by ANTONY CLAY
THERE is a busy year ahead for one of the country’s more unusual art galleries.
A new visitor centre, exciting new exhibitions and being part of an international initiative are set to make 2019 one to remember.
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park at West Bretton near Wakefield is part of the ‘Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle’ which also incorporates the Henry Moore Institute and Leeds Art Gallery in Leeds city centre and The Hepworth in Wakefield.
Over the years since it began life as an exhibition at the old Bretton Hall College, the Park has grown in popularity with the general public, art fans and artists.
It currently attracts a staggering 480,000 visitors a year and is a place which many local Yorkshire folk have taken to their heart.
Located on the 500-acre, 18th-century Bretton Hall estate, the sculpture park was founded in 1977 by executive director Peter Murray.
The venue is free to enter (though you have to pay for parking) and has an array of exhibitions both outdoors and indoors.
There was a furore when the idea of putting sculptures into the estate was mooted in the 1970s but nowadays the Park is much loved and respected.
It is, according to curator Sarah Coulson, an art venue that is not elitist and is genuinely open to all.
“The thing is that often when people go to art galleries the venues are seen as being unwelcoming and intimidating but I think one of the things about the Sculpture Park is the whole ethos of this place has been to make it accessible,” said Sarah.
“It’s not just about art but having 500 acres open to everyone.
“You can enjoy everything we do for nothing and can enjoy the freedom of the open air at your own pace, and it is safe and welcoming.
“We have a big core following of repeat visitors but we also have visitors from all over the world.
“No one is more important than anyone else here. There is no sense of hierarchy.”
Sarah said that at the Sculpture Park visitors can get a sense of being part of the landscape and nature.
She added: “We have people who come here to walk their dogs or for a particular exhibition or people who want to see the historic buildings or enjoy walks in nature.
“People who walk here are slowly introduced to sculpture. People who come regularly can form an appreciation of sculpture.
“You can get a really amazing relationship with the sculptures.”
It is true that there are very few places in the country where you can come across a Henry Moore masterpiece by chance, for example, and seeing pieces of work out in the open can be an education. They can be seen to change in different lights, seasons and weather conditions, metamorphosing like living things even though they are static stone or metal.
Visitors can also have a relationship with indoor works. South Korean artist Kimsooja’s To Breathe exhibition at the Chapel in the Sculpture Park, which runs from March 30 to September 29, will offer people the chance to almost become part of the artwork thanks to mirror panels on the floor and specialist window film which will create a colourful environment that will be truly immersive for those experiencing it.
“Sculpture can be many different things. It’s not just about objects, it’s about experiences,” said Sarah.
New visitor centre The Weston, erected to help cope with the increasing numbers of people coming to the park, will open on March 29.
The new building will feature a new exhibition by Indian artists Thukral and Tagra from March 30 to September 1.
An exhibition showing work by the influential sculptor David Smith is another highlight for this year. A major figure in 20th Century sculpture, the exhibition will feature pieces from Smith collections across the world and is set to grab international attention.
The Smith exhibition will be held from June 22 until January 5 2020.
As if all this was not enough, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is part of the inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International 2019 event with the Henry Moore Insititute, Leeds Art Gallery and The Hepworth which will run from June 22 to September 29.
Sarah said: “It really is something special when over a very small geographical area there are four institutions of such high calibre. The strength and depth around sculpture in this region is something to shout about and be proud of.
“Though we often work closely with them, this is the first time we have come together for a joint event.”
There will be public events and a programme of activities to engage the public in sculpture, including partnering with schools and local artists.
Indeed the Yorkshire Sculpture Park makes a point of taking its work out into the community throughout the year, including working with schools and supporting up-and-coming artists. It even has a wellbeing officer who works with over-65s, vulnerable women and others.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park has also held exhibitions all over the world, recently in Venice and Kiev for example.
Sarah said that the Sculpture Park does “a huge amount of work with schools” through educational visits and outreach projects which she hoped is “showing people that art is a viable career choice”.
She added: “We need creative people. This country has always been known for its creative people, Culture brings in a lot of money for this country.”
She said that art also gets across important social messages, encouraging people to think about issues. A recent exhibition looked at protest, for instance.
“We try and look at quite broad themes. We look at home and belonging. We have had a number of exhibitions about these issues, asking people to question about their own lives,” said Sarah.
“It’s a good way to start conversations.
“Increasingly, museums and galleries have got this social role.
“We try and do a lot of good here and not be an elitist organisation.”
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park has worked with the likes of sculptor Henry Moore over the years, and recently collaborated with poet Simon Armitage who created a collection, Flit, inspired by the place which Sarah worked with him on.
But Sarah said that every time a new artist chooses to have his or her work displayed it helps bring a new perspective to the Park.
“Every time a new artist comes here they bring a new insight. It’s
like you see it afresh all over again,” said Sarah.
“Generally artists are delighted to have their work here.”
So what next for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park? How will it look in a decade’s time? Sarah said that that was difficult to predict, since the Park had changed so much in recent years.
She said: “I imagine there will be more developments as this place never seems to stop moving. It has that drive.
“We never now what to expect. This place is full of surprises.The one thing we can be sure of is that the ethos will still be the same. Visitors will still be at the heart of everything we do.”