As it celebrates its 10th anniversary, JEAN WEST discovers exactly why Jupiter Artland sculpture park holds such a power of attraction
THE ROAD to Jupiter Artland is painted bright with summer. Surrounding fields are shot aglow with yellow rapeseed, woodlands chime a darker tone of bluebell and forget-me-not, and serene green fields cloak my view into the far distance.
A majestic swan sticks its sizeable derriere skywards, foraging beneath the water for food in a pond which is part of Cells of Life, Charles Jencks’ grassy offering, that cuts into the banks of the driveway. A decade after this sculpture park par excellence opened its doors to the public, it is still encouraging unusual posturing and not just from a swan with its bum in the air.
At Jupiter Artland, where controversial artist, Joana Vasconcelos and acclaimed sculptor, Phyllida Barlow, have set out their wares for an epic 10th anniversary summer season, the air today is languid.
Owners and art collaborators, Nicky and Robert Wilson and their family, remain sanguine about their decision to open the doors of their 120-acre bucolic haven, to artists ranging from Anish Kapoor, Marc Quinn and Pablo Bronstein, to Nathan Coley, Andy Goldsworthy and Antony Gormley. All have explored its natural canvas to stellar effect.
But the philanthropic couple, who live on site with their family in an impressive 17th century Jacobean pile and embrace sharing summer with 80,000 annual guests, are not resting on any laurels. Already they are augmenting an impressive CV.
Keen to extend the feeling of belonging in the sometimes exclusive world of art to children and a broader audience they offer free and subsidised visits to every schoolchild, university and community education student in Scotland.
They also have plans afoot to raise money for a Jupiter Artland Learning Bus to transport schools and groups to the venue (www.jupiterartland.org/support-us/learning-bus).
With a further flex of their outreach muscle they have established a formidable digital programme and app to continue to promote their work. Pay What You Want Mondays is also proving popular and a series of talks scheduled for balmy summer evenings, including a Portuguese night of mournful Fado to celebrate Vasoncelos’ homeland, and a camp-out with live music, performance DJs, a walk-in wardrobe, cocktails, cake and more, keep the Bohemian blood pumping to its furthest extremities.
On top of that in July a book publication and launch charting Jupiter Artland’s meteoric rise over the years is also penned in.
I wander through the art walk, past the colourful Jim Lambie’s ‘A Forest’, where his trademark stripes of colour peep out from peeled back chrome mirrors, reflecting the morphing, distorted woodland, and lie beneath Anthony Gormley’s ‘Firmament’, a steel, skewed polygon, inspired by an old map of the stars, ‘a drawing in space,’ addressing the sky and contemplating the freedom of this place.
Jupiter’s ethereal other-worldliness is showcased to phenomenal effect on this rare day for all of its wild and manmade extraordinariness. A brutish winter has been left far behind and each of the 33 permanent site-specific works basks in the morning glow. I can’t be the first to observe how their presence somehow amplifies the natural surroundings. They almost make each other more vivid.
Stepping into the sun-dappled forest I land in ‘Quarry’ with all its brutal, towering, menace. It is this year’s permanent installation from acclaimed artist, Phyllida Barlow, who alike with Vasconcelos, has won her Venice Biennale stripes.
A group of students and a guide are occupying the space, which looks like some ancient/modern ceremonial circle the Mayans might have constructed brought up to date with building site realism. It comes complete with a mountainous flight of ruined steps that might be used for bouldering if mounting the sculptures were allowed.
The work, wrought of industrial-looking concrete, which on closer inspection is, in part at least, fibreglass, makes huge lenses into the sky, competing with the woodland beech and oak neighbours. The lightness of some of the materials gives it a film set wonder, like props from Jurassic Park. The guide explains that Barlow doesn’t like people touching them, which is apparently contrary to the ethos of Jupiter.
Nicky Wilson was a student of Barlow’s when she taught at Slade School of Art, where she now holds the position of Emerita Professor of Fine Art, and helped nurture successful careers for amongst others Turner-prize-winning Rachel Whiteread. Like all of the sculptures at Jupiter the essence of ‘Quarry’ is influenced by the elements.
Barlow, 74, who found herself in later life one of Britain’s most esteemed sculptors, was keen to encourage visitors to look up and explore the treetops. In executing the work she determined not to be intimidated by nature.
The celebrated artist, Joana Vasconcelos’ work has long generated discussion. ‘The Bride’, a candelabra made entirely from white tampons, underlined her feminist stance, but didn’t make it to a 2012 exhibition in the Palace of Versailles. It was deemed inappropriate.
The less loaded Mary Poppins assemblage instead brought fun, lots of knitting, ornaments, other textiles and a tentacled angelic spirit to the revered former residence of Marie Antoinette.
Here at Jupiter Artland, Vasconcelos, born in France and living in Portugal, where her studio employs a staff of 50, has delivered that keen sense of play. In a solo exhibition entitled ‘Gateway’ that runs until September, she has brought her familiar and surreal knitted/textile bug-like assemblages, alongside two other sculptures made up from household items all referencing her socio-political themes that embrace immigration and gender violence.
I watch a grandfather take a child to sit in the wrought iron teapot she has brought to the garden outside the funky Café Party. It’s a scene straight out of Alice in Wonderland. A mighty stiletto entitled ‘Carmen Miranda’ made from kitchen pans, strides across another piece of lawn in the Ballroom Garden.
Next year she has been commissioned to create a swimming pool lined with the traditional Portuguese azulejo tiles that date back to Moorish invasion and are plastered on buildings across the country.
All of this industry continues to shape Jupiter Artland into the art treasure it has become. Says Ms Wilson: “Ten years is a landmark moment and a huge milestone for everyone at Jupiter and our family. We are absolutely delighted to be marking our tenth year with such an ambitious artistic programme.
“Artists and visitors often comment that Jupiter is a unique and special place and it has been our pleasure to dedicate ourselves to creating a space where contemporary art and sculpture can be enjoyed beyond the gallery walls.
“A sense of discovery is central to the experience and visitors are encouraged to explore the sculpture that responds to the landscape around us.”
It’s hard sometimes to remember that we aren’t in Barcelona or Bilbao. This is West Lothian, where the climate even at this time of year, can be unforgiving. The Wilsons took a mighty a gamble with their artistic dream. They held tight the reins and managed to magnetise visitors from near and far, garnering award nominations on the way. Close proximity to the airport has no doubt assisted the venture.
I take a cup of tea and rest, not on a cafe stool but beneath a stone wall under a heavy tree, contemplating this little paradise, and all its jewels, like a bag of exotic sweets I’d rather not share. Then I wander to the bus, inspired and lifted by a place where every difference and eccentricity is positively exalted.