A giant inverse of the convenience store security mirror, Anish Kapoor’s signature polished steel sculpture greets visitors of Storm King this season. Standing before it, we see ourselves melt into the scenery in an allegory of our small, personal worlds. Kapoor’s work sets the tone for the exhibition “Light & Landscape,” which includes many works that feel different depending on how we approach them and in what kind of weather or environmental conditions.
The show could have been called “smoke and mirrors” for the way it expertly portrays the use the natural light as highly sophisticated trickery. Alyson Shotz’s Mirror Fence, which blends into the natural world while reflecting anything before it, comes alive when encountered. In the accompanying list of works, the artist quotes, “I’m interested in making objects that change infinitely, depending on their surroundings…. For me, an ideal work of art is one that is ultimately unknowable in some way.” The picket design is a brilliant appropriation, as it creates a feeling of innocence while shattering the 1950s ideal of homogeneity.
Shotz also displays inside where natural light plays out a bit differently. During our visit, a summer thunderstorm drove us indoors, so the light of the indoor galleries was minimal. Her two human-sized sculptures, both titled Transitional Object awaited in a small room painted floor-to-ceiling ice blue. In a ritual that carries spiritual undertones, visitors must remove shoes before entering in order to preserve the color as the source of indirect light. Structured like foreign skeletons or technical models, the works undulate in iridescence as one circles them. The title of the work is emphasized when photographed—through the lens the piece fluidly changes like a dancer and each photograph displays a new range of color.
Photographing the exhibition is a particularly fun challenge because the images can only document the work in flux. Each image feels like an acquisition and yet the subject always manages to escape. It cannot be forgotten that photography is the highly technical art of illusion defined by the variable presence of light.
A comparative analysis of the portraits that make up Roni Horn’s familiar series Untitled (Weather) indicates both a brilliant use of photography and the limitation of the medium. The work featuring Icelandic artist Margrét H Blöndal, explores the relationship between the complexity of human perception, emotion and thought and light as a condition in which our physical and psychological makeup is deeply rooted. How can anyone even begin to describe why the differences between the artist’s facial expression and the quality of light between any two portraits convey a entirely different emotional quality? And yet, these selections can only capture those finite moments, not the whole range of emotions that could have traversed this face in an instance. Because we are gazing at photographs, it is impossible not to consider how Horn may have manipulated factors such as a exposure in post production, and how we, as viewers, also manipulate the facts, perceiving differences between two portraits where the photographs may, in fact, be duplicates.
Meanwhile, Horn’s sculpture, Untitled (“..it was a mask, but the real face was identical to the false one.”), a tub-shaped hunk of glass, the sides frosted and the top polished, serves as a reminder that light only seems visible to us when it hits surfaces, which is a catch 22—light is the backbone of vision, so when it appears to be visible itself, light is merely illuminating the texture of a surface.
Some works, like Matthew Buckingham’s Celeritas and Katie Holten’s Timeline (A Light History of Earth) make an attempt to educate visitors on the science of light. Celeritas is a chalkboard explaining the relationship between the speed of light and vision, and Holten’s Timeline is a humorless work of relational aesthetics—a library on the subject of light plus a series of Adirondack chairs sprinkling the grounds, presumably where the artist would like visitors to park and read the books. The chairs were notably vacant. That said, I’ll hold out some faith that Peter Coffin’s work Untitled (Bees Making Honey), in which a beekeeper gives a tour of an apiary and explains that bees depend on sunlight for communication and survival, could have revived the didactic approach. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t know, as the tour runs during the narrow window of Saturday’s at 12p and 1p only.
Certainly, the dry content of the above mentioned works is easily eclipsed by more magical works such as Katie Paterson’s Streetlight Storm. All of the lights above the visitor’s center entrances were transmitting global storm signals in the form of light surges every time lightning struck the globe between the Arctic Circle and Africa. The pattern of light surges was so recognizable you could almost hear the thunder. Paterson’s work is reminiscent of the first systems of electricity which allowed for lightening to enter the system a bit more than was safe. Here, the light surges are carefully controlled and harnessed from great distances, so the work speaks eloquently to technological advancement and global consciousness.
Other notable works included in “Light & Landscape,” both in the museum galleries and spread across the grounds are Spencer Finch’s mysterious sculpture Lunar, William Lamson’s Solarium (a glass house whose window pains are colored by the presence of sugar cooked in the sun), and the familiar works of Donald Judd and Anthony McCall.
“Light & Landscape” runs through November at Storm King Art Center, 1 Museum Road, New Windsor, NY 12553.