Copper in the Arts

June 2015

The Serendipitous Bronze Sculptures of Storm King Art Center

By Courtney H. Diener-Stokes

Storm King Art Center of New Windsor, NY offers an experience to soak in sculptural art like no other. A walk through portions of the 500-acre site enables one to view sculptures of the grandest scale by some of the most acclaimed bronze artists of our time.

Buddha sculpture at Storm King Art CenterThree-Legged Buddha sculpture at Storm King Art Center.

Photo courtesy of Storm King Art Center.

Among their permanent collection of over 100 to 125 sculptures currently on view in the park, is a special exhibition titled Lynda Benglis: Water Sources. It is considered the first major grouping of Benglis’ outdoor fountain installations.

Nora Lawrence, a curator at Storm King, describes the process of coming to an exhibition featuring Benglis’ most recent sculptural work as serendipitous.

“We began talking to Lynda about this exhibition kind of right at the perfect time when she was working on some large-scale work at two different foundries,” Lawrence says.

Benglis, age 73, was simultaneously working on works at the Walla Walla Foundry in Washington State and Modern Art Foundry in Queens, New York.

Bounty, Fruited Plane and Amber Waves by Lynda BenglisBounty, Fruited Plane and Amber Waves by Lynda Benglis.

Photo courtesy of Storm King Art Center. 

While they knew Benglis, an American sculptor and visual artist represented in Storm King’s permanent collection since 1974, had done some outdoor sculptural work, they didn’t realize the extent of it.

“The serendipitous thing is that we could showcase all of these works that were going to be seen for the first time,” Lawrence says.

Lawrence said the exhibition offers the chance to see a body of work by Benglis never viewed up until this point.

“She is somebody who I feel like has so much success working in so many different materials and is so agile and able to create form,” Lawrence says. “I feel like she is an artist people know, but so many of these works are such as surprise.”

Established 50 years ago, Storm King’s expansive landscape serves as an appropriate backdrop for fourteen of Benglis’ works. Other, smaller scale works by Benglis, are on view inside the museum.

“It’s really a pleasure to be at Storm King—with the billowing grasses—I want to spend more time there. This is the first, and the first major, showing of the fountains as a group, and a nice setting for them,” Benglis shares.

Lawrence describes Benglis’ sculptural work as inspired by her interpretation of landscape, suiting for a place such as Storm King that is comprised of fields, hills and woodlands, just one hour north of New York City in the lower Hudson Valley.

The permanent collection on view in the sculpture park was accrued in various ways including; gifts, acquisitions, specially commissioned site-specific works and loans. Most of the collection’s focus is on large-scale abstract sculpture and also includes figurative work and sculpture in stone, earth and other materials, including copper and bronze.

Lawrence discusses how the copper sculptures in their collection contribute to serving as an educational vehicle for visitors.

“It is helping people to understand our materials,” she says. “How they last and what they are giving to our park.”

Lawrence notes other ways in which copper impacts their permanent collection on view outdoors in the park.

“The Zhang Huan piece – the Three Legged Buddha – given its scale is astounding to see, but then you look closely you can also see the hammered copper and workmanship,” she says. “You can see where it is welded together.”

They acquired the piece in 2011.

“It will be interesting to see that piece as it changes color,” she says, referring to the natural patina that will take place over time.

Special exhibitions at the park typically serve to highlight those in their collection.

“Storm King complements its permanent installation of sculpture with a variety of special exhibitions,” Lawrence says.

Lawrence discusses Benglis’ approach to materials she used for works in the current exhibition.

North South East West by Lynda Benglis.North South East West by Lynda Benglis.

Photo courtesy of Storm King Art Center.

“What is interesting about the way she uses bronze is you can also see the traces of the other materials that she used before it was cast into bronze,” she says.

Migrating Pedmarks is this beautiful cast from these slabs of clay and you can really tell how she worked in the clay in this physical way,” Lawrence says of one of the works Benglis made when she was thinking frequently about fountains and water flow.  

Crescendo offers another example.

“You can see it was poured with this polyurethane that takes on these smooth, round forms and then it’s cast into bronze,” Lawrence says. “It offers traces of how she came to the bronze.”

Lawrence describes the origins of Crescendo, which was derived from a bronze fountain Benglis created in 1983-1984 titled The Wave of the World.

“She did an additional pour that she cast into bronze and welded it back together,” Lawrence says.

Benglis describes to Storm King the process for Crescendo resulting in, “a kind of crustacean-like shellfish or snail, making it’s home out of this thing.”  

Crescendo by Lynda Benglis.Crescendo by Lynda Benglis.

Photo courtesy of Storm King Art Center. 

Lawrence says Bounty, Fruited Plane and Amber Waves, also made of bronze, is the tallest work Benglis has ever made, standing over 25 feet tall.

“She had made one cast – Bounty – and then went on to make Amber Waves and Fruited Plane,” she says. “The three are on view together. Figuring out the final height and seeing it up for the first time – it was kind of a powerful moment.”

These are all indications of how Benglis plays with bronze in different ways.

“From work to work, she makes the bronze look so different,” Lawrence says. “Cloak-Wave Pedmarks and Migrating Pedmarks, on view together, are both painted unlike the other bronze works in our show and you can see all of these different and beautiful qualities about them.”

Lawrence says Benglis has enjoyed the collaborative aspect of working with those at the foundry to create her sculptures.

“That type of ability that she wouldn’t necessarily be able to do on her own,” Lawrence says. “That is something she has really enjoyed.”

Some of the fourteen works on view were shipped directly from the foundry to Storm King.

“We are thrilled that everything we wanted arrived and Lynda was totally gung ho and great to work with and we are so excited to see everything together,” she says.

Lawrence shared what she hopes visitors to Benglis’ exhibition take away.

“I think it’s a really new experience for people to have all of these works engaged with water,” she says. “I think it is going to be a very experiential experience – experiential with the eyes and ears and they may even feel moisture in the air.”

There is another aspect of the exhibit Lawrence brought to light.

“We all feel really proud we have done a really significant solo exhibition with a prominent female artist,” Lawrence says.

Resources:

Storm King Art Center, 1 Museum Rd, New Windsor, NY, (845) 534-3115

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