Every year Chatsworth hosts a sculpture exhibition. It is part of a clever marketing strategy to make a tourist destination right the way through to Christmas. After the summer holidays there is the sculptures, then Lumiere evenings where the house and gardens are lit up and music accompanies the visitor and then the fabulous Christmas themed decorations through the house are a great way to wind down into a family Christmas.
I love sculpture and went to see the Sotheby’s Beyond Limits show this year. There are 22 sculptures set in the acres of beautiful gardens and they are going to be auctioned off afterwards. Admission isn’t cheap – parking is £3 and the access to the gardens alone is £12 for adults. They are stunningly beautiful gardens though, with lots of little vistas and distinct regions. I’ve been a few times and is still find something I’ve not seen before. The seems to have had some obvious primping this year with gilt window frames and carvings.
It is a wonderful landscape to show sculpture and in there are plenty of places to choose to optimise the display. We followed the recommended route which begins immediately at the entrance with a large slightly abstract reclining nude near to the coffee shop. You can’t touch the sculptures but this one looks very tactile with limbs of smooth torpedo like stone.
We walked up by the Orangery to see Lovebomb – a large stencil of colourful orchids. This was my least favourite piece. One of the things about the exhibition is that everyone has opinion and we overheard, and joined in, lots of conversations and critiques as we went round. In the Rose garden Silk Weaver by Lori Park is a life size graceful figure with a wire frame torso atop a flowing powder blue gown. This is the first of the pieces which is really complemented by the landscape – the geometry of pillars and rose beds is made for photography and drawing the eye into the colourful figure.
The famous cascade had a nude by Aristide Maillol. Reading the blurb it depicts a figure being buffeted by the tide and so the location on the cascade was as good as you can get in the grounds. A sculpture called Wingblade by Eilis O’Connell was an abstract form using the materials used in aerospace and yacht manufacture. It was a curved blade/wing shape but it didn’t really work for me in this setting.
One of the most beautiful parts of the Chatsworth gardens are the areas of ponds and rocks and at Strid Pond was a giant conch shell by Marc Quinn called Bermuda Triangle. It was a magnified sculpture of a real shell, digitised and blown up. The detail was therefore convincing and the polished bronze round the lip of the shell was striking. This was echoed by Bill Woodrow’s Rockswarm which depicted a swarm of bees gathering on a rock. On a gloomy day the shining finish looked great. By the Strid Pond, surrounded by reeds and rocks was Lynn Chadwick’s Couple On Seat – two abstract angular figures, one male, one female, sitting looking out over a peaceful lake. This was a fantastic setting for it.
By the canal pond were Phillip King’s Slant and Norbert Kricke’s Raumplastik Grosse. Kricke’s was like a giant unfolded paper clip in steel. King’s looked like pieces of the bucket for a digger. Neither had grace for me and Slant was looking a bit of a mess after visits from pigeons and ducks. Favourites in this area were Christopher Le abrun’s Maro which was a classically-influenced Wing reaching upward and echoing the great fountain. It was carved out of gorgeous striated marble. At the end of the Canal Pond is Alice Aycock’s Hoop-La – an exploded spiral of white curves which frames Chatsworth House beautifully. Even on a grey day it looks magnificent and it made me wonder what sort of lives the eventual buyers of these works must lead.
Allies by Lawrence Holofcener depicts a jokey conversation between Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt on a bench. You felt like you had stumbled across a smoking break as the two men had walked away to get a break from some political negotiations.
On the lawn in front of the house is Xu Bing’s Tao Hua Yuan: A Lost Village Utopia. This is arranged in a circle runs the pond on the South Lawn. From a distance it looks like a wreath of standing stones and cherry blossom but up close you see a whole new world. The stones look almost artificial but they are real stones representing different regions of China. The bonsai plants are fake, with artificial flowers on. In amongst are hundreds of pieces of pottery arranged in little farms, remote cottages, a karma sutra (yes really), gulls hanging on to cliffs and groups of cats. It is fascinating – the large work boils down into little tableaux. There is a mist system in place but it wasn’t working when we were there but I can imagine it adds to the atmosphere. The arrangement is for small groups to be allowed on to the lawn at a time so that you can see up close but there is obviously a concern that parts could go missing so everyone says together under close supervision.
All in all this was a terrific day out and a real surprise at this time of year. We plan to revisit for the Lumiere when the nights draw in a little.