Visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park

1 June 2016

Yorkshire Sculpture park (YSP), which opened in 1977, is a 500 acre site near Wakefield for the production, exhibition and appreciation of modern art and contemporary sculpture. 

As well as several indoor galleries, the parkland has carefully designed vistas, hosting both permanent and temporary sculpture exhibits, which include some of the leading figures of the 20th century art and sculpture; Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Joan Miro, Anthony Gormley, Magalena Abakanowicz, Elisabeth Frink, Andy Goldworthy and Jonathan Borofsky. 

Whilst visiting, I was lucky to also see major exhibitions by Not Vital (21.05.16 – 02.01.17) and KAWS (06.02.16 – 12.06.16 Longside gallery, until Dec 2016 open-air), as well as “At Home” (19.03.16 – 17.07.16) an exhibition highlighting over 40 works of home and domestic objects from 1930-2010. Also in the galleries was the major exhibition “Eduardo Paolozzi 2016” (12.03.16 – 12.06.16) whose approach is widely viewed as a precursor and driver of the British Pop Art movement. I also had the opportunity to view Roger Hiorns work “Seizure” (2008); an empty council flat (originally in Southwark) whose interior had been pumped with copper sulphate to produce a sparkling blue coating of electric blue crystals. 

With so much to see, and without the luxury of living close enough to make a return visit, I focused on visiting as many of the exhibits as possible, recording them photographically, collecting as much information as I could through boards, leaflets and official publications.  

“Ten seated figures” (2010), Magdalena Abakanowicz 

Magdalena Abakanowicz’s, sculpture, “Ten Seated Figures” was of particular interest because she was one of the artists I had researched for Assignment 4, Project 1, and consequently I knew something of the artist and the background to her work. Born in Poland in 1930, to a Polish-Russian family, her practice reflects Issues of war, post-war oppression, the concept of crowds and loss of identity.

The sculpture consists of a series of ten giant figures (less heads and arms), each seated on a bench. Although currently at the YSP, they are on loan by the artist and Galerie Scheffel, Bad Homburg, Germany (2). The period of the loan is not known. Made in 2010, the sculptures are typical of a series of works made by Abakanowicz from 1974, when she started to make seated figures, first in Burlap fabric, and later in metal. (6)

I have not been able to find out the exact dimensions for the figures, although I estimate each is between nine and ten feet tall and maybe some 4 feet in width and depth. Made from cast iron, they are positioned in a row, one iron “seat” directly alongside the next, forming a corridor along which the viewer is invited to walk. 

The fact that each sculpture is resembles the human form means there is a figurative element to the work, and because heads and arms have been omitted, this also points to it being a reflective piece. Knowing the background to Abakanowicz’s work and the themes that she likes to explore, allows me to suppose that she is representing the anonymity of the figures, and asking us to question their identity (particularly to contrast their similarities and differences). Indeed it is characteristic of Abakanowicz’s work, is that whilst each figure initially appears identical, close examination reveals that each is in fact unique, having subtle but discernible differences in surface texture and form.

In common with much of her work, I feel that these pieces are are very much concept-led. Ingot (6) has likened her work to the sculptures of Wladyslaw Hasior (which were also headless and seated), and Josef Szajna. She believes that the fragmented and multilateral body forms are metaphors for Abakanowicz’s own wartime memories (her family were subject to a Nazi assault). Further, it is readable that these sculptures explore not only the physical injuries, but a degradation of human dignity and loss of personal identity.

 

“Moon” (2015) Not Vital”

Born in 1948 in the small village of Sent on the boarders of Austria and Italy, Not Vital now lives an almost nomadic existence, choosing to divide his time between residences and studios in Sent, Beijing, Rio de Janeiro and Niger. Despite being recognised internationally as a leading sculptor, the YSP is his first major exhibition in the UK and reflects the diversity of his work including paintings, works on paper, as well as indoor and outdoor sculptures in a range of materials such as plaster, silver, gold, marble, glass and coal. His work is informed by both his rural and secluded upbringing (mountains, animals, snow, the Alpine environment), and the cultural elements derived from his travels.

Choosing one piece to discuss was extremely difficult. Although I found his outdoor sculptures the most compelling, I also particularly liked his handmade paper pieces in which he had sculpted the surface (either using his hands during manufacture, by tearing, or by embedding objects within the fibre itself – see example below from the “Laos series” (2016), frog permeating handmade paper)

 

I chose the sculpture “Moon” (2015) to discuss because I found it the most awe inspiring. It consists of a large sphere of polished metal featuring depressions or “craters” within it’s surface. The reflective qualities means that it acts a spherical mirror, both reflecting and distorting the environment around it. In the photo below I have included my 9 year old son to give an idea of the scale of the piece.

Situated on the gallery lawn of the YSP with a backdrop of clipped yew hedging, the piece reflects the horizon, sky and long lawn and path of this area of the park. Thinking back to Pointon’s remarks (3), this artwork exemplifies the importance of location and juxtapositioning because of it’s reflective surface. By comparison, a similar but smaller sculpture by Vital, “Moon” (2011) looks very different when photographed in the environment of a workshop/studio. According to Sperone Westwater’s website (4), the moon sculpture is one of a series of three. “Moon” (2015) was displayed on it’s own at the YSP.

“Moon” (2015) has a diameter for 300cm (5) and was fabricated by skilled craftsmen in China using chased steel. Each crater was made individually then welded to the main structure (1). This use of skilled artisans (whose expertise has been acquired over generations) is a central feature of Vital’s practice, and often brings positive financial benefit to the communities.

Partially materials-led, and partially conceptual, the highly polished surface and the reflections it generates seem to suggest Vital’s own way of absorbing the nuances and peculiarities of the places he visits. Reference to the moon, and the size of this sculpture make us think about it in a similar to the sun and sunset (also themes of Vital’s work), as a reliable constant in a changing world. 

 

“Small Lie” (2013) KAWS

Before visiting the sculpture park, I was only vaguely aware of KAWS large sculptures and knew nothing of the background behind the artist or his work. I didn’t have high expectations – I was anticipating a frivolous display of large, whimsical plastic characters, which at best I might have found slightly amusing. Instead, I discovered a deeply moving series of work, exploring emotion through body language (especially posture). KAWS uses the medium of pop art, cartoon characters, advertising/consumerism and the influences of American and Japanese culture to convey his ideas. 

KAWS (Brian Donnelly) is an American artist whose early work included graffiti and modifying advertising posters. The exhibition at YSP surveys sculptures made over the last ten years representing his trademark characters Companion, Chum, and Bendy, all with soft skull and cross bones and crossed out eyes.

“Small Lie” (2013) is the most massive of all the sculptures in the exhibition. At 10m high and made from Afromosia wood, the scale of the piece and beauty of the material contribute to it’s impact. The sculpture is a character, which sports the buttoned breeches, braces and gloves of the early Micky Mouse cartoons the nose of Pinocchio. It is the reference to familiar cartoons which contributes to a feeling of intimacy and association with the emotions that this sculpture conveys. It is shown with a stooped posture, it’s head hung in shame. As if despondent, a child who has been reprimanded for telling a lie, yet not quite understanding what has happened to it or what it has done. 

 

 

Undoubtably figurative, the feelings conveyed by the character make the viewer feel that it needs consoling, or comfort, yet the scale makes this seem at the same time impossible and the character somewhat distant, helpless and out of reach. This only adds to our empathy and heightens our emotional response to the piece.

Although inextricably linked with Pop art, KAWS work takes the movement on into the 21st century, by drawing on popular culture and blurring the boundaries between fashion, art and design.

It was interesting when reviewing photographs in the exhibition catalogue (7), that very different moods and interpretations could be given depending on the weather and light conditions. “Good Intentions” (2015), for example, appeared warm and comforting when photographed in bright sunlight, yet sad, subdued and almost dejected when photographed with a covering of snow.

The YSP setting was the first in which a group of several large KAWS sculptures had been shown together. The artist commented that when grouped, the sculptures “change from being a pea into something massive” (7), i.e. that interplay between them adds an extra dimension, increasing their gravitas.

By referencing popular culture, toys and consumerism, KAWS work reaches to a wide audience including children, youths and those who may not normally associate themselves with the type of art seen in galleries. In this way, by breaking down the boundaries between fine art and design/fashion/advertising/consumerism, KAWS is able to transcend high and low art and avoid elitism.

 
References:
  1. Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2016) Not Vital. Leeds. Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
  2. Yorkshire Sculpture Park [n.d.] Exhibitions: Magdalena Abakanowicz. [online]. Available from:http://www.ysp.co.uk/whats-on/open-air/magdalena-abakanowicz [Accessed 3 June 2016]
  3. Pointon, M (2014) History of Art. A student handbook. 5th Edition. London and New York. Routledge.
  4. Vital, N. (2011) Moon [stainless steel]. 150cm diameter. [online]. Available from: http://www.speronewestwater.com/artists/not-vital#8 [Accessed 3 June 2016]
  5. Vital, N. (2015) Moon [stainless steel]. 300cm diameter. [online]. Available from: https://galerieursmeile.com/artists/artists/not-vital/moon-2015/workdetail.html?cHash=c383a08ca7d09beeffea9f10f8e04ea6 [Accessed 3 June 2016]
  6. Inglot, J. (2004) The figurative sculpture of Magdalena Abakanowicz: Bodies, environments and myths. California. University of California press.
  7. Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2016) KAWS Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Wakefield. Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
 
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