The hills are alive with art at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Contra Costa Times (MCT) - I wager there are few museums where rubber boots are the preferred footwear. Yorkshire Sculpture Park in West Bretton, near Leeds, England, is a rubber boot museum. Or at least hiking boots.
The 500-acre site is beautiful rolling parkland with sculptures scattered about, connected by hiking trails. Cows, sheep, swans and other fowl also populate the landscape.
Tour buses visit the park, but a car is probably your best option.
From the parking lot (4 pounds, the only entrance fee), visit the front desk inside the gallery for a map, then head out into the countryside. On a bracing morning in late February, it was a cold endeavor, but well worth the walk.
The works displayed at YSP cover a wide range of what you might define as "sculpture." There are traditional metal and stone statues, avant garde modern form expressions, site-specific pieces that make use of the weather to create art and water features, as well as a traditional gallery for more delicate exhibitions.
One draw for me was Andrew Goldsworthy's work. He is an English sculptor who works with natural materials to create often fleeting pieces of art. He covers dark stones with brightly colored leaves and photographs them before the rain washes the leaves away. He works in stone, frost, rain, ice, snow, boulders, leaves, tree branches and more.
He also makes more permanent pieces, including an installation at the new de Young Museum in San Francisco. A crack runs through the stone foyer, including the larger stone "benches" in the area right in front of the doors.
At YSP, there are three Goldsworthy pieces, including a sheep fold (a set of stone fences to hold and sort sheep) that includes a "shadow" stone of sorts. In rain or snow, if you lie on the stone for a while and then get up, you leave a shadow in your form on the flat surface.
"Hanging Trees," another Goldsworthy piece, is composed of three boxes inserted into a stone fence, with fallen trees suspended in the boxes. It's quite stunning to come across in the forest, as is the haunting "Outclosure in Round Wood," an imposing wall closing off a part of the forest floor from the rest of the woods.
Another stunning piece is James Turell's "Deer Shelter." Looking like a stone barrow from the uphill side, and a mausoleum from the downhill side, it's actually a square room with an open roof and white walls that change color depending on the sun and the sky. On a gray day in February, the light was almost ethereal.
Two kilometers south of the YSP center is Longside Gallery, suitable for larger indoor exhibits.
On the way back from the Longside Gallery, a giant, floating eye hovers over the path. I admit, my inner geek went immediately to Lord of the Rings and Sauron's fiery floating eye, but this looks more like a burlap tapestry, with the shading coming from the thickness of the strands.
Because you have to hike to see the installations, you will want a map. There are a lot of pieces to see and a lot of ground to cover, so you may want to pick and choose. From the YSP center you go downhill toward the center of the park, then climb up to the far end. It's not the easiest of hikes. Some pathways are uneven because of tree roots in the forest, and the paths are open to mountain bikers, so keep your eyes open.
That said, it is a tremendous museum. Walking along in the countryside and coming across the installations is like a great Easter egg hunt.
At the far end of the land, we came to "Basket #7." "Oxley Bank," a two-story structure designed by Winter/Horbelt as a lookout/rest spot/gathering location. In the high wind, the mesh walls didn't offer much shelter, but the views were worth the climb.
Back at the YSP center, a hot cup of tea was just the right antidote to cold fingers and toes.
The gallery itself was filled with work from Isamu Noguchi, and some of his striking stone pieces also were in the courtyard. Noguchi was a stoneworker, industrial designer, landscaper and even designer of theater sets.
The gallery, made up of seven or eight rooms fronting a glass wall, is open only as long as there's light. Although the hallway has a few ceiling lights, the galleries themselves are lit only by the sun.
IF YOU GO:
GETTING THERE: Yorkshire Sculpture Park (www.ysp.co.uk) is one mile from junction 38 of the M1 (coming from London), close to Leeds. Signs will direct you off the freeway.
WHEN: Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (10 a.m.-5 p.m. in winter). Museum store and cafe close at 4 p.m. Car park gates locked at 6:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. in winter).
ADMISSION: 4 pounds for parking.
WHAT TO BRING: Solid hiking boots, or at least shoes you don't mind getting muddy.
© 2009, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.).