The concept of a sculpture park can be traced back to ancient Greece, perhaps the most famous example being the Agora in Athens, where social, business, legal and government activities took place out of doors. While politicians and businesspeople today tend to conduct their meetings indoors (or even more recently, on Zoom), sculpture parks have prevailed in popularity as a means of consuming art alongside nature.
Whereas the stark white walls and cavernous spaces of galleries and museums allow curators to control the parameters in which art is absorbed, putting an artwork outside gives nature the power over how the viewer perceives it – varying light levels, weather patterns, seasons and surrounding flora all impact how an artwork is experienced. Prolonged exposure to the elements means the artwork itself is in a constant state of flux, ever responding to the pressures exerted by mother nature.
Often sculptors are constrained by the need to exhibit and transport their works – therefore imposing size limitations. However, when creating a sculpture destined for the outdoors, the size becomes almost irrelevant. Examples of famous oversized outdoor works include Christ the Redeemer by Paul Landowski, Man Meets The Sea by Svend Wiig Hansen and Puppy by Jeff Koons.
While many museums or even private residences may have one or a few outdoor sculptures, sculpture parks exist as places to engage with outdoor sculptures en masse. Despite its famously unpredictable climate, which poses both a challenge to the maintenance of artworks and the visitor experience, the UK boasts some excellent and varied sculpture parks.
In 2009, Robert and Nicky Wilson founded Jupiter Artland, a sculpture park measuring 100 acres adjacent to their home in Edinburgh’s outskirts. Jupiter Artland boasts a stellar collection of 30 permanent and rotating temporary sculptures by a wide variety of contemporary artists. A whimsical map leads you through the park, highlighting the artists, artworks and their stories along the way.
The breadth and variety make it nearly impossible to select a highlight, but it is Charles Jencks’ Cells of Life for many. Visitors through the forms as they enter the sculpture park and the impressive collection of perfectly manicured landforms and pristine ponds make for a striking welcome.
Equally eye-catching is the most recent acquisition: Joana Vasconcelos’ bright, geometric pool installation comprised of 11,366 hand-painted tiles, set against the backdrop of the topiary garden.
For fans of Andy Goldworthy’s minimally-invasive, nature-honouring pieces, Jupiter Artland is a goldmine with four installations. ClayTree Wall features a wall of cracked, dried clay, with a horizontal clay tree overlaid. Coppice Room is a shed with tightly packed trees inserted vertically between the floor and the ceiling. Stone Coppice is made up of boulders of various sizes, inserted in between trees that grow outwards to accommodate the interlopers. Stone House (Bonnington) appears to be a traditional stone bothy until you open the door and are confronted with a pit of excavated bedrock.
Phyllida Barlow’s Quarry perfectly exemplifies the scale that can be achieved when ceilings, doors and access need not limit an artist’s creative license. In Barlow’s signature style, the towering pieces seem to challenge the clearing – both absorbing the space and reaching up to the sky.
Jupiter Artland is committed to being a destination for all, and they have an ambitious mission to engage with every child in Scotland. They have a learning foundation that provides classes for children, free visits to schools and community groups, and resources for educators. They also run online masterclasses for adults in visual arts, cooking and gardening.
Unfortunately, for a site that exists based on art’s interaction with the natural woodland that encompasses it, Jupiter Artland is under threat from a new development proposal that will surround it with 2,000 homes. Information on what you can do to help prevent the developers from encroaching on this remarkable sculpture park can be found here.