STORM KING ART CENTER, situated deep in New York's Hudson River Valley, 55 miles north of Manhattan, may well be America's most ideal setting for viewing art. Where else, after all, can one enjoy roughly 125 of this century's best sculptures while walking around 400 acres of rolling, beautifully landscaped lawns and wooded areas surrounded by distant, low-lying mountains?
Storm King stands head and shoulders above other American sculpture parks - in size, the beauty of its grounds, the quality and range of its collection, and the care it takes in harmonizing art with the surroundings.
No matter where one looks, there is something special. It may be an elegantly stylized stone carving tucked in among bushes; a large machine-like sculpture resembling an alien spacecraft on a distant field; a proudly postured totemic figure silhouetted against the sky; or a monumental, brightly colored construction straddling a grassy slope as though it were a giant Tinkertoy.
Storm King's exceptional qualities are evident the moment one enters the grounds and catches sight of Alexander Calder's mammoth stabile ``The Arch'' just inside the gate, Alexander Liberman's gigantic stridently hued ``Iliad'' a bit farther off, and Isamu Noguchi's regal ``Momo Taro'' crowning a low hill a few hundred yards away.
One senses immediately that this is an enchanted world in which provocatively modern and critically approved sculptures representing today's largely urbanized culture can interact with surroundings that reflect nature-oriented and contemplative values and ideals.
This initial impression never wears off. If anything, it is heightened by a stroll among the center's thoughtfully placed sculptures by Henry Moore, David Smith, Anthony Caro, Louise Nevelson, and dozens of others.
These works seem so at home in their settings that it comes as something of a shock to learn how recently most were put here - and how young Storm King is. Although founded in 1960, the art center didn't put its acquisition program fully into effect until 1967, when 13 David Smith sculptures entered its collection. And it wasn't until well into the '70s that Storm King, as we know it today, really began to take shape.
Its growth since then has been both dramatic and consistent with the goals set by its founder, the late Ralph E. Ogden, and by H.Peter Stern, its president since its inception. Under Mr. Stern's leadership, numerous successful one-person and group exhibitions by major international sculptors have been held on its grounds, and the collection has grown to its current size of 215 works.
In line with its policy of mounting special shows every summer, Storm King this year has assembled a group of 22 works by seven sculptors with a particular interest in the human figure. Ten pieces have been installed outdoors, while the others are on view in a tiny but elegant museum building. All represent very recent trends in art, and were chosen by the art center's director, David Collens.
Of these, Magdalena Abakanowicz's ``Backs,'' an installation consisting of 80 life-size, hollowed torsos - each headless, armless, and legless - made of burlap stiffened with glue, is the most impressive. Following close behind are Jonathan Borofsky's motorized ``Spinning Figure 8 With Three Chattering Men,'' which depicts a trio of elongated figures chattering noisily among themselves, and Tom Otterness's delightful robotlike figures in cast bronze.
Each of these is special - as are the works of Sandro Chia, Antony Gormley, Richard Rosenblum, and Joel Shapiro. Two or three may deviate sharply from previous notions of what constitutes sculpture, but that's all to the good. Storm King, after all, with its relaxed atmosphere and natural beauty, is the perfect place to get to know and appreciate art one might otherwise ignore.
The center is open from noon until 5:30 p.m. every day except Tuesdays. Its season runs from April 1 to Nov. 30. For more information, call (914) 534-3115, or write to Storm King Art Center, Old Pleasant Hill Rd., Mountainville, NY 10953.
Theodore F. Wolff is the Monitor's art critic.