Fields Sculpture Park at Omi International Arts Center, through
The Fields Sculpture Park at Omi (pronounced “oh my”) is one
of the best-kept art lover’s secrets in the Capital Region.
Located in Ghent, about half an hour from Albany, this outdoor
wonderland is not particularly easy to find (Mapquest is crucial).
You’ll want to wear long pants with white socks and use bug
spray. However, these preparations are a small price to pay
for visiting Omi’s 300 acres of grassy slopes and woods containing
more than 80 works of sculpture by international talents.
And the brand-new, sustainably built Charles B. Benenson Visitor’s
Center and Gallery boasts a green roof, small café and gallery
as well as space for events.
Omi started out as an artist residency program founded by
Francis Greenberger, a New York real estate developer, and
it expanded in 1998 to include an outdoor gallery. On permanent
display are sculptures ranging from a minimalist yellow-metal
cantilevered piece by Robert Grosvenor (Untitled, 1968)
that dominates a football-sized field to Mach 2 (2007),
Mary Mattingly’s wonderful, eccentric post-apocalyptic podcraft.
Wandering the grounds induces the pleasurable sense that one
is deep inside a philosophical conundrum expressed in geometric
forms. Follow the map to the Clover Meadow and you’ll discover
stairs to nowhere (Carl Andre’s Cascade, 1984) rising
near a severe steel pyramid, Beverly Pepper’s Paraclete
(1973) that seemed to embody the pointedness of extreme belief.
Meanwhile, nearby, linked cubes of metal (Forrest Myers Valledor,
1969), appear to merge and separate as you walk by.
Sculptures are arranged to maximize contrasts and confluences
with the landscape. There are works to step inside, like the
show-stopping Illumination 1 (2005), by Michael Somoroff,
and those to look through, such as two by Dewitt Godfrey—Socrates
Sculpture (2000) and Picker Sculpture (2004). Philip
Grausman’s smooth, white enormous heads (Susanna, Victoria,
and Leucantha, three works dating from the 1980s through
2000) with their regal bearing, are visible from many locations.
Other sculptures are placed to invite a casual sense of discovery,
such as Foon Sham’s Vessels on the Field (2002), structures
that lean like the Tower of Pisa and appear to be the iconic
ruins of Western civilization.
In contrast to generally large sculptures in the fields, Into
the Trees, curated by and Lilly Wei and Fields’ director
Amy Lipton, sites smaller-scaled works in the intimate space
of the woods. Eight artists each chose a tree and formulated
responses from playful to stark. While not all works are compelling,
the grouping works well together. Into the Trees starts
at the visitor’s center with Katie Holten’s spectacular Excavated
Tree: Missouri Native (Flowering Dogwood) (2007-8). This
3-D replica of a tree, roots and all, looks as though it might
get up and grab you with one of its spidery root hairs; wrapped
in black duct tape, the whole thing looks wetly alive, yet
fragile. Also indoors is the video work Cheshire (2007)
by Sanford Biggers, who references trees in African-American
history. The Private Lives of Trees, by collaborating
artists Abou Caraballo and Leonor Farman, is a real-time video
of the growth of tree roots outside the center.
Outdoors, visitors can contribute a wish at Chrysanne Stathacos’
Wish Calling Tree (sweet, but a little predictable).
For Stathacos and others, the woods become an enchanted place.
No Place: Institute for the Analysis of Empathy, by
Saya Woolfalk, a playful miniature greenhouse covered with
colored panels near a half-buried neon skeleton, invites visitors
inside to view illustrations. Also invoking fairy-tale enchantment
is Cordy Ryman’s gorgeous Gold, a set of saffron-yellow
blocks spilling out of a tree trunk.
Another theme is reflection. Alan Michelson’s beguiling, black-framed
convex mirrors hanging from tree trunks (The Ratio of Art
to Nature) create idealized images of the surroundings;
he borrows a curious 18th-century convention (the Claude glass,
used to capture panoramas). Another strong work calling attention
to our perceptions of the woods is Stephen Dean’s We Do
Not Have Any Branch; Dean spray-painted the arching shapes
of a dead tree, alluding to both forestry marks and graffiti.
Other artists confront environmental issues: Jason Middlebrook
creates a bench out of a fallen poplar tree, while Elizabeth
Demaray knits a protective sweater for a bush (Plant Sweater),
and Shinique Smith wraps trees in her signature cloth bundles
(Covariants). Polly Apfelbaum, whose works I usually
like, had an offering (Leis on a Tree for Al Taylor)
I found indecipherable, partly due to its intentional transitory
nature (popcorn on Hawaiian leis was eaten by the birds).
There is much to see at Omi, and visitors will find it easy
to transition from Into the Trees to other wooded spaces
nearby containing Roy Staab’s lovely new Green Galleon,
a delicate structure perched on a pond and made out of saplings,
twine, and reeds, and Margaret Evangeline’s Gunshot Landscape
(2004), a mirror full of bullet holes.
According to director Lipton, the new visitor’s center heralds
a significant change for the Fields Sculpture Park at Omi,
and there is discussion of future plans. This can only be
a good thing. On par with the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville,
and the DeCordova Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Mass., the Fields
Sculpture Park at Omi deserves more renown.