Mark Twain is credited with the pronouncement that “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” Truth is that the judgement was first rendered 38 years after Twain’s death … but the presumption continues. True or not, the balance to that invective might well be that Art Omi in Ghent, NY, is “A great walk made amazing.”

Monumental sculptures that delight and engage

The evolved concept of literary agent and entrepreneur Francis Greenburger, the 120-acre reserve is a series of winding trails, gentle streams, and an explosion of monumental sculptures that delight, challenge, engage and amuse. From towering forms that dominate a field (Blast Furnace by Atelier Van Lieshout, pictured left, a tribute to the simpler days of the industrial age) to whimsical scatterings of acrylic painted rocks (Yellow, Brown, Red And Orange M&Ms by Dan Colen, pictured above), the rolling park presents discovery at every turn.

The notion behind Art Omi is notable for its inclusion and positive intent. “Art Omi believes that exposure to internationally diverse creative voices fosters tolerance and respect, raises awareness, inspires innovation, and ignites change. By forming community with creative expression as its common denominator, Art Omi creates a sanctuary for the artistic community and the public to affirm the transformative quality of art.”

On any given day (the park is open daily from dawn until dusk with few exceptions noted on their website) the trails welcome families out with children whose only prohibition is climbing on the pieces, dog walkers with their charges on leash, and art students from around the world who spend hours moving from piece to piece.

To truly take in all that is offered at Art Omi, one would need a sturdy pair of walking shoes and a full day of time to view, contemplate, and reflect. Fortunately, the experience begins and ends at the architecturally commanding Benenson Center, which houses the indoor Newmark Gallery, a modest shop offering requisite t-shirts, caps and books, and a café with light refreshments. For those within easy driving distance of Art Omi, spending a few hours visiting and re-visiting favorite pieces is a restful and rewarding way of spending a few diversionary hours.

To highlight all of the pieces would require a book, but for the first time visitor, a few of the 60 easily accessible pieces reflect the international flavor, the wide diversity, and the carefully accomplished curation of the collection.

Ever-changing art

While moving through one of the forested trails, the imposing Sallie (pictured on following page, bottom left) appears, a wonderfully eclectic construction by Donald Lipski. Discovering a cache of unused prohibition era whiskey bottles in a Brooklyn warehouse, Lipski fashioned a large basket, mounted it on wheels as a pedestal (reminiscent of a shopping cart on steroids) and filled the bottles with anti-freeze. The resulting pink hue catches the light as it changes through the day, filtered by the overhanging trees.

Further down the path, Dennis Oppenheim’s Marriage Tree (pictured below, far right) is an arresting look at the various social structures and assumptions of contemporary America. Originally created in 2000, then restored in 2012 with the approval of his estate, the assembly of what appear to be heroic sized wedding cake figures was fashioned well before same-sex marriage became part of our societal fabric. Prophetic? Perhaps … but entirely engaging and central to Oppenheim’s prolific career as a conceptual artist.

Coming full circle

Set in a glade behind the field that houses Blast Furnace, Brian Tolle’s towering façade Eureka (not depicted) appears to be a town house with a subtle twist. Created as an homage to the “canal houses” of 18th century New York City, the piece reflects the rippled effect commensurate with sitting at the edge of a canal. The piece was originally displayed in Ghent, Belgium and now resides in Ghent, NY … coming full circle.

Not far from Tolle’s work is Arcs In Disorder (pictured directly below), a major installation by French conceptual artist Bernar Venet who used an overhead crane to bend the CorTen steel into arcs that have rusted into a pleasant patina. Walking around the piece, it changes with each angle and becomes ever more engaging.

Interrupting space

Not only does Art Omi present the work of internationally celebrated artists, it has also commissioned pieces to be part of the permanent, sprawling collection. Smoke (not depicted) by ethnologist Richard Nonas allowed the artist to create the sense of the perceptions of space as well as the interruption of space. Comprised of carefully placed railroad ties stretching up a gentle hillside, the piece accomplishes the artist’s aim to capture the tension between environment and form.

A remarkable point/counterpoint experience awaits the walker emerging from a forested patch at Art Omi to realize that two works – both quite different – are by the same artist and, together, challenge the viewer to reflect on their own assumptions and notions. Set Notions (pictured at the top of this page) by Bard College educated Anna Sew Hoy places solid cement block figures opposing each other on the far side of a colorful amalgam of powder-coated shapes that might have been a giant’s wands for blowing bubbles. Set Notions two components seem to be in conflict, until they are seen as a whole … cement hard framed by playful color.

A cultural gem

Getting to Art Omi is best accomplished if one makes judicious use of the GPS function on their smart phone. Set close to the charming New York hamlet of Ghent at 1495 County Road 22 it is west of the Taconic Parkway and close to NY 66, which runs north and south through the Hudson River Valley. The park requests that registrations be made on weekends and, although there is no set admission fee, contributions are encouraged and appreciated.

The Art Omi website, www.artomi.org, is a richly illustrated introduction to the entire campus, which includes an architectural park as well as educational pavilions and houses for the residency programs which, upon successful application,  invite artists, musicians, architects, dancers, and writers from around the world to live and work at Art Omi.

A cultural gem in the Hudson Valley, Art Omi serves as a magnet for international creative exchange, learning and growth. The benefits for the visiting public are readily apparent. This is art that is accessible and engaging, set in the rolling hillsides of Columbia County.