I took the day off work last Friday so we could spend some quality family-time with the kids. We thought we would try to follow the great day we had at the sculpture park in Devon. Our target: Yorkshire Sculpture Park – a 500 acre outdoor art gallery just off Junction 37 on the M1. We were already quite organized as we had made our plans earlier in the week, and so we arrived about 10:30 after a smooth journey up the M1.
We had done some research and so we were already disappointed to learn that we were not allowed to bring a ball or Frisbee… or to be honest… anything which might keep kids engaged but genuinely thought that; the galleries, the landscape and the sculptures would hold all our attentions and make the journey worth it, as it did when we went to Devon.
This country park is massive and the setting immediately imposes itself as soon as you enter the drive to the car park. The car park is set next to the impressive visitor centre, which has café, shops and a gallery. The visitor centre and the car park look out over the country park, sitting on one side of the valley. The park and building then spreads down to a river Dearne and the lake.
So what was our experience? The landscape acted as a fitting metaphor, the lush green colours of the Yorkshire had been muted. The recent heatwave had scorched and yellowed the grassland and while it did not detract from the size of the view it certainly was not as pleasant on the eye. The park provides an excellent leaflet to show where the sculptures are located and who created them but, the distance and space between the sculptures is significant. We are used to walking so this wasn’t so bad but turned out to be very annoying, if once you reached the sculptures you are not that impressed.
This minor annoyance aside was quite tolerable but what really made me angry, very angry and increasingly so as the day wore on is many of the sculptures are fenced off, or on an area of land which has been cabled off. It made my blood boil! This seemingly quite sensible control really inhibited the ability to take interesting photos and it more importantly detached the observer and dulled the experience… Like eating food without smell! Now don’t get me wrong I understand in a gallery that touching a painting or sculpture is not desirable… to avoid damage and abuse but, these structures were mainly incredibly large and solid. They presented a vast array of surfaces to get a different appreciation of their form. While if you had told me before I arrived I would not have realized the importance and annoyance I found: it really does matter.
So: the family are not allowed to play; the observer is not allowed to touch and the sculptures are spread out far way from each other.
So what about the sculptures themselves?
And so this, for us, was the final disappointment. Without labouring the point there are many sculptures a few of which are jaw dropping Wilsis by Jaume Plensa and Chiharu Shitoa’s, Beyond Time (See the pictures) but, for us at least, these were rare jewels, among many much less inspiring and at worst down right jokeworthy, typified by David Nash Seventy-One Steps… which if you weren’t told that this is art would just be a bunch of steps in the wood. I am sure there is some significance, some story, but in truth David Nash is laughing all the way to the bank with this one.
So let me just summarize our experience and put it all together for you, as it may sound really too negative for what is only an £11 parking charge.
The sculptures are big and imposing, the art is from some of the most famous sculptors past and present and while art is a subjective choice you will definitely find some pieces, which, you will enjoy and even love. It is certainly a must see destination if you are studying for an art degree or have a genuine interest in modern/contemporary art. The facilities are excellent and the shop will provide a genuine chance for you to spend a lot of money on something unusual or unavailable elsewhere. The café and its view are fantastic.
However, if you have a relatively young family (7) and (11) and want something richer, interactive and dynamic, with an element of fun with art interwoven within that… then this is not the place for you.
To make this brilliant, an awesome destination for a much wider audience it would have been so easy to convert an area to cater for children and family’s like ours… and dare I suggest just remove the cables and barriers. It would suddenly become much more welcoming and inclusive.
I think I also can’t help feeling that maybe, maybe this approach is a deliberate attempt to keep it a much more studious, mature place not really for kids. But, if this is true that is even more unforgiveable: as not only would it help drive the charities which support this park, it would bring children not hating a walk around a large quite empty park with the odd statue, but engage and stimulate them and perhaps inspire them to be the next famous artist.