New York’s Hudson Valley has been an acclaimed arts haven for the greater part of the last two centuries – little wonder, given the region’s inspirational natural setting of rolling forests, mountain peaks, and verdant river valleys, all set within easy day-tripping distance of cultural mecca New York City. The Hudson River School arts movement kick-started things in the early 19th century and the arts scene hasn’t lost any steam since, today beckoning art lovers with blockbuster institutions like the Storm King Art Center and Dia:Beacon, mixed in with buzzing artists’ colonies, a robust cultural calendar, and lesser-known but entirely worthy arts venues like Art Omi and Opus 40. Here, we’ve cherry-picked just six of the greatest art destinations in the Hudson Valley for your art-pilgrimage pleasure.
Among the world’s largest and most prominent outdoor sculpture parks, the sprawling 500-acre Storm King Art Center in Mountainville has been wowing art lovers since its founding in 1960. The seasonal space (it’s closed for the winter) serves as a showcase for more than 100 large-scale installations of modern and contemporary art via permanent collections and temporary exhibitions from the likes of Alexander Calder, Isamu Noguchi, Richard Serra, Maya Lin, Sol LeWitt, Mark di Suvero, and more. The landscape of wavy hills, woodlands, and sweeping lawns serves to “explore art in nature,” with pieces that the surrounding environment enhances. Bike rentals and free trams help put a dent in a visit here, while a roster of public programs (kids’ activities, outdoor concerts), along with a café and picnic areas, encourage making a day of it.
Perched on the Hudson River waterfront in a reimagined 1920s factory (which once churned out boxes for Nabisco), Dia:Beacon — set within the hip, formerly industrial city of Beacon — marks one of the Hudson Valley’s leading arts venues. The contemporary collection here spans the 1960s to the present, with permanent exhibits filling in nearly 300,000 square feet of cavernous, sun-bathed galleries — distinguished by skylights, brick walls, and original beams — and dedicated to large-scale works by Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Louise Bourgeois, Richard Serra, Sol LeWitt, and more. The museum also puts on a roster of special exhibitions, as well as public and educational programming that includes guided public tours.
Art Omi, in Ghent, spreads out its nonprofit arts mission across 300 acres and multiple venues. Look to sculpture park The Fields for a display of more than 80 permanent and temporary art installations (featuring sculptures by Richard Nonas, Dove Bradshaw, and Tony Cragg, among others) and architectural works, as presented on a natural landscape of expansive lawns and woods, sans paved pathways and pocked by picnic tables and seating areas. The center also offers a visitors’ center and gallery (with a café and spaces for events and public programming), along with a two-story barn containing working studio space, as well as residences catering to Omi’s residency programs for worldwide artists and other creative types. In addition, the venue puts on a cultural calendar of concerts, readings, and other special events throughout the year.
In Saugerties, the monumental Opus 40 site stands in testament to the artistic whimsy of the late Harvey Fite, one of the founders of the Bard College Fine Arts Department. Fite purchased the site — an old quarry — in 1938 and toiled away on the 6.5-acre, maze-like, bluestone sculpture that it would ultimately become over the next 37 years. A series of swirling ramps, tunnels, terraces, fountains, trees — and even a nine-ton monolith standing three stories tall — emerge from the bedrock here, inviting visitors to “walk through, around, and over” the land art sculpture. Beyond the sculptural centerpiece itself, the Opus 40 grounds tout an art gallery, hiking trails, a gift shop, and the Quarryman’s Museum, which displays the primitive tools utilized by Fite during the site’s construction (which were inspired by his work restoring Latin American Mayan ruins).
No proper Hudson Valley arts circuit would be complete without a nod to the area’s famed 19th-century Hudson River School arts movement. Among the movement’s masters was Frederic Edwin Church, whose artistic inspiration and contributions can be intimately experienced via a visit to his personal home at the Olana State Historic Site, in Hudson. From the 250 acres of undulating landscape here, visitors might recognize Hudson River and valley vistas as captured in Church’s epic paintings. In fact, the landscapes themselves, designed by Church, are considered to be one of his great masterworks, a large-scale composition carved out of nature and featuring elements like an ornamental (yet working) farm, an artificial lake, a mix of meadows and woodlands, and five miles of carriage roads.
The Persian-styled main house, a montage of eclectic Moorish motifs designed by architect Calvert Vaux, comes filled with remnants of Church’s lengthy period of residency here. Inside, visitors can tour the artist’s collection of global furnishings, tapestries, and works of art — including some of his own. (Tip: For another glimpse of the Hudson River School movement, pair a visit to Olana with the Thomas Cole National Historic Site — home and studio to artist Thomas Cole — set just across the river in Catskill.)
Birthplace and childhood home to iconic American realist painter Edward Hopper, the Edward Hopper House Museum & Study Center in Nyack serves to illuminate the legacy of Hopper via numerous exhibits. Along with a section showcasing his original early artwork, the collection spans memorabilia (look out for model boats made by the artist), photographs, letters, and a recreated version of Hopper’s bedroom. Rotating contemporary art exhibitions feature artists called upon to “respond to Edward Hopper," while a cultural program of readings, art talks, and a popular jazz series in the gardens are a few of the special events that unfold year-round.