Mercury rising: Artists on climate change at Storm King Art Center

Jenny Kendler’s Birds Watching, featuring the eyes of species threatened by climate change. (Photos courtesy of the artists and Storm King Art Center)

The topic of climate-change impact seems one particularly apt to contemplate in the bucolic 500-acre environs of the Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, an outdoor sculpture park that sites works of sculpture by major artists amidst a splendidly groomed Hudson Valley landscape. Works included in this season’s special exhibition, “Indicators: Artists on Climate Change,” explore the impacts of the changing climate in ways that incorporate scientific, cultural and aesthetic perspectives, illuminating the menace of a changing climate to our biological world and to humanity.

“Indicators: Artists on Climate Change” is co-curated by Nora Lawrence and Storm King Art Center director and curator David Collens, along with curatorial assistant Sarah Diver. The three worked closely with more than a dozen participating artists to develop their ideas for the site.


Many of the artists created new, site-specific works that use the Art Center’s unique landscape and location. Permanent works on the grounds were not moved to accommodate the new installations; but, with the breadth of land available, there was plenty of space to give each work room to breathe. The artists represented in the show are David Brooks, Hara Woltz, Mark Dion, Ellie Ga, Justin Brice Guariglia, Allison Janae Hamilton, Jenny Kendler, Maya Lin, Mary Mattingly, Mike Nelson, Steve Rowell, Gabriela Salazar, Tavares Strachan, Meg Webster and the Dear Climate collective.

Each artist works with different media, but all offer a conceptual take on climate change. For his newly created Permanent Field Observations, artist David Brooks identified several natural elements found throughout Storm King’s peripheral wooded areas to cast in bronze: rotting tree stumps, tangles of roots, acorns perched atop emerging rocks and other naturally occurring minutiae. He installed the bronze renditions back in their original locations next to the objects from which they were cast, where they will remain permanently affixed in place, like fossils detailing this climate moment for future generations. A map on view in the museum building gallery plots the precise locations of the fossilized field observations, which visitors can use to perform their own search for the objects.

Justin Brice Guariglia’s We Are the Asteroid, 2018

Brooklyn-based artist Mary Mattingly highlights sustainability in her contribution to the exhibit. Last summer she created Swale, a floating food barge that toured around New York City allowing visitors to harvest fresh produce at no charge, and this summer her installation at Storm King will feature palm trees brought in from a tropical climate to call attention to the way that changing temperatures may affect the future of food. In altering the landscape of the Hudson Valley, the idea is to spark conversation about real strategies for how people will live in an altered climate.

Allison Janae Hamilton’s The peo-ple cried mer-cy in the storm is made up of a towering stack of tambourines on an island in one of Storm King’s ponds. The installation was inspired by “Florida Storm,” a 1928 hymn about the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, and by accounts of the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane, referenced in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Both storms devastated the state of Florida, the latter killing thousands of black migrant workers who were buried in unmarked mass graves. The work contemplates how climate-related disasters can expose existing social inequities and how affected communities contend with this twofold devastation. 

Chicago-based artist Jenny Kendler is the current artist-in-residence for the Natural Resources Defense Council. She drew inspiration for her site-specific commission, Birds Watching, from local species of birds in the Hudson Valley. The installation of reflective aluminum signs depicting massively scaled, realistic bird’s eyes, representing the 50 to 100 species of native birds facing the threat of extinction due to climate change, emphasizes ideas of reflectivity and reciprocal vision, reminding us that birds are also sentient beings capable of looking back at us.

The Storm King Art Center is also presenting the sixth iteration of its “Outlooks” series this summer, which invites an emerging or mid-career artist to create a new site-specific work to be installed on the grounds for a single season. The Canadian artist Elaine Cameron-Weir’s Globe of Death, inspired by the large spherical structure used in motorcycle circus stunt performances, will remain on view through November 25. At 20 feet in diameter, the steel sphere is designed to resemble various real and imagined structures of the present and extrapolated future, such as radio transmission towers, satellites and other large-scale devices related to space exploration and scientific inquiry.

Located within Storm King’s South Fields, the sphere cannot be entered, and will be accompanied by a small military-style shelter like one from which a soldier might keep watch. Both the sphere and the shelter were designed to accommodate a human presence precisely. Each element closely pairs its somewhat provisional, utilitarian aesthetic with its implied function, while both, displayed in the context of Storm King’s collection, ask to be seen for their visual similarity to large-scale abstract sculpture. The title of the work is A toothless grin. A STAR EXPANSION! GLOBE OF DEATH A graveyard orbit.

“Indicators: Artists on Climate Change,” through November 11, “Outlooks: Elaine Cameron Weir,” through November 25, $18/$15/$8, Storm King Art Center, 1 Museum Road, New Windsor;