"We're creating pieces that can be explored and interacted with": Omi’s vast pastures are teeming with flora, fauna, and experiential art

Art Omi Contemporary Art Center

1405 County Route 22, Ghent, NY

By train: Amtrak (Empire Service towards Albany) – 2 Hours from Penn Station to Hudson, NY ($31 one way) → 15 minute Uber to Art Omi ($17)

By car: Approx 2.5 hours from Midtown 

Free Admission, open daily from dawn to dusk

From downtown Hudson, drive up Warren St. through the center of town, and take a left on Route 66 heading northeast. You’ll drive over a small bridge, through pastoral farmland and apple orchards, bear right onto 9H, then make another right onto Route 22 (a half-mile past Love Apple Farm). You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the Art Omi sign on your left and an inquisitive 20-foot deer peering down over the road from a grassy slope. Admission is free, and over 60 works of contemporary sculpture spread across 120 acres of unfettered farmland await your discovery. 

Often compared to one another (as the two most notable sculpture parks in the Hudson valley), Omi is Storm King’s progressive, free-spirited younger sister. While Storm King boasts a blockbuster collection of Modern Art greats (Calder, LeWitt, Serra), Omi’s collection of lesser-known, more geographically and stylistically diverse contemporary artists are (at least to me) more exciting to experience. Largely untouched by landscapers or horticulturalists, Omi’s vast pastures, wetlands, and forested paths are teeming with naturally occurring flora and fauna. Some works camouflage into the brush, like Margaret Evangeline’s Gunshot Landscape, which can go unnoticed on an overcast day without light to reflect its punctured stainless steel surface. Others reach out through the trees and demand your consideration. The most climactic point of any visit occurs upon emerging from the woods at the edge of a large open field dotted with wildflowers, a hill at its center crested with the infamous ReActor by architect-artist duo Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley. The container-like home is suspended fifteen feet off the ground and spins and tilts on a central axis. On a gusty day its hollow creaking can be heard well before it is seen. 

Founded in 1998 by Francis J. Greenburger, then a board member of the Triangle Arts residency program, Art Omi began Greenburger’s own international artist program. In its maiden year, the resident artists stayed in people’s homes in the area and worked out of an old dairy barn that was loosely transformed into a studio space. At the end of the residency, Greenburger invited the public to come in and see what these artists had been up to. For this small farming community, in a pre-internet world, the event was an introduction to the burgeoning international contemporary art world. Somewhat surprisingly, it was a huge hit with locals and from that point on, the residency program took off. Now, Omi hosts residencies for writers, musicians, dancers, architects, and even translators. 

Omi has stayed open to the public throughout the pandemic. “It’s been really wonderful to offer the space to the community during this time,” says chief curator Nicole Hayes, who moved to the Hudson Valley after working in the Chelsea gallery scene for 15 years. “Now is the moment for these natural places like Art Omi. They are really filling this void at a time when people need places to go, places to socially distance, see friends, or just fill their lives with a sense of wonder and excitement.” 

With five to ten new works being cycled into the park each year, there is always something new to discover. This summer, skateboarders throughout the Hudson Valley and beyond are rejoicing over the park’s newest addition, a skate bowl set into the landscape by artist Chemi Rosado-Seijo—fully functional and now open for use. 

“We’re creating pieces that can be explored and interacted with,” explains Hayes. “We just added a work by an Argentinian artist, Agustina Woodgate (installed, ironically, on March 14, just as the pandemic took hold of New York City), comprised of four working drinking fountains made out of coral rock from the Florida Keys.” Visitors have to negotiate their way up steps and through crevices in order to reach the top, only to find an ordinary drinking fountain like you would see at a playground. “The piece is really talking about where water comes from, who has access to it, how we source natural resources, and how they are distributed to people,” says Hayes. An exhibition of photo collage and video art by Howardena Pindell, an alumna of the Omi residency program whose work grapples with racism, physical trauma, memory, and the human experience, also debuted this summer.

“Art enhances people’s lives. It comes in during these dark times and gives us meaning again. It can recreate joy when we’re having a hard time finding it,” says Hayes. If you find yourself in need of some joy and meaning, or perhaps just a field of wildflowers, Art Omi is only two and a half hours north of New York City and an entire world away. 

Getting Out is a new series by Document Journal that seeks to connect New Yorkers with arts institutions, small businesses, and recreational activities outside of the metro area. We welcome suggestions – editorial@documentjournal.com

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