In the last two hundred years, the institution of the museum has risen to become the predominant lens through which the spectator experiences sculpture. Placed against walls, behind barriers, and in anonymising rows, the viewer often finds themselves oddly separated from works in marble and bronze. Yet this relationship with sculpture would be alien to most of humanity throughout its history, for sculptors and collectors were placing works outdoors and shaping the landscape with them long before the idea of the museum. From Classical Villas, through Italian Princely gardens, to the grounds of stately homes, the concept of the sculpture garden has held universal appeal, and it is owed a long overdue resurgence.
One of the most unique and attractive aspects of the sculpture garden is the way that the natural and the manmade interact to create an integrated sensory experience: a work of art in its own right. In carefully locating each piece, and then shaping the landscape to show them to their best advantage, the designer aims to elevate diverse parts into a greater whole. In doing so, the sculpture garden also builds a connective thread between the works it holds. Rather than viewing each piece in isolation, the physical act of walking through the setting allows each sculpture to elevate its neighbours, creating connections and building a picture of an artist’s work in the mind of the viewer.
Another advantage of the outdoor setting is the way that it interacts with the physicality of the sculptural medium. Defined by its three-dimensionality, sculpture is meant to be viewed from all angles, a facet often lost in the rigid confines of the museum space. A human figure or abstract assembly can only be fully experienced in the round, where all its subtle facets can be seen. Additionally, in most sculpture gardens one is also able to touch the works on display and physically engage with fine art, something we very rarely get to experience. The visitor is therefore uniquely positioned to share the space with sculpture and interact with pieces in a wholly different way than they are used to.
With the physical properties of bronze and marble, a sculpture garden is far more feasible than, for example, a painting park. Yet locating works of fine art outdoors still transgresses an assumption that art and nature are fundamentally separate. Mixing the artificial and the organic, the sculpture garden opens a dialogue between the two; the clean lines of modernist pieces standing next to the complex silhouettes of grasses, flowers, and trees. Sculptors are so often framed in terms of their mastery of natural materials that to see the two in harmony can be surprisingly refreshing.
The final and perhaps most striking quality of the sculpture garden is its relationship to natural phenomena. Instead of seeking to protect artworks from the elements, the outdoors creates an ever-changing setting of different seasons, shifting weather, and constantly varying light. No two experiences of outdoor sculpture will be the same, because everything around it is in constant flux. A springtime visit with bright sunlight and blooming flowers will differ completely from the earthy textures brought by autumn. These changing conditions only further the already immersive experience of the sculpture garden and are perhaps its most unique feature.
The post-pandemic environment has provided fertile ground for a resurgence of interest in the outdoor sculpture setting, with multiple institutions and public spaces moving their collections outside. We at Gladwell & Patterson feel that the outdoors is the best space to experience works in metal and stone, and hope that this trend continues. Our new sculpture trail features the work of two exceptionally skilled artists: Simon Gudgeon and Stella Shawzin. From the striking lines of Simon’s monumental bronzes to the subtle curves of Stella’s figurative explorations, all framed in constantly growing grounds, we hope that everyone will be able to enjoy the unique qualities of these wonderful sculptures at Molecey Mill this springtime.