Art meets na­ture

It’s 40 years since Bri­tain’s best-known sculp­ture park placed its first works of art in the coun­try­side. Tim Richard­son looks at how art in the open air has de­vel­oped since then

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It’s 40 years since the first works were placed in the coun­try­side at the York­shire Sculp­ture Park. Tim Richard­son re­ports

THIS year, York­shire Sculp­ture Park (YSP, www.ysp.co.uk) cel­e­brates its 40th an­niver­sary with a ma­jor Tony Cragg ret­ro­spec­tive. Since it was founded, the num­ber of sculp­ture parks has grown enor­mously—by the mid 1980s, there were per­haps 100, but, to­day, there are at least four times that num­ber world­wide. Many are pri­vately owned, in­clud­ing im­por­tant re­cent ad­di­tions to the pan­theon, such as Jupiter Art­land out­side Ed­in­burgh and the mas­sive In­ho­tim es­tate in Brazil, which spreads over some 5,000 acres, with 22 sep­a­rate pavil­ions ded­i­cated to in­di­vid­ual artists.

Some­times, it feels as if sculp­ture parks and open-air ex­hi­bi­tions are pop­ping up on an al­most weekly ba­sis in Bri­tain. The lat­est is the Borders Sculp­ture Park at Meller­stain House, Kelso, Ber­wick­shire, which is hold­ing an in­au­gu­ral ex­hi­bi­tion of in­flat­able fab­ric works by Steve Mes­sam un­til Septem­ber 11 (www.meller­stain.com), and the an­nual free Frieze sculp­ture show (https://frieze.com) in Lon­don’s Re­gents Park (this year fea­tur­ing 25 works se­lected by Clare Lil­ley of YSP) opened ear­lier than usual this sum­mer, fin­ish­ing on Oc­to­ber 8.

It’s be­come com­mon­place to stum­ble across tem­po­rary sculp­ture ex­hi­bi­tions at Na­tional Trust prop­er­ties, thanks to spe­cial­ist cu­ra­tors such as Meadow Arts; at no­table pri­vate houses, in­clud­ing Chatsworth; at botanic gar­dens— Kew has pre­sented block­buster shows de­voted to Henry Moore and David Nash; at Oxbridge col­leges (no­tably Je­sus Col­lege, Cam­bridge); and in pub­lic parks such as Kens­ing­ton Gar­dens, where Rob and Nick Carter’s lat­est piece, Bronze Oak Grove, can cur­rently be found. Even the pavil­ion cre­ated each sum­mer in the grounds of the Ser­pen­tine Gallery tends to blur sculp­ture and build­ing.

It’s clear that the con­cept of sit­ing and cre­at­ing sculp­tural works for park and gar­den set­tings is now main­stream in both the art and gar­den worlds. That wasn’t the case when YSP first opened its doors to the pub­lic on Septem­ber 24, 1977, with a one-off £1,000 grant, a small ex­hi­bi­tion of 31 sculp­tures and a bold idea con­cocted by art lec­tur­ers who were then em­ployed at the col­lege si­t­u­ated on the 18th-cen­tury Bret­ton Hall es­tate.

York­shire-born artists Bar­bara Hep­worth and Henry Moore were early sup­port­ers of the ven­ture, the former loan­ing or do­nat­ing works, the lat­ter pro­vid­ing funds. Both were sym­pa­thetic early on to the idea of sit­ing their work in the open air. As Hep­worth com­mented to the York­shire Post in 1962: ‘It would be very nice just to put sculp­tures on hill­sides or in small val­leys’—which was then a rather rad­i­cal no­tion. In a let­ter writ­ten the year be­fore he died in 1986, Moore made a sim­ple but pro­found point to the direc­tor of the sculp­ture gar­den at Hakone, Japan: ‘When you are out in the open air in the sun, rain and clouds… it helps peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate that sculp­ture is part of life.’

That sense of free­dom from the pro­pri­eties and rit­u­als of the tra­di­tional in­door gallery

space has proved to be one of the strong­est ap­peals of the sculp­ture park: vis­i­tors who might oth­er­wise be in­tim­i­dated by the idea of go­ing to a ‘nor­mal’ art mu­seum, in­clud­ing fam­i­lies with chil­dren, find it to be a for­giv­ing and free­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

The first 20th-cen­tury sculp­ture park to be es­tab­lished was Brook­green Gar­dens in South Carolina, USA (1931), although the deeply un­fash­ion­able na­ture of the fig­u­ra­tive and of­ten sen­ti­men­tal works in this col­lec­tion means that it’s not al­ways men­tioned by crit­ics. The four ‘grand­par­ents’ of the mod­ern sculp­ture park are gen­er­ally held to be the Kröller-müller Mu­seum near Am­s­ter­dam (opened in 1960, but de­signed on pa­per five years ear­lier); the Louisiana near Copen­hagen (1958); the Storm King Cen­ter in the Hud­son River Val­ley, New York (1960); and YSP it­self.

Hep­worth’s Fam­ily of Man (1970), con­sist­ing of nine mys­te­ri­ous bronze fig­ures, first came to YSP in 1979 and has been a high­light ever since, although, in its cur­rent po­si­tion, it’s per­haps too eas­ily missed by vis­i­tors who are un­der­stand­ably at­tracted to the open pas­ture, lakes and wood­land of the 500-acre land­scape park. YSP is best known for its col­lec­tion of works by Henry Moore, which are per­fectly com­ple­mented by the late-18th-cen­tury land­scape set­ting at­trib­uted to Richard Woods, a skilled des- igner who is now ap­pre­ci­ated in his own right, not merely as a fol­lower of Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown. The scene is an­i­mated by graz­ing sheep, which have a ten­dency to rub against the bronzes, stain­ing them and cre­at­ing a con­ser­va­tion chal­lenge for the YSP team.

Andy Goldswor­thy, who cre­ates site­spe­cific works, is the third im­por­tant ‘lo­cal’ artist who has de­vel­oped a re­la­tion­ship with YSP over the years. Not­ing that his ca­reer is about as old as the sculp­ture park, he has com­mented: ‘We’re prob­a­bly made for each other, and we prob­a­bly made each other.’ A ma­jor piece by the artist en­ti­tled Hang­ing Trees, Ox­ley Bank (2006), con­sist­ing of three hor­i­zon­tal tree trunks lain within

dry-stone walls in the es­tate ha-ha, can be dis­cov­ered at the point where the his­toric de­signed land­scape meets agri­cul­ture. As Mr Goldswor­thy has stated: ‘There are so many so-called sculp­ture parks that are an easy op­tion to dump a few sculp­tures in a field… That is so dif­fer­ent from what is hap­pen­ing here.’

Site-spe­cific work in gen­eral has be­come a much more im­por­tant el­e­ment at YSP since the 1980s, as it has at other sculp­ture parks, yet there are still only a hand­ful that are ded­i­cated solely to this prac­tice; Fat­to­ria di Celle in Italy was one of the first.

It’s proved even more dif­fi­cult to in­te­grate Land Art into the sculp­ture-park en­vi­ron­ment, partly be­cause of prac­ti­cal­i­ties (the work is of­ten huge in scale) and partly for his­tor­i­cal rea­sons—sculp­ture parks only re­ally got go­ing af­ter the most fruit­ful pe­riod of Land Art had passed. How­ever, there are, nev­er­the­less, some good ex­am­ples to seek out in sculp­ture parks, in­clud­ing Maya Lin’s 550 yards-long 11 Minute Line (2004) at the Wanås Foun­da­tion in Swe­den.

Per­haps the big­gest change at sculp­ture parks in re­cent decades has been the emph-

asis on con­cep­tual work, as op­posed to the more for­mal or Mod­ernist pre­oc­cu­pa­tions of ‘first-phase’ sculp­ture parks such as YSP. There is also more of a fo­cus on the largescale or the spec­tac­u­lar—wit­ness Anish Kapoor’s mas­sive red ‘trum­pet’, Dis­mem­ber

ment Site 1 (2009), at Gibbs Farm, New Zealand, or Louise Bour­geois’s Crouch­ing

Spi­der (2003) on the lake at Château La Coste. These are art­works with an un­mis­tak­able ‘wow fac­tor’ that would be dif­fi­cult to achieve in an in­te­rior gallery space.

YSP’S Peter Mur­ray re­lates how, ‘in the early years, great pa­tience and in­ge­nu­ity were re­quired to deal with the bu­reau­cracy, pol­i­tics and lack of fund­ing’, but, to­day, the park is able to mount an av­er­age of 10 ex­hi­bi­tions a year in a va­ri­ety of venues, in­doors and out. In ad­di­tion to the park­land, there is the mon­u­men­tal Un­der­ground Gallery, opened in 2006, the Long­side Gallery (2003) in an el­e­vated ru­ral po­si­tion at the south­ern end of the es­tate, which houses the Arts Coun­cil’s col­lec­tion of some 500 sculp­tures, and the much smaller Bothy Gallery, used for films and smaller in­stal­la­tions.

Ma­jor per­ma­nent works on show at YSP in­clude pieces by Sol Le­witt, Richard Serra and An­thony Caro and a skys­pace by James Tur­rell si­t­u­ated in­side a re­pur­posed 18th­cen­tury deer shel­ter.

The ‘sculp­ture park’ as a cu­ra­to­rial genre is prop­erly un­der­stood as a 20th-cen­tury in­no­va­tion, con­ceived specif­i­cally as the out­door equiv­a­lent of a mod­ern-era art gallery and de­fined by pro­fes­sional cu­ra­tor­ship. For this rea­son, the term is not gen­er­ally ap­plied to gar­dens con­tain­ing sculp­tures that are cre­ated as stand­alone works of art in their own right. Ian Hamil­ton Fin­lay’s Lit­tle Sparta in the Pent­land Hills falls into this cat­e­gory, as does Joan Miró’s Labyrinth at the Fon­da­tion Maeght in Saint-paul de Vence in France. Even Sir Fred­er­ick Gib­berd’s gar­den at Har­low in Es­sex could not be termed a ‘park’, de­spite the fact it’s a col­lec­tion of works by var­i­ous artists. The do­mes­tic set­ting mil­i­tates against that def­i­ni­tion, as does the sense that this is a place that’s been cre­ated as an artis­tic whole by one guid­ing sen­si­bil­ity.

There are, in­deed, some fun­da­men­tal dis­tinc­tions to be made be­tween sculp­ture parks and sculp­ture gar­dens. The main dif­fer­ence is one of scale. In ad­di­tion, a park is more likely to be reg­u­larly open to the pub­lic and will prob­a­bly con­tain a di­verse range of work. The sculp­ture gar­dens at­tached to the stu­dios of artists such as Hep­worth, Au­guste Rodin and Isamu Noguchi are not usu­ally de­scribed as ‘sculp­ture parks’. Nei­ther are gar­dens that con­tain sculp­ture as part of an over­all co­her­ent de­sign—as at the Bloedel Re­serve near Seat­tle, USA, or Nikki de Sant Phalle’s Tarot Gar­den in Tus­cany. And nor —solely be­cause of scale—are most sculp­ture gar­dens now rou­tinely at­tached to mu­se­ums (the first of these was Philip John­son’s 1939 MOMA sculp­ture gar­den in New York).

The sculp­ture trail in a for­est set­ting (site­spe­cific Grizedale in Cum­bria is an ex­am­ple) is per­haps a genre in its own right, be­cause the un­bounded at­mos­phere cre­ates a dif­fer­ent set of ex­pec­ta­tions for the vis­i­tor.

Ul­ti­mately, sculp­ture parks are col­lec­tions of in­di­vid­ual art­works ‘set’ within a land­scape that is un­der­stood pri­mar­ily as a kind of com­ple­men­tary fram­ing de­vice, rather than as an en­tity with its own cre­ative dy­namism.

Noguchi him­self was elo­quent about these nu­ances. In­ter­viewed in 1986 at the open­ing of his Cullen Sculp­ture Gar­den at the Mu­seum of Fine Arts in Hous­ton, Texas, he noted: ‘There are many kinds of sculp­ture. A gar­den is a liv­ing sculp­ture. A sculp­ture on a pedestal is a thing on a pedestal. Mon­u­men­tal sculp­ture goes out­side the realm of art into ar­chi­tec­ture.’

He went on to de­scribe a visit to the UNESCO Gar­den in Paris that he’d de­signed al­most 28 years ear­lier. ‘It was over­grown with weeds, jab­ber­ing away and hav­ing a won­der­ful time,’ he said. ‘The gar­den is all on its own with no­body tak­ing care of it. I’ve never seen it look so beau­ti­ful.’ In ef­fect, the gar­den el­e­ment of Noguchi’s gar­den had be­come more im­por­tant than the sculp­tural works it con­tained. This can never be the case in a cu­rated sculp­ture park.

Such mo­ments hint at both the po­ten­tial short­com­ings of this genre as well as its ex­tra­or­di­nary artis­tic pos­si­bil­i­ties in re­la­tion to land­scape—pos­si­bil­i­ties that have barely been ex­plored.

‘ The open air… helps peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate that sculp­ture is part of life’

Tony Cragg’s Points of View is part of a ret­ro­spec­tive at York­shire Sculp­ture Park

Shat­tered by Steve Mes­sum is part of XXX, a trio of ‘ar­chi­tec­tural in­ter­ven­tions’ at the Borders Sculp­ture Park at Meller­stain House in Ber­wick­shire

An out­door lo­ca­tion al­lows for large-scale spec­tac­u­lar works, such as Marc Quinn’s Love Bomb at Jupiter Art­land, near Ed­in­burgh

Andy Goldswor­thy’s Hang­ing Trees (2007) lies in the YSP es­tate’s ha-ha

The Fam­ily of Man (1970) by Bar­bara Hep­worth, an early sup­porter of the YSP

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