BRITAIN’S FIRST open air sculpture park, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP), has established strong international recognition during its 11-year existence. Started in 1977, it has pioneered a curatorial approach to outdoor sculpture exhibitions, developed residencies, sculpture demonstrations, public sculpture workshops and an active education and outreach programme.
The YSP is an independent charitable trust set in the grounds of Bretton Hall College where it occupies approximately 100 acres of the estate, parts of which are designed in the manner of Capability Brown. National and international concerns are reflected through the collection (the results of gifts or loans) and the annual programme of temporary exhibitions. These also present openings for younger as well as established artists whilst the residencies present an opportunity to develop skills in the public arena and allow the public to gain insight into the artists’ working processes.
This demystification of sculpture has had tremendous benefits for the artists, the public and ourselves as it involves everyone in the creative decision-making activity, helping to ensure that the sculpture is appreciated as the product of hard work, technical ability and imagination.
From the beginning the public have been encouraged to touch and feel the sculpture as we believe that the tactile experience is intrinsic to the enjoyment and understanding of the work. The sculpture workshops developed as a natural extension of this desire to involve the public with the pleasure of creative activity. For the past five years over Bank Holidays throughout Spring and Summer the YSP has invited the public to have a go themselves. Their popularity has been astonishing–entire families, the young and the old, discover how remarkably satisfying it can be to engage the mind and body upon the task of creating three-dimensional forms. Though everybody has fun it is also an important learning episode: people begin to think about what is seen and felt; aesthetic considerations begin to emerge and this type of introduction helps in their understanding of other works on display and encourages many to return time and time again.
The programme itself reflects a wide variety of materials, techniques and approaches which can be absorbed by a visitor on whatever level they wish via catalogues, tours, workshops or education packs. Thoughtful siting is essential to emphasise the inherent structure, colour and texture of the pieces and relate them to their particular surroundings so that attention is focused not only on the sculpture but on the landscape as well. We aim to establish a dialogue between the work, the landscape, other pieces and the sky these elements are carefully ‘choreographed’ to produce an optimum viewing position.
Another important ingredient when planning a display is the discovery of sculpture in the landscape. It may be found in the undergrowth or in the root system of a tree–wherever least expected strategies which we incorporate to keep our audience on its visual toes so that nothing is taken for granted. This idea has also been used by artists working in the Park who have literally camouflaged their sculpture to surprise the unsuspecting.
Our commitment to access is also being extended by the design of a trail for particular use by blind, partially sighted and disabled visitors. This project, integrating art and nature, will be a totally sensory environment providing stimulation through colour, form, texture, perfume and the sound of water and wind, presenting an ever-changing dynamic but sheltered and secure area for the disabled as well as the able bodied.
As a gallery without walls we are open throughout the year so that visitors can witness how different sculpture will look as the landscape changes. One needs space and time to appreciate sculpture properly and the elements demand a commitment quite distinct from that of dropping in on a conventional gallery. Indeed many visitors are attracted to the YSP who would not otherwise frequent galleries and, whatever the weather, there will be visitors!
Siting sculpture out of doors always carries a risk but it can be calculated and problems associated with vandalism may be minimised if artists and administrators share the responsibility for creating a receptive climate. This means taking the context for siting as seriously as the sculpture–understanding how the space is used, the motives for introducing sculpture and considering the long as well as short-term implications of that.
We have demonstrated that it is possible to attract strong support and change attitudes which has given others the confidence to develop initiatives elsewhere. However, there is no room for complacency as success is due to hard work and persistence together with a strong educational philosophy which underpins all our work.
Last year over 200,000 visitors from all parts of Britain and abroad spent many pleasurable hours at the YSP. Currently we are working towards a building development which will provide indoor facilities to further enhance our public service. The future is full of great potential because not only have we demonstrated that sculpture can be a popular cultural resource but that it is of benefit to the community both socially and economically.