Meandering Masonry: Andy Goldsworthy’s "Storm King Wall"

April 25, 2015 — “You gotta check out this documentary called Rivers and Tides,” a friend once told me early in the current millennium as we stood in a video rental store looking at the racks. “It’s about this British guy who trucks out into nature and makes art.”

“How about Dracula 2000 for tonight?” was my answer.

But when I did eventually get around to watching Rivers and Tides, I was entranced. Both by what the artist made and by how he made it. His name is Andy Goldsworthy, and in the documentary, he would just walk into the forest or onto a beach, grab some leaves or sticks or rocks (or ice and snow if it was winter) and create amazing-looking pieces like that was the purpose of leaves and sticks in the first place. I immediately wanted to see his work in person.

The problem is, the things he was making were ephemeral, prone to destruction by the first bit of rain or wind or shore-borne wave, the only evidence of their existence the photographs he would take. So when I found out one of his more permanent creations was on perpetual display at a 500-acre art park in the Hudson Valley, we headed there.

That art park is called Storm King Art Center, which I effused about here. Goldsworthy’s piece can be found in a copse of trees near a creek. It’s a rock wall.

The piece, simply but strongly called Storm King Wall, was created in 1997, and took about three weeks, five men, and 250 tons of stone to build its 2,778-foot length.

That’s it. Sort of.

The wall doesn’t really wall, though. It weaves like a snake, throwing its loops around trees on its way down to a pond. It’s exactly what a wall shouldn’t do. I mean, we put those things up to subjugate the wild, to order it, claim it. Here, Goldsworthy’s wall defers to nature, getting out of the way of the trees as it wends back and forth and down to the water where it doesn’t so much end as disappears. On the far bank, the wall seems to resurface, this time forming a conventional straight light up an empty stretch of hill.

Somehow, he made an artificial structure of natural elements (there’s not even any mortar) seem organic. Like it belonged in a wood instead of merely interrupting the wood. And, while the above interpretation of Storm King Wall is an obvious one, it’s also pretty irrelevant. Storm King Wall just looks cool. And that’s the extent of my artistic vocabulary.

Storm King Wall is actually one of two pieces by Goldsworthy at Storm King Art Center. The other, erected in 2010, is also a serpentine bit of wall, shorter this time, and wiggling around a string of boulders. Its name is the less elegant Five Men, Seventeen Days, Fifteen Boulders, One Wall. This one seems more the contrived art I’m used to from outdoor installations. However, in this case, it’s helpful as part of the obvious comparison with Storm King Wall, since Five Men seems a much more mundane and maybe even contrived piece without the trees and that dip into the pond.

Five Men, Seventeen Days, Fifteen Boulders, One Wall

Regardless, I’m redoing all the fencework at my house into squiggly lines. I’ll have the coolest house in my neighborhood on Google Satellite View.