AMERICAN, BORN 1939
Schunnemunk Fork, a site-specific commission, is installed in a ten-acre rolling field with a natural border of nearby woods, which, at the time of the work’s construction, was the southern edge of the Storm King property. When Richard Serra surveyed Storm King’s grounds and chose the site, it had never before been considered for its artistic potential. He arrived at his final composition through a complex process that involved consulting both topographical maps and a surveyor, as well as walking the grounds with his wife, Clara Weyergraf-Serra. The work consists of four weathering steel plates set lengthwise and inserted into the ground at designated intervals. Each plate is eight feet high and two and a half inches thick; lengths vary from thirty-five to almost fifty-five feet. Roughly a third of the length of each rectangular plate is visible; the remainder is buried in the earth. The visible angles correspond to eight-foot drops in the terrain. The title refers to the four-pronged scheme of the piece and references nearby Schunnemunk Mountain.
Schunnemunk Fork does not impose the artist’s order on the land, but rather reveals the complexities and nuances of the site, drawing attention to the land more than to the sculpture itself. The four steel plates both divide and unify the space, acting as a foil for the topographical ebb and flow and amplifying changes in the land underfoot. Inscribed into the land, the long, horizontal lines of the steel plates each function as a separate horizon or measuring stick. The various horizons recall the fifteenth-century Zen gardens that Serra first saw in Kyoto in 1970. While walking through those gardens, elements appear and disappear. The whole cannot be apprehended at a glance; instead one comes to understand the arrangement over time, by walking through the space. Likewise, Schunnemunk Fork can be enjoyed from a number of vantage points, perhaps most powerfully by visitors who walk to it, navigate the spatial divisions created by the steel plates, and take in the sculpture’s visual connection with Schunnemunk Mountain in the distance.
Schunnemunk Fork’s site has undergone a series of subtle modifications that reflect broader landscaping developments at Storm King. Hay bales harvested by a local farmer periodically punctuate the landscape, linking the property’s agrarian past with the present. New plantings of native grasses and wildflowers have further varied this evolving landscape. When the work was first installed, it seemed to be very far from the Museum Building, which was then Storm King’s primary focus. With the passage of time, newly developed walking paths and additional sculptures were installed in adjoining areas, drawing increasing numbers of visitors to the area Serra pioneered. With deceptively simple means, Serra brought a previously unnoticed area of the Storm King property into sharp focus.
Serra’s reputation was initially established with urban site-specific sculptures as well as various indoor structures. Perhaps his most well-known works are massive plates of hot-rolled steel shaped into complex curves. These sculptures, made on an architectural scale, enclose and activate space, inviting viewers to navigate spaces transformed by the imposition of these huge steel plates. Serra’s outdoor landscape sculptures comprise a less well-known aspect of his work but similarly engage the viewer. Many are comprised of steel plates, but others are marked by low, dense, rectangular or circular solid steel elements or stone shapes. The sites differ, as do the modules, but the approach remains constant, for the subject of Serra’s landscape works is always the site itself.