A walk through Andy Goldsworthy’s environmental sculptures currently on view in his first US retrospective

The main gallery spaces with three bold installations in clay, stone and wood


New York

Over the last twenty years, British artist Andy Goldsworthy has established a reputation for working in the most ephemeral of materials: snow, ice, ferns, flowers, twigs, leaves, wet mud and sand—none of these last long. Yet, together with the occasional stone wall or cairn, he has remained loyal to basic natural raw materials. The lush coffee table books that document his creations, executed in places as diverse as Japan and the Arizona desert, have made his sculptures familiar to many outside the art world.

His popular success began in 1989 when, in one of his more ambitious exploits, he spent a month on the North Pole building sculptures out of snow and ice, quarrying solid slabs of frozen water as if it were marble and documenting the results: magnificent, monumental architectural edifices in the shape of tall pyramids, snow spires, flying buttress archways, huge spinning tops, massive circles and translucent carvings reminiscent of Lalique glass.

Goldsworthy has always had a strong following in America, where most of his permanent stone commissions are situated. The Hudson Valley, north of New York City, is dotted with numerous walls, cairns and arches, so the Storm King Art Center, one of the jewels in the area’s cultural crown, is a fitting place for a current retrospective of the artist’s work (until 15 November). His association with the institution goes back several years. In 1997, Goldsworthy was invited to make a wall at Storm King. With the title reminiscent of Gogol, “The wall that went for a walk,” this is exactly what the sculpture did, as, two years and several wallers later, it finally extended to a length of 2,280 feet, weaving across the 500-acre sculpture park, snaking around trees and down a long slope, into the lake and out the other side.

In the current retrospective, Goldsworthy fills the main gallery spaces with three bold installations in clay, stone and wood. For an artist who made his name with delicate pinned and woven leaf patterns, it is quite a departure. First, one is confronted with a massive oak ball made out of thick gnarled branches, compressed into the small gallery, for all the world like Magritte’s strangely situated apple. Its twin sits outside, a punctuation point leading the eye towards an avenue of trees reaching for the horizon. This inside/outside game is reiterated in Goldsworthy’s “Tree Fold” (inspired by his UK Millennium “Sheep Fold” project, 100 circular dry-stone sheep pens in Cumbria). “Tree Fold” uses thirty-two tons of Scottish sandstone to create a curving, site-specific piece which penetrates the Storm King building via two French windows, running in and out in true French farce fashion.

Local, pale gray clay fills the fifty-foot floor of the main gallery. Laid in different thicknesses, it is engineered to crack open and reveal a serpentine design like a river snaking from door to window. The upper floor is devoted to thirty cibachrome photographs of ephemeral pieces made at Storm King over the past five years.

Goldsworthy’s idea of sculpture has come a long way from his first fussy concoctions of curtains of twigs. Yet it still chimes exactly with the recent public passion for a more ecologically friendly environment.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Natural Inclinations '