Beijing, 15 June 2014

My wife and I were watching TV with one eye the other day when the BBC passed a programme which caught our attention. It was about the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in the north of England. I think a few words of explanation are required for those readers who have never heard of this Park (our situation before watching the BBC programme). It was established back in 1977 in the grounds of a stately home the last of whose aristocratic owners (Viscount Allendale) had sold it to the local council after World War II, no doubt to save his financial skin (I mentioned the financial woes of the UK’s stately homes in an earlier posting of mine). The idea is a simple one: rather than displaying modern sculpture in open spaces in cities like plazas
sculpture in cities-1

sculpture in cities-2

or squares

sculpture in cities-3

sculpture in cities-4

or using the atriums of posh buildings

sculpture in cities-6

use the sweeping, open vistas of the countryside to display them. Here are some of the pieces at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park:




My wife and I agree on many things, and one of them is that modern sculptures are enhanced by being seen in a natural, organic setting rather than in the built urban environment. Personally, I think it has to do with the contrast between the dead surfaces of the sculptures and the much softer, living surfaces of the surrounding landscapes. It sounds a bit fancy, but the dead sculpture comes alive when in contact with organic life.

This was brought home to us very strongly when, 25 years ago, and on the advice of a friend who worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we visited the Storm King Art Centre, which is an hour’s drive north of New York City, near the Hudson River. Here again, a few words of introduction. It’s really the classic American story (as much as the history of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is the classic British story of modern times – decay of the old order and birth of a new one). A certain Mr. Ogden, after a successful career in the family business, purchased the land and property of Storm King and started collecting. He initially bought small sculptures which he exhibited around the house. At some point, he expanded out into the surrounding landscape, installing much bigger pieces. That’s it, in a nutshell. But the result – for us at least – was epiphanic.

In wonder we wandered along the rides mown through the grass, walking from one towering sculpture to another



from hilltops, we discovered long views across the surrounding landscape, where sculpture and land merged into one


we walked through glades in the woods, each with their own sculpture



we entered the woods to find smaller, more intimate sculptures scattered under the trees



we also found a sculpture-wall meandering through them


(better seen in this photo taken during the winter)


we turned our steps back to the house, discovering other smaller sculptures set down in more formal gardens around the house.



And finally, we entered the house and fell upon a sculpture which in all these years I have never forgotten: a group of robotic-looking statues with small motors making their jaws work up and down and with a closed-loop recording of voices quietly droning “chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter …” on and on, endlessly. Wonderful.  Every time I find myself in one of those meetings where people blather on and on and on I recall this statue group with intense clarity.

So taken were we with Storm King that the very first time we went back to New York after an absence of fifteen years we made sure to find time to go up there. It cast the same spell over us – although sadly the chattering statues had vanished (smashed to smithereens, no doubt, by an employee crazed by their endless droning).

As I contemplate these photos, it occurs to me that many of the megalithic structures scattered across the face of Europe could pass as modern sculptures set down in the surrounding landscape. Stonehenge, the most iconic of all megalithic structures, is probably too much like a ruin to make this comparison
but Avebury, like Stonehenge located in Wiltshire, has something of the abstraction of sculpture parks



and how about Carnac, in Brittany?

or Badelunda in Sweden?

Badelunda Västmanland

or the Ring of Brodgar, in the Orkney islands?

Ring of Brodgar

And even further afield, although not from the Mesolithic period, we have this intimate collection of upright stones in Toraja, Indonesia


Of course, the people who built these structures were not building sculpture parks, but I have to think that they too were stirred by the same feeling of connectedness between their standing stones and nature as we have between sculpture and nature. They attributed this feeling to a divine grace in the place, we simply enjoy the feeling.


Sculpture in cities-1: [in
Sculptures in cities-2: [in
Sculpture in cities-3:,%20central%20London%20The%20work%20by%20sculptor%20Bill%20Woodrow,%20entitled%20%27Regardless%20of%20History%27,%20%20shows%20a%20tree%20resting%20on%20a%20head%20and%20a%20book [in
Sculpture in cities-4: [in—around-town—beaubourg-and-les-halles-%28part-1%29.aspx%5D
Sculpture in cities-5: [in
YSP-1: [in
YSP-2: [in
YSP-3: [in
YSP-4: [in
YSP-5: [in
YSP-6: [in
YSP-7: [in
SK-1: [in
SK-2: [in
SK-3: [in
SK-4: [in
SK-5: [in
SK-6: [in
SK-7: [in
SK-8: [in
SK-9: [in
SK-10: [in
SK-11: [in
Stonehenge: [in
Avebury-1:,_Wiltshire,_UK_-_Diliff.jpg [in
Avebury-2:,_West_Kennet_Avenue,_Wiltshire,_UK_-_Diliff.jpg [in
Carnac-1: [in
Carnac-2: [in
Badelunda, Sweden: [in
Ring of Brodgar, Orkney: [in
Toraja, Indonesia: [in

Published by


I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.