s painted three-dimensional works were failed experiments, and that the sculptor had intended to paint over the “incomplete” white surfaces with another color anyway.
Happily, cooler and less-opinionated heads prevailed, and the artworks were eventually restored as closely as possible to their original state. This year’s flagship exhibition at the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, titled “David Smith: The White Sculptures,” brings all five together for public view for the first time. It’s a fitting way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Storm King’s 1967 acquisition of 13 Smith works for public display directly in the landscape: an event that essentially diverted the art institution from its original mission to collect Hudson River School paintings into a path toward becoming the world-class site for viewing large-scale modern sculpture in the open air that it is today.
The exhibition will also feature a selection of Smith’s earliest constructions, created out of white coral gathered by the artist during his stay in the Virgin Islands in 1931/32 and rarely shown since. Smaller sculptures as well as paintings, drawings and photographs that further explore the artist’s use of white will be displayed inside Storm King’s Museum Building. The show opens this Saturday, May 13 and will remain on view through November 12.
Also opening this weekend is the next offering in Storm King’s “Outlooks” series of site-specific commissioned works by emerging or mid-career artists. Titled The Oracle of Lacuna, it’s the latest in Heather Hart’s interactive, usually crowdfunded “Rooftop Oracles” series, in which viewers are invited to crawl over and inside what appear to be the severed roofs of houses, life-sized. Her multimedia works incorporate elements of oral history, mythology, immigrant narratives, ritual spaces and the concept of liminality: of being poised on the threshold between changing states of reality (or of transcending reality).
A variety of performances, discussions and other events involving local schools, community and arts organizations will happen on and around the rooftop this summer. One of them will be an iteration of the Black Lunch Table project, of which Hart and her collaborator Jina Valentine were co-founders. These discussions bring together local artists of the African Diaspora to help create an archive and online database intended to address the exclusion of people of color from the written records of art history. Black Lunch Table events often end with a Wikipedia “editathon,” similar to the one aimed at restoring the history of female artists that Women’s Studio Workshop organized in Kingston in 2014.
So, if you’re looking for something new and stimulating to do outdoors as warmer weather arrives in the Hudson Valley, remember that the Storm King Arts Center always has a lot to offer. You can even rent a bike there to tool around the sprawling grounds, if you wish. For museum hours, fees, driving directions and other information, visit http://stormking.org or call (845) 534-3115.