What You Need To Know About Yorkshire Sculpture International
God’s Own County—well, one of the regions of the world that claim that appealing appellation—is in danger of becoming rather smug. It already has more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere in the UK outside of London, ivy-covered medieval pubs, castles to rival the fanciest French chateaux, windswept dales and a coast as spectacular as the shores of any Scandinavian archipelago. And now it’s building an enviable reputation as a cultural hotspot.
Anyone flying to Europe this summer should consider swapping yet another week in Saint Tropez for a holiday in England’s wildest county, Yorkshire. There they will find mouth-watering meals galore and hikes through the dales and glens that were brought to life by the Brontë sisters—and now they will also have the chance to mosey around one of the most culturally important festivals to land on British soil in decades, Yorkshire Sculpture International (YSI).
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A 200-hectare haven
The UK’s largest event dedicated to celebrating sculpture, the inaugural YSI runs for 100 days from June 22 in Yorkshire’s “sculpture triangle,” which encompasses the Henry Moore Institute, the Hepworth Wakefield art museum, the Leeds Art Gallery and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. As well as showcasing contemporary sculpture, it will illustrate how “blimmin’ great” Yorkshire is.
The sculpture park alone makes the long-haul flight worth it. With 200 hectares of fields, formal gardens, woodland, overgrown flowerbeds and lakes, it is an extraordinary place where woolly sheep wander freely among Henry Moore bronzes, and highland cattle and fallow deer rub their flanks against Barbara Hepworth statues.
Founded in 1977, the park has grown over the years to absorb nearby farms and the grounds of the aristocratic Bretton Hall, an 18th-century Palladian mansion near Wakefield.
Celebrating UK's finest
Wakefield itself is home to one of the world’s great art institutions, the Hepworth, which won the prestigious Art Fund Museum of the Year prize in 2017 for the quality of its exhibitions, impressive visitor numbers and hotly contested sculpture award. Housed in a David Chipperfield-designed building on the banks of Calder, it is named after Wakefield’s most famous daughter, the sculptor Barbara Hepworth.
The art, food and fresh air of Yorkshire have long made the county an escape for Londoners (just three hours by train), and now the festival is set to draw culture vultures from around the globe.
The sculptors to be exhibited are seriously celebrated names: the UK’s Damien Hirst will be showing at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, as will David Smith from the US; Turkey’s Ayse Erkmen will be at the Leeds Art Gallery; Pakistani-American Huma Bhabha will present her first UK public commission in Wakefield; and Lebanon’s Tarek Atoui will display a series of pieces on the road between Leeds and Wakefield.
The ethos of another of the exhibitors, British sculptor Phyllida Barlow, permeates the entire festival. “Sculpture is the most anthropological of the artforms,” she once said, and the creators of the festival want to highlight that sentiment by focusing on the fact that we all share a basic human impulse to make and connect with objects. Alongside that, they ask what role sculpture—which dates back to the Neolithic era—will play as the art world adapts to the technological revolution.
Yorkshire’s relationship with sculpture is no summer fling. The county has a rich history as the birthplace of pioneering sculptors, including Hepworth and Moore. Bathed in the gentle English sun, the sculpture gardens of Yorkshire are a wonderful combination of creatively abandoned and meticulously planned.
And when a festival this hotly anticipated comes to town, the artform looks more seductive than ever.
Yorkshire Sculpture International runs from June 22 until September 29.
See also: Tatler Travel News: June 2019