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Robin Powell: How to make a successful sculpture garden

Most sculpture gardens would be more honestly called sculpture parks. The sculpture may be outside but the setting is merely the outdoor version of a white cube gallery; there’s no connection between artwork and garden. That’s not the case at Jupiter Artland, a sculpture garden in West Lothian, 45 minutes south of the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. Here the artwork is in fascinating dialogue with landscape and garden.

Nicky and Robert Wilson bought Bonnington Manor, a Jacobean manor house set in a 100-acre estate in 1999. Robert was envisioning an 18th-century style hunting park, but Nicky had other ideas. Trained as an artist, and inspired by the nearby creations of artist-gardeners Ian Hamilton Finlay at Little Sparta and Charles Jencks at The Garden of Cosmic Speculation near Dumfries, her idea was to devote the property to art, by commissioning sculptors to make site-specific works.

Along every path through the artfully gardened woods is another surprise.

Along every path through the artfully gardened woods is another surprise.Credit:Robin Powell

The first commission went to Charles Jencks, who makes landform art on a massive and deeply intellectual scale. His own garden traces the development of the universe since the Big Bang, outlines ideas about fractal geometry, celebrates DNA, and considers the possibility of time travel. It is also surprisingly restful and beautiful. Jencks’ work at Jupiter Artland, Life Mounds, is part of the arrival. The roadway snakes through its series of perfectly turfed hillocks and curving reflective pools. The forms are based on human cells, with a nucleus at their peak, but you don’t have to think about how human life is embedded in the land to feel a spiritual connection as you walk the paths through the work.

The Jencks piece took five years to construct, and while it was under way the Wilsons approached other artists. Antony Gormley sited one of his giant figures, as if just fallen to earth, in a clearing framed by oaks. Andy Goldsworthy was struck by how close the bedrock is to the soil surface in some parts of the estate. He exposed the rock and had a cottage built over it. From the outside Stone House is a typical stone bothy, albeit beautifully crafted by Shetland Island stone workers, but inside, nature appears to be overtaking domesticity from the ground up, with the uneven surface of the rock, unnervingly and dimly lit by one small window.

At Jupiter Artland, the artwork is in fascinating dialogue with landscape and garden.

At Jupiter Artland, the artwork is in fascinating dialogue with landscape and garden.Credit:Robin Powell

Along every path through the artfully gardened woods is another surprise, an artwork deeply engaged with our connection to the natural world through both its content and its placement, making Jupiter Artland one of the world’s true sculpture gardens. It’s also a who’s who of contemporary sculpture with works by Anish Kapoor, Phyllida Barlow, Anya Gallacio and a host of others. The name of the garden, incidentally, refers to the Roman god of creation and also to the planet. The Wilsons plan to set further art projects and installations into orbit around Jupiter.

Jupiter Artland is open 10am-5pm from May 18 to September 30.

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