In Good Form: Recent Sculpture from the Arts Council Collection
At the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Bretton Hall, near Wakefield, until 19 October
Sculpture parks or trails are no longer rarities in the UK, if often mediocre in concept or content, but the Yorkshire Sculpture Park - founded in 1977 - is of a different order.
Increasingly so, because its recent programme of construction and renovation - Feilden Clegg Bradley's visitor centre, 2002, and Bauman Lyons' Longside Barns, 2001 - has made new architecture a feature of any trip there; along with Bretton Hall and its garden buildings (dating back to the 18th century), the permanent and changing shows of sculpture, and the extensive surrounding landscape.
A new partnership between the YSP and the Hayward Gallery should add extra impetus to the exhibition programme, as they take it in turns to stage shows in the Longside Barns. Tony Fretton Architects has adapted one of those barns to serve as a store for the Arts Council's sculpture collection, while the other continues as the exhibition venue. Fretton has softened its aesthetic a little (it is now white-walled, not raw concrete block), and has created two separate smaller galleries at one end, but the barn still offers an unbroken 680m 2- a potentially exciting space for sculpture and installations.
The Hayward's opening gambit is 'In Good Form', featuring British sculpture from the last decade by many familiar names - among them Rachel Whiteread, Richard Deacon, Anish Kapoor and Damien Hirst. In the accompanying pamphlet, curator Natalie Rudd gamely tries to make thematic connections between the exhibits, but this is the kind of group show which really doesn't gel in that way - the works are simply too diverse.
In themselves, though, some have considerable impact. Whiteread's six cuboid resin casts profit from their closeness to the big window at the north end of the barn, as does John Frankland's Untitled (Shed) - an archetypal allotment hut that, wrapped in silver polythene, becomes quasi-minimalist, flaring in the light like one of Judd's aluminium boxes. David Batchelor's 'I Love King's Cross', its five industrial dollies each supporting a bright monochrome acrylic panel, is a most un-British celebration of colour - a spectrum on wheels.
Meanwhile, concealed in the new back room, is Cornelia Parker's Neither From Nor Towards, comprised of beachcombed bricks from houses that disintegrated over the cliffs at Dover, now suspended from the ceiling in the shape of a gable end - a freeze-frame image of arrested collapse. Some of the salvaged bricks are quite substantial, others only fragments, and all have been rounded by the sea, as nature confirms its supremacy over human construction.
But the importance of the Longside Barns is not just as exhibition and storage space - they bring a whole new area of landscape into play for the YSP visitor.
Hitherto, one looked north-south across the valley towards Longside from the Bothy Garden or Lower Park of Bretton Hall, but the 18th-century lakes in the bowl of the valley, with the nature reserve at their edge, made the dominant axis an east-west one. Now, on the 1,500m or more walk between the two sites, in which the visual connection between the hall and the barns is, for long stretches, uninterrupted, that north-south axis asserts itself; and it is reinforced by the tree-lined ridge of Oxley Bank to the east. This is something more than having additional hectares to roam in:
it encourages a different understanding of the YSP landscape.
Back at the Formal Garden (overlooked obliquely by the new visitor centre), are bronzes from the YSP's current Barbara Hepworth exhibition, marking her centenary. How hard it is to believe that their 'modernity' was ever controversial. Her white marble carvings in the Pavilion Gallery look even more anodyne and slick.
Further Hepworth sculptures and maquettes are on show in the new Bothy Gallery, a cheap, quick conversion by Paul Bradley of a Neo-Classical early-19th-century stone cottage that used to be the YSP's cafe. Aside from stripping back later accretions, Bradley's main move has been to relocate the entrance from the centre of the front facade to the west end of the building, so creating a suite of inter-connecting small rooms (there is a view from first to last), which should suit intimate works.
Activity at the YSP continues: a mound of earth in the middle of the Bothy Garden is a sign that, thanks to the European Regional Development Fund, construction is already under way of the underground extension to Feilden Clegg Bradley's visitor centre. This coming autumn sees a show devoted to the great Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002), whose handling of iron, steel and alabaster certainly puts Hepworth in the shade.
When its temporary exhibitions are firstrate (as the Chillida promises to be), then art, architecture and landscape, in shifting relationships, are all components of a visit to the YSP. In which sense, its closest equivalents are such museums as Louisiana at Humlebaek, Kröller-Müller at Otterlo, and Hombroich near Dusseldorf - not bad company.