A huge pregnant woman, her body half cutaway to reveal her inner anatomy, strides across the grass. The distinctive curves of one of Henry Moore’s Seated Figures reclines near a lake. A delicate glass spire towers above the trees.
This is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, a collection of modern and contemporary sculpture displayed within the grounds of a former country estate near Wakefield in northern England. Some of the pieces are permanent, others on temporary exhibition. They are placed carefully in the landscape with the intention of enhancing both the art and the setting.
I am bending the rules a little in sharing these photos for the Photographing Public Art challenge. There is a small charge to visit the park so this isn’t ‘free’ art. But the fee includes parking and is low enough that almost everyone will feel able to visit. Once there you are free to stroll the 500 acres of fields, hills, woodland, lakes and gardens that constitute the Bretton Hall estate. There are also indoor galleries and an old chapel which houses temporary exhibitions. You can bring a picnic, bring your children, bring a dog (on a lead; you could easily spend all day here.
We however had only a few hours to spare, as we were visiting as a break on our journey south from Ripon to London. That gave us time to walk around about half of the grounds; to visit the chapel (but not the other indoor galleries); and to have lunch in the self-service café.
These photos were all taken on that sunny August morning, and capture many of my favourite pieces. All caption information is taken from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park website.
Henry Moore: Reclining Figure: Arch Leg
This piece ‘forms part of Moore’s Reclining Figure series that he began in the 1950s, and returned back to again and again throughout his life.’
Henry Moore: Large Two Forms
‘The colossal sculpture is impressive in both scale and composition, appearing very different from every angle and continuing the theme of points that almost meet, which appears in much of Moore’s work.’
Personally, I liked the juxtaposition of sculpture and sheep, one of several which were grazing nearby. This is a good illustration of the appeal of the sculpture park, which is both art gallery and country park.
Damien Hirst: The Virgin Mother
‘Hirst’s ten-metre- tall The Virgin Mother stands against the backdrop of the Lower Lake, a powerful presence in the landscape. Referencing the stance of Degas’s Little Dancer of Fourteen Years (c.1881), the sculpture’s cross-section reveals the foetus curled within the womb.’
Young children appeared fascinated by this piece, and I overheard at least one parent using it as the basis for an impromptu ‘birds and bees’ lesson.
Ai Weiwei: Iron Tree
‘Iron Tree is the largest and most complex sculpture to date in the artist’s tree series, which he began in 2009. Inspired by the wood sold by street vendors in Jingdezhen, southern China, Iron Tree comprise of 97 tree elements cast in iron and interlocked using a classic – and here exaggerated – Chinese method of joining.’
Ai Weiwei is well known as a critic of China’s record on democracy and human rights. In 2011 he was arrested and held for 81 days without charge, prompting worldwide protest. After his release hiss passport was confiscated and he was unable to travel abroad until July 2015.
Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads
‘Ai reinterpreted the 12 bronze heads representing the traditional Chinese zodiac that once adorned the famed fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan, the imperial summer palace retreat in Beijing.’
Barbara Hepworth: Squares with Two Circles
‘Hepworth was keen for her work to be experienced in the open air, which developed into a lifelong passion… Her works are specifically designed for the outdoors: Square with Two Circles seemingly changes appearance depending on the time of day and year. Sometimes it appears to frame its landscape context, at other times it reflects sunlight and seems almost golden.’
For more Barbara Hepworth sculptures check out my post about her studio in St Ives, Cornwall: https://www.toonsarah-travels.blog/gallery-the-barbara-hepworth-sculpture-garden-in-st-ives/.
Rachel Kneebone: 399 Days (in the Old Chapel)
‘The artist’s most ambitious sculpture to date, 399 Days – named after the length of time it took to make – is over five-metres in height and comprises 63 exterior panels. Monumental in scale yet exquisite in detail, it echoes historic sculptures such as Trajan’s Column… Kneebone’s sculptures do not depict the full human form, but allude to the body through the use of a mass of legs appearing to be in motion, often shown in relation to organic forms such as flowers and orbs.’
Elisabeth Frink: Standing Man
‘The artist’s sculptures often take the form of solitary male figures who convey strong emotion and emphasise the vulnerability and beauty of man.
Elisabeth Frink was a leading figure in British sculpture. She was part of the post-war group of British sculptors, which included Kenneth Armitage and Eduardo Paolozzi, who became known as the ‘Geometry of Fear’ school. These artists sought to express the horrors of war within their work.’
Eduardo Paolozzi: Vulcan
‘Paolozzi’s interest in collage and assemblage can be seen here in Vulcan (1999) who he depicts as half-man and half-machine – a monument to the modern, industrial age.’
This seemed to be another favourite with young children, perhaps because of its resemblance to a Transformer?
Kimsooja: A Needle Woman – Galaxy was a Memory, Earth is a Souvenir
‘South Korean artist Kimsooja has a practice that references and takes inspiration from traditional forms of female labour and craft, such as sewing and weaving, to investigate the role of women… This elegant, conical sculpture has transparent panels coated with nano polymer, a material that transforms light, giving an iridescence similar to that which occurs naturally on the wings of a butterfly or a beetle’s shell. The work alters dramatically with changing conditions, the nature and angle of light that hits it, and the position from which it is viewed.’
Niki de Saint Phalle: Buddha
‘A self-taught artist, Saint Phalle first came to critical attention through her work with the Nouveau Réalisme group… After moving to California in 1994, Saint Phalle began to paint less, increasingly working with sculpture and mosaic techniques. As shown in Buddha, she used mirror, glass and stone to create vivacious, glittering sculptures on a monumental scale.’
Marialuisa Tadei: Night and Day
‘Night and Day (2009) is a key example of Tadei’s use of mosaic to elevate tangible forms into a more ethereal realm… Mosaic is an ancient technique that is commonly associated with Byzantine art and Medieval art and architecture. Although it is a historic medium, Tadei employs mosaic within a contemporary context to explore nature and the modern human experience.’
I visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2021; note that the Damien Hirst and Rachel Kneebone pieces are both temporary exhibits, there until April 2022