YORKSHIRE SCULPTURE PARK / SPRING/SUMMER 2016 / ISSUE FOUR / NOTES MAGAZINE
If only one could experience great sculpture whilst indulging a love of the great outdoors...we know the perfect place for you and we interview the perfect person to give us an insight into its operation
YORKSHIRE SCULPTURE PARK
A trip to Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) provides the visitor with many ways to nourish the spirit. Two of the foremost being internationally acclaimed artworks and 500 acres of stunning Yorkshire landscape. The opportunity for a curator to combine these two assets and enable each to enrich the other is rare and valuable. How does YSP approach the task? We asked Clare Lilley, internationally acclaimed curator and Director of Programme at the Park with more than 20 years’ experience of the venue, to give us an insight.
“My job at Yorkshire Sculpture Park requires knowledge of both the works and the landscape in a great deal of detail – there’s a lot of walking involved.” explained Clare. She stresses that the late 18th century landscape is man-made, not natural, which gives it a particular character in overall terms and also explains the variety of landscape types available within those 500 acres. “The Sculpture Park is a very physical experience” she says “it’s about energetic engagement – through the effort needed to traverse the landscape and people’s encounters with the sculptures.”
Clare is highly knowledgeable but she communicates her learning with an easy eloquence and evident love for what she does. At one point in our conversation she referred to Aristotle’s belief that the most intense conversations take place when the interlocutors are side by side; walking the expanses of the Sculpture Park and encountering stupendous works of art makes for great conversations. “I spend a lot of time observing visitors and talking to them about their experiences. One visitor had recently come from Hull twice in one week and we get people from all over the world.”
Walking the expanses of the Sculpture Park and encountering stupendous works of art makes for great conversations.
So placement of sculptures within the landscape requires an understanding of the art and the contours together. Clare refers to the different spaces as galleries without walls and believes that placing pieces to inspire walks around and between them is central to her role. There is no ‘approved route’ for visitors – journeys of discovery are positively encouraged.
“Extended familiarity with the Park changes the experience for visitors, and of course the changing seasons and weather patterns add further layers of experience for people” notes Clare. It must also be remembered that exhibitions change regularly, bringing fresh perspectives and encounters for even the most regular visitor. “YSP is not a museum nor is it a leisure park” remarks Clare and it is evident she regards it as superior to both. Not just for culture vultures either. Clare commented that the art world is generally very conservative and YSP has provided an opportunity to bring some fresh thinking. ‘Conversion by stealth’ is a phrase she used to describe the effect the Park can have.
“Placing pieces has a huge impact on the landscape” explained Clare “it somehow locks the space.” This can engender strong reactions, as can moving pieces – especially the Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth permanent pieces that form an armature for the changing exhibitions around them. Staff at the Park apparently refer to these as ‘Touchstones’.
Engaging younger audiences is also part of Clare’s agenda and she has been particularly gratified to see the reactions of young people to the recent exhibition of work by the American artist KAWS whose output extends to toys and prints as well as sculpture. “Watching young people who perhaps only knew of KAWS through graphic work and social media encounter the huge sculptures gathered together in the open air has been a joy. Some of them can’t stop grinning!” Clare told us with evident satisfaction.
Clare refers to the different spaces as galleries without walls and believes that placing pieces to inspire walks around and between them is central to her role.
Artists themselves can play an important part in placing work if they have the opportunity to spend time familiarising themselves with the landscape. “Andy Goldsworthy became very involved when we were planning an exhibition of his work” remembers Clare “He not only walked the Park, he delved into it, rolling about and ploughing his hands into the earth.” The results would not have been the same without his involvement Clare is certain.
The scale of the Park means that some artists have the rare luxury of bringing several large works together at the same time. This can bring a new dynamic and perspective to their work. “The fact that we also have our indoor galleries affords complementary opportunities for sculptors, where material that expands on the pieces themselves can be shown” Clare explained.
Ultimately there is only so much you can say about Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Reading about it is no substitute for experiencing it, engaging with it. Even the stunning illustrations we have are no substitute for the real thing. Get your coat and boots on and get walking. Summer or winter, wet or dry, alone or with others it is a rare visitor who comes away unaffected. And an even rarer one who is not already planning a return visit before the end.