Kimsooja: A Needle Woman: Galazy was a Memory, Earth is a Souvenir.
When my husband Peter and I discussed moving back to Yorkshire from Berkshire last August (happy Yorkshire anniversary to us!), one of the pros, alongside being close to my folks, was the fact we would still have access to arts and culture on our doorstep despite no longer being close to London.
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park with its glorious 500 acres of Yorkshire countryside is a case in point. There is woodland, lakes, historic follies, parkland, gardens, six galleries and an 18th Century Chapel on-site and more than 80 artworks by world famous artists like Ai Weiwei, Barbara Hepworth and Antony Gormley, all in the Park’s permanent collection.
Having returned to the YSP several times since our move back is reassuring. It never fails to reaffirm in its own quiet, unknowing way, that we made the right decision.
Everything we love about life can be found in glorious Yorkshire, and on a more granual level, right there at the YSP merging our love of the outdoors with family time and thought-provoking art.
You can literally feel your shoulders drop as you take in the view.
Henry Moore: Large Spindle Piece (1968, cast. c. 1974)
The primary purpose of our visit this time was to view renowned Austrian artist Erwin Wurm’s first UK museum exhibition ‘Trap of the Truth’ and it did not disappoint.
Thanks to the layout of this sprawling park, wherever you’re headed, you’ll pass a wealth of artists’ spectactular and often surprising sculptures on your way.
No visit to the YSP is ever the same due to the sheer size of the park and ever-changing exhibits.
We also enjoyed lunch at The Weston Restaurant for seasonal fare. But more of all of that to follow…
First, let’s rewind and start from the start!
Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE (Red Blue Green)-1966-1998 welcomed us in at the entrance, setting the tone for our visit because it’s hard not to the love the YSP.
What I value most about visits there, is that you’re so often allowed and even encouraged to get up close and personal with the pieces: to touch, climb and engage with the vast works of art, making the YSP the perfect place for both little and big kids (as well as sheep) alike.
We weren’t allowed to climb this one but loved, loved, loved LOVE.
Robert Indiana’s LOVE (Red Blue Green)-1966-1998
It’s a bold reminder of what matters, right?
Speaking of love, we fell head over heels for the sweet bunnies and fluffy sheep roaming around the park (Highland cattle share the space with these sculptures).
My toddler Florence even sung Cocomelon’s ‘Hop little bunny, hop, hop, hop’ to this darling rabbit below.
Fittingly, she wore her gifted, bespoke Little Lamb Store cardigan for the occasion (and without us knowing we’d be making woolly friends, either).
What a treat to walk alongside these timid beauties.
Seeing them co exist with the sculptures is a special kind of magic.
The scale, attention to detail and sheer beauty of the pieces make you stop in wonder. You’re forced to be present on your visit, to put your phone away and observe. Witnessing art is an act of mindfulness in my opinion.
I think its why I always leave the YSP so inspired.
Now, let’s head off on a tour of some of the dazzling sculptures we spotted.
Below are two of Damien Hirst’s sculptures Charity (2002) and The Virgin Mother (2005-6).
Charity references the charity Scopes’ collection boxes used to fundraise on the high street in the 60s and 70s but his version is vandalised, questioning both the outdated practises of charity and the way disability was viewed historically, with the repetition of a single female as its symbol.
I bored the family with stories of my time as a BA and MA student at Goldsmiths, University of London where Damien Hirst and other YBAs studied before me.
I often spotted Hirst on campus as he often worked from the Uni many years after graduating.
Our Student Union even (bravely) had Hirst’s artwork on its walls.
But back to reality and two decades later as a (creative) mum of three which leads me perfectly onto Hirst’s magnificent The Virgin Mother?
The reverse of this photo shows the mother’s cross section with her featus visible within.
Inspired by Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1878-1881, I felt it paid respect to the magnitude of creating life. The colossal feat it takes to be pregnant and give life.
On our walk, we were equally mesmorised by the beauty of Jaume Plensa’s Wilsis (2016).
YSP’s website reads, ‘Although monumental in size at over 7 metres high, this sculpture depicts a normal girl, rather than immortalising a traditionally extraordinary or powerful person. Plensa chooses to celebrate the potential in all of us, and the beauty in the everyday. Wilsis belongs to a series of cast iron portrait heads that depict real girls: from many different places around the world, they suggest possibilities for unity across divides. In their youth they represent hopefulness for the future’.
From highly-acclaimed North American artist Daniel Arsham’s Relics in the Landscape is this Bronze Eroded Venus of Arles (large) 2022-his retelling of the ancient marble statue of Aphrodite from the 1st century BCE.
Being originally Greek, I was transfixed by Daniel’s interpretation of the goddess of love. I’ve visited Aphrodite’s Rock, her birthplace in Cyprus (my parents’ own birthplace too), witnessing the crashing turquoise, foaming waters she is believed to have risen from which Arsham’s sculpture captures so perfectly in both its colour and form.
Next up is this iridescent conical tower by Kimsooja titled A Needle Woman: Galaxy was a Memory, Earth is a Souvenir (2014) developed in collaboration with scientists at Cornell University which catches the light creating a blue, pink and purple shimmer reminiscent of butterfly wings, a beetle’s shell or those quaint kaleidescope toys my toddler loves to play with.
Florence wears gifted bespoke denim jacked by The Little Lamb Store.
The YSP website reads, ‘a mirrored floor inside the structure makes it appear simultaneously to extend deep into the earth as well as souring into the sky, making the work feel very dynamic, as though it harnesses and channels the energy around it. The work is a reflection on our human bodies standing still in the present moment, and our relationship to the wider universe beyond, extending into time and space’.
Now to the main event.
Having opened in June, Trap of the Truth features more than 100 works by Erwin Wurm including 55 sculptures indoors, 19 sculptures in the landscape as well as paintings, photographs, videos and drawings created over 30 years of the artist’s career.
Over three decades, Erwin has challenged the rules of sculpture, the limitations of the human body, and its relationship to the spaces we inhabit.
Regularly personifying commonplace objects, my children delighted in the themes they embodied and how huge they (plus the fact most sculptures were wearing trainers)!.
Introducing us to Wurm’s philosophical contemplation, the exhibition title Trap of the Truth refers to the thinking of influential 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes, who set out to interrogate the subjectivity of truth. This questioning of reality is immortalised in the phrase ‘I think, therefore I am’.
Below are just some of the collection we got around to photographing (due to an overtired toddler) which include the five-metre-tall, pastel blue Big Step (2021), which takes the form of much sought-after and eye-wateringly expensive Hermès Birkin bag, a token of wealth and status, brought to life with long booted legs appearing to be walking purposefully (no doubt to shop, shop, shop darling).
A comment on our obsession with premium items, personifying the bag is a smart observation on how we can so often let our acquisitions ‘become us’.
Big Kastenmann (2012), below which translates as ‘big box man,’ stands at five metres tall, with a large box for a torso wearing a formal pink and grey suit jacket.
Absurd and playful, as with most of Wurm’s sculptures, this is cartoon-like and appears to question the value we place on formal wear such as suits, shirts and briefcases as symbols of success and wealth.
Following in the same quirky style and tone is Big Disobedience (2016) or ‘the dancing men’ as my tween called them! City boys who’ve left the office for the evening and are letting loose!
And these billowing, dynamic aluminium sculptures: Right Arm Lift (2021), Gate (2021) and Lars, Arm Lifted (2022) appear to be swaying in the wind (whatever the weather). Alexander said it reminded him of PE and the stretching they do at the start of each lesson.
Below is Big Mutter (2015), a bright orange ‘walking’ hot water bottle which delighted us. We could all do with a hot bottle this large now we’ve moved up north and its 6 degrees colder than Windsor! Ha!
The German Couch (2021), an exquisite sculpture of a Mercedes-Benz W123 fascinated Florence who climbed onto its silver, intentionally uneven and bumpy but foil-like shiny surface.
Where else can you engage with the sculptures as the artist would?
More art followed but in the kitchen this time (!) with a trip to The Weston Restaurant and a spot of seasonal, local and delicious Yorkshire grub with hearty tomato soup, crispy fish cakes, sweet fruit and chocolate tartes, creamy brownies and packed lunches filled with cheese and ham sandwiches, crisps and apples for the littler kids. There’s literally something for everyone there.
We managed another quick walk slash roll around after all that food before we lost the light and needed to make our way home.
Below are a few real life sculptures I made myself in my two youngest kids ;)!
My eldest wasn’t up to photos (something about needing a haircut) but he, like we, wholeheartedly relished the fresh air, tasty food, fluffy sheep and mesmorising sculptures.
I highly recommend a visit.
(Florence’s gorgeous bespoke denim jacket is another kind gift from the Little Lamb Store).
I’ll end with some inspiring words from Erwin Wurm himself, I must remember as I embark as some new creative projects,
‘At some point I came to realise that everything surrounding me can be material for an artistic work, absolutely everything. To begin with,
because I had no money and worked relatively quickly, I used scraps of wood and cans. Then I used old clothing, which did not cost anything,
before ultimately realising that I could actually use anything around me. That was the decisive step, as then anything was possible.’
Wurm’s exhibition is on until 28 April 2024.
YSP’s summer programme for families is called ‘Curiosity & Wonder’ (15 July – 2 Sept), a series of events themed around the importance of creativity and play. It spans everything from sculpting in clay and wax, live painting and a family rave, to a Roger Hiorns sculpture that emits vast bubbles of foam.
Buy my bestselling book in paperback or audio
My debut book is my guide to surviving and thriving at work and at home and offers insight into how to create a digital business or return to work with confidence.
Mumboss: The Honest Mum's Guide to Surviving and Thriving at Work and at Home (UK 2nd Edition)