Art and crafty28 June 2010 by Pamela Buxton
Historic homes and other visitor venues have invited artists to add their own perspective and appeal to the destinations by creating temporary installations
There are strange goings on at Tatton Park – giant red fake lily pads float in the lake, while in the kitchen plumes of wildfowl feathers erupt from the appliances. Meanwhile quirky chandeliers by acclaimed Brazilian designers the Campana Brothers have infiltrated the grand surroundings of Waddesdon Manor, while the lawn at Arts and Crafts’ house Blackwell at Windermere has been turned into a giant floral pattern. These contemporary interventions are a sign of the increasingly competitive business of running grand country houses as visitor attractions.
It’s not enough to have a great building bursting with history and atmosphere. Venues are turning to contemporary art and design to add something complementary and, importantly for repeat visitors, something fresh that they might not have seen previously. This summer the National Trust launches a new three-year partnership with the Arts Council, bringing contemporary art and craft to selected NT properties.
For some, the initiative might be a real eye-opener. “We’re not out to offend people but we’re not afraid to challenge them,” says Tom Freshwater, the NT’s contemporary arts programme manager. The £165,000 annual programme includes a commissions fund and will focus on places which have a historic association with art and craft, plus locations where creative projects could enhance visitors’ appreciation of the property. Freshwater hopes that the presence of contemporary work will set up an interesting dialogue with the old, and might encourage visitors to spend longer in the space.
As well as providing new artistic opportunities, the hope is to broaden both National Trust and arts audiences and increase visitor numbers – last year Tattershall Castle’s House of Bling exhibition saw visitor numbers rise from 3,000 to 8,000, proving that special events can galvanise interest.
Whether at grand NT properties or smaller independent locations such as Blackwell, contemporary exhibitions and installations are carrying on the house’s artistic patronage.
Blessed with extensive grounds and buildings rich in artistic inspiration, the combination of historic property and contemporary art and craft is generally a good fit, and often throws up some intriguing location-creative pairings. Here’s the best of this summer’s crop.
by Steve Messam
Until mid-July at least, Blackwell, Bowness–on-Windermere,
As one of the finest Arts and Crafts houses in the country, Blackwell is full of rich organic decoration designed by its architect, Hugh Mackay Baillie Scott. It now has an outdoor decoration to match in the form of LawnPaper, an installation by environmental artist Steve Messam.
Created with the skilful use of a strimmer and judicious shading, the grass sculpture is timed to coincide with Blackwell’s William Morris exhibition, and features repeat patterns based on his wallpaper designs. Messam chose two patterns from the exhibition: Willow and Hammersmith.
“It’s entirely natural and will eventually grow out,” says Messam of his work. He hopes the pattern complements the architecture of the building and draws attention to its elegant exterior.
He drew the pattern on the lawn using flour – chosen because it disperses harmlessly – and cut the pattern with a strimmer. This creates colour variation – the shorter the grass, the paler it is. Further pattern definition is achieving by shading sections of the grass.
Messam is entirely comfortable with the temporary nature of the piece, which will gradually fade: “I like playing around with landscapes and big installations but don’t like making permanent things.
‘I’m striving to be as sustainable as possible and not end up with loads of stuff.’
Messam also has an installation this summer at Tatton Park.
Glass Experiences:New designs
by Humberto and Fernando Campana
Until 31 October,WaddesdonManor,Waddesdon, Near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire,
Tiny glass figures are sticking out of curious glass chandeliers atWaddesdonManor, the 19th-century manor of the Rothschild family. They are the work of the Brazilian designers the Campana Brothers, feted for their ingenious use of unlikely materials in their furniture design.
This is not exactly what you expect to find at the National Trust’s most visited English property, which is home to fine 18th-century French paintings and Dutch old masters. But it’s the perfect opening act to launch Waddesdon’s new contemporary art and design gallery, located in a converted coach house on the estate.
The Campana’s worked with the Venini glass studio in Venice to create a collection of chandeliers, vases and lights. These display the brothers’ trademark use of found objects – the chandelier of multicoloured fragmented glass incorporates the small glass animals that are popular as tourist gifts. Other chandeliers feature glass figures based on traditional Brazilian fabric dolls while seven cocoonshaped lights are made from aquamarine, green and pink glass and rattan.
Not content with commissioning some of the hottest international designers – the Campana’s are the first Brazilians to exhibit at New York’sMoMA –Waddesdon is also displaying work by controversial artist Jeff Koons, a chandelier by IngoMaurer, and pieces by Sarah Lucas and Angus Fairhurst.
19 July- 26 September, Kedleston Hall, near Quarndon, Derby, Derbyshire
Kedleston’s grand marble hall will be embellished this summer by Promenade, a shimmering installation of 200km of gold thread, wound by artist/maker Susie MacMurray around the alabaster pillars.
Visitors are invited to stroll among the gold maze, which is a reference to the famous gold Peacock Dress once worn Lady Curzon, one of the Curzon family who owns the hall. The maze is conceived as an unravelled version of the dress, which is on display at the house.
Visitor feedback had revealed that Kedleston’s grand 18th-century show palace rooms, designed by Robert Adam, sometimes fail to connect with the public. The National Trust hopes this installation will encourage visitors to spend more time in the hall and, and so greater appreciate both Promenade and its host space.
Tatton Park Biennial 2010, Framing Identity
Until 26 September,
Tatton Park, the 405ha National Trust estate in Cheshire, turns into a ‘creative laboratory’ this summer with 20 artists creating new work as part of the second Tatton Park Biennial.
The artists are working throughout the house and the estate and will, it is hoped, draw visitors more widely through the grounds. In the house, work includes Kate MccGwire's intriguing piece in the kitchen, where feathers from local birds spill from the oven to occupy the whole room. Another feathery intervention is Ryan Gander’s 18-plumed bird of paradise, which pops up in various locations.
Steve Messam’s Lily installation of 50 bright red lily pads (above) has to withstand the attentions of both deer and Canada geese. He was keen to create a piece in the parkland rather than the formal gardens and decided that the lake was the most deer-proof location, although they can swim.
The piece forms a line to mirror the visual effect of a long line of trees in the grounds. They vary in size from 2m to 5m and are made from a stretched fabric surface to deter Canada geese from settling.
“This challenging collection of new work will help cement Tatton’s growing reputation for creativity, vision and style set alongside its established name as a magnificent heritage attraction,” says Brendan Flanagan, Tatton Park visitor economy manager.