A Sea of Stone in Saint Louis

Karen Kedmey
Jul 17, 2013 3:24AM

Nestled into a sunken rectangle, where the Saint Louis Art Museum's sleek new east wing meets the original World's Fair building, the rough stone arches of Andy Goldsworthy's Stone Sea (2012) silently heave. Built Roman-style, sans mortar, with each individual block balanced exquisitely against the next, these tan parabolas are made out of Missouri limestone, the natural bed underlying the modern city. Flecks of this limestone, along with minerals culled from the Missouri River, are also incorporated into the gray-black, polished concrete walls of the east wing. They soften the walls and bring the eye and the mind back to those muscular arches, busy jostling for room in the too-small sliver of space between the museum buildings.

The arches are meant to represent the undulating primeval sea, which once covered Missouri and the Midwestern plains, now covered many times over with limestone, earth, grass, asphalt, brick, concrete, and steel. But their site-specificity extends further: to Eero Saarinen's famous Gateway Arch, that silver "gateway to the West" that has defined the Saint Louis skyline since the 1960s.

Goldsworthy is rightly celebrated for his worldwide projects, which commune with land and place. With Stone Sea, he demonstrates this site sensitivity once again. Unlike some of his more ephemeral works, however, these multivalent arches aren't going anywhere. They will remain--crowded; lapping against the sides of the museum--until, perhaps, the sea comes back again.

Karen Kedmey
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