Louise Bourgeois in the Rijksmuseum Gardens

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Spider (1996)

If you’re scared of spiders, it’s probably best if you keep away from the Rijksmuseum Gardens at the moment! For the last few years there’s been an exhibition of works by a noted sculptor in the gardens, and this year they have works on display by Louise Bourgeois, who is well known for her bronze sculptures of giant spiders,

When we’d looked around the Tassel Museum we wandered along the canals, grabbed a bite to eat and then made our way to the Rijksmuseum. We expected that there would be an exhibition in the gardens and we knew we’d have time to have a look before we got the train back to Haarlem. And, unlike the main part of the museum, entry is free! We hadn’t checked out what was on but as soon as we spotted the first sculpture, we knew who the artist was! Luckily spiders don’t scare me, as several of the arachnid monsters are on display! !

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Crouching spider (2005)

The gardens themselves are very attractive and popular on a sunny day – and the sun kept breaking through the cloud while we were there.

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Louise Bourgeois grew up in a suburb of Paris, in a family of antique tapestry dealers and restorers. In 1938, following her marriage to the American art historian Robert Goldwater, she emigrated to the United States. It took a long while before her work was acknowledged, as it was quite different from the type of art popular in America at the time. and she only started to become popular in the 1970s when she was in her 60’s.

Her work often represents aspects of her life. the spiders, for example, are influenced by her protective mother who, although she didn’t spin webs, was a weaver and by the familie’s tapestry repair business.

I came from a family of repairers. The spider is a repairer. If you bask into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it

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Spider couple (2003)

This was probably the only one of the 12 sculptures on display I wasn’t so keen on. It rather reminded me of the monsters that used to appear in Doctor Who in the 1970’s – perhaps that’s why!

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In and Out #2 (1995-6)

This was the earliest work on display. It’s quite different from the others and rather like the works of Brancusi. It’s apparently meant to be a self portrait of the artist surrounded by her 3 children.

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Quarantania (1947-53)
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Welcoming Hands (1996)

This rather moving group of bronze sculptures displayed on rough stone pedestals, represent friendship and solidarity. They were originally displayed in New York on a site with a view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where immigrants first arrived in America, although they are now normally sited in the Tuilleries in Paris. Their message has a contemporary resonance with all the movement of people trying to escape war and poverty, looking for a better life. Some people show friendship and solidarity to them. Sadly, in these cruel times, too many don’t.

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This sculpture of a child’s hand was particularly touching (emotionally, that is, of course)

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Fountain (1999)
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Untitled (2004)

These two high-gloss aluminium sculptures of Untitled (2004), hanging from the branches of the great wingnut tree, refer to her father’s habit of storing chairs by hanging them on roof beams in the attic of their home

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Inside the museum entrance atrium there were four seats in the form of giant eyes

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Source: https://www.azquotes.com/author/18216-Louise_Bourgeois

Basketry in Ruthin

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Last week we were in North Wales where we’d booked an apartment in Anglesey, on the coast between Menai Bridge and Beaumaris for a family holiday. It’s only a couple of hours drive from home (or a bit longer during holiday times as the A55 gets chocker with traffic at the weekend) and we couldn’t get into the apartment before 4 o’clock, so we decided to break the journey by visiting the historic town of Ruthin, in the Vale of Clwyd. We parked up by the Ruthin Craft centre where we had a bite to eat in the excellent little cafe before taking a look round the current exhibition.

The Craft Centre is something of a hidden gem. Located in a modern building on the outskirts of the town centre (on what used to be the site of the railway station before the line was closed back in the 1960’s) it has craft studios, gallery exhibition spaces, restaurant, craft library and, of course, a shop. Most of the craft studios seemed to be unoccupied (due to economic factors, no doubt) so it’s not really a place to see craftspeople at work. But it has a good, airy display space and they always seem to pull together a good programme of exhibitions which straddle the border between “craft” and “art”

The latest exhibition – Basketry: Function & Ornament with works on display by 30 “creators”, had opened the day of our visit and was a good example of how “craft” and “art” are not necessarily different categories, but part of a continuum. The Craft Centre’s website tells us that the exhibition

brings together functional vernacular work from various parts of the country, alongside pieces that are sculptural and ornamental. It is a survey of a craft that has been somewhat sidelined in times of great technological advances, yet offers a sustainable answer to so much of our modern day throw-away habits.

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Some of the works were traditional baskets and the like, all beautifully made,

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Baskets by Mandy Coates
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Baskets by Mandy Coates

but many of the works were artistic, sculptural forms that were decorative rather than utilitarian. There were some exquisite pieces – works of art created using traditional craft techniques.

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Piece made of willow by Lizzie Farley
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Piece made of willow by Lizzie Farley
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Piece made of willow by Lizzie Farley
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Three pieces by Mary Butcher
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Burden baskets made of carbon steel wire by Stella Harding
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Nests made by Joe Hogan

Kimsooja: To Breathe at the YSP

While we were visiting the YSP the other Saturday, we made a particular effort to go and take a look at the exhibition in the old Georgian Chapel building. It’s a really beautiful, very contemplative, space and the YSP use it for some inspirational installations.

As part of the Yorkshire Sculpture International, the YSP commissioned the South Korean artist Kimsooja to create a work in the chapel. It’s a simple concept – the floor has been covered with mirrors and the windows with a special nanopolymer diffraction film. A recording of the artist breathing, with changing rhythms, was also played.

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The film diffracts the light shining through the windows splitting it into it’s component colours and creating rainbow like patterns on the walls and ceiling which are reflected by the mirrors on the floor.

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The patterns will vary depending on the light coming through the windows and so will change with the weather and the time of day.

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It’s a very beautiful work.

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The YSP website describes it as a

visually spectacular and meditative installation, creating an intimate and shared encounter.

I have to agree!

As with other works we’ve seen in the chapel, photographs can’t do it justice. It needs to be seen and experienced.

Only a limited number of people are allowed in the chapel at a time for this installation, so we had a short wait before we could enter. Visitors were also asked to try to not make too much noise so that everyone could experience the contemplative atmosphere. We were also asked not to touch the floor. Of course, not everyone respected this (sadly) and one family were not just allowing their children to lie on the floor but seemed to be actively encouraging them to do so. At the risk of coming across as a “grumpy old man” (which I guess I am) I sometimes despair at the behaviour and lack of respect of some people. But it didn’t spoil the visit.

There’s another work by Kimsooja on display in the YSP grounds – a 14-metre-high sculpture A Needle Woman: Galaxy was a Memory, Earth is a Souvenir . There are similarities with the installation in the chapel in that the tall. conical, needle like structure consists principally of transparent acrylic panels coated with the nano polymer, and with a mirrored floor. Sunlight shining through the panels is diffracted and split into different colours producing patterns which change with conditions, the direction of the sunlight and the position of the viewer.

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And looking inside the structure at the mirrored floor makes it look as if the sculpture extends deep into the ground.

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It’s not as mind blowing as the installation in the chapel, but an interesting work, nevertheless.

David Smith at the YSP

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David Smith: Sculpture 1932-1965 is YSP’s headline exhibition for 2019 and their principal contribution to the inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International. As usual with their main exhibitions there are a large number of works in the Underground Gallery, with more outdoors, outside the gallery and up on the large lawn.

Smith challenged sculptural conventions and was the first artist in the USA to work with welded metal, becoming known for his mastery of steel. Although hugely influential to the development of abstract sculpture internationally, few of his works are held in non-US public collections, so he is rarely shown in Europe.

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Smith was an innovator – he was the first artist in the USA to work with welded metal, rather than carving or casting. He wasn’t the first to do this, he was influenced by Picasso and the Spanish sculptor Julio González, but he took the idea and developed it. He was also influenced by Russian Constructivism, Piet Mondrian, and Alberto Giacometti’s biomorphic forms. He influenced others too, including the British sculptor, Anthony Caro.

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His works are industrial, influenced by his experience of working as a welder and riveter in a car factory  during a summer job and during WWII he worked as a welder for the American Locomotive CompanySchenectady, NY assembling locomotives and tanks.

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At first, Smith used an oxyacetylene torch, but during World War II he mastered electric arc welding at the American Locomotive Factory.   He ran his studio in Bolton Landing, upstate New York, like a factory, stocking with large amounts of raw material and working to a routine, just like a factory worker (albeit one who worked long hours!).

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As well as welding, he used other industrial processes, bending and forging metal.

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And creating finishes using angle grinders, to score the surface of the metal, and paint.

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In 1962, he was invited by the Italian government to relocate and create sculptures for the Festival of Two Worlds. He was given a warehouse and a team of artisans who helped him in producing 27 pieces in 30 days. After his time there was over, still buzzing with ideas, he had tons of steel shipped back to Bolton Landing to keep working. 

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There’s an interesting article about his life, working methods and creative process by his daughter, here.

An early start for the YSP

It was our wedding anniversary last Saturday (6th July), a cause for a celebration. But there was another reason why it was a special day.

We were up early, despite it being a Saturday, to drive over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It’s a favourite place which we usually visit 2 or 3 times a year to see exhibitions and enjoy a walk through the park. This time, however, we were going to a special event. For Christmas I’d paid for my wife’s name to be cast in iron as part of the “Walk of Art 2” on the pathway leading into the new visitor centre, the Weston. The second section of the walk, which includes her entry, had been recently installed and we were attending the official opening.

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There were speeches by Peter Murray, the YSP’s Director, Gordon Young, the artist who designed the work as well as his granddaughter

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Peter Murray
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Gordon Young
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Gordon Young and Sophie, his granddaughter
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We then went outdoors where the artist and his grandchildren cut the ribbon to officially open “Walk of Art 2

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Cutting the ribbon
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The names are cast in iron on a series of plates (my wife’s entry is on Plate 27) . Newly installed they were reddish-brown but will change over time due to weathering. The first set of plates, installed a few months ago, had already weathered and were more of a silvery-grey colour.

My wife’s name is on one of these plates

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but you’ll have to guess which one it is!

The new visitor centre is at the far end of the park, on the car park nearest to the M1. It’s quite a lot smaller than the main centre, but has a restaurant, small gallery and shop. The design is quite clean and simple, constructed from layered pigmented concrete with lots of wood and glass

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The architects have designed in sustainable features such as natural ventilation, an air-source heat pump, a low-energy environmental control system and a wild-flower roof .

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Inside the Weston’s gallery

The new visitor centre has opened up the far end of the park for displaying art, which make it even harder to see everything in one day’s visit!

Currently there are a number of works by Damien Hirst, the Leeds born artist, on display as part of the Yorkshire Sculpture International exhibition which is being run in partnership with the Hepworth Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.

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After the ceremony we strolled across the park to visit the new exhibitions that have opened in the Underground Gallery and the Chapel – I’ll be writing them up in a couple of other posts – and to have a wander round the park looking at some new exhibits as well as some old favourites.

The One and the Many

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The reason I’d decided to wander over to Fitzrovia while I was in London last Wednesday was that I wanted to take a look at a sculpture by a favourite contemporary artist, Peter Randall-Page, which is sited in a new development, Fitzroy Place, off Mortimer Street. It’s right next to the Fitzrovia Chapel, a Grade II listed building was the former chapel of The Middlesex Hospital.

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The One and The Many’, is sculpted from a 24 tonne naturally eroded granite boulder and inscribed with many of the world’s scripts and symbols. 

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The scripts carved on the work are all related to cosmology and the material/poetical formation of the universe. I shot a few close ups.

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Translations of all the scripts can be seen on a website devoted to the sculpture. The website also includes some photographs of the artist at work on his creation.

Walla Crag, Bleaberry Fell and High Seat

The May Day Bank Holiday Monday was the first day of my short break in Borrowdale. I wanted to make the most of my time off so I packed over the weekend and so was able to set off reasonably early up the M6 towards the Lakes. The traffic was lighter than I expected for a Bank Holiday – probably a combination of the early start and a less than promising weather forecast.

I’d planned a walk over on the eastern side of Derwent Water which would take in some moderate sized fells and a couple of well known “beauty spots”. After a fairly easy drive, I parked up late morning in the National Trust car park at Great Wood, donned my walking gear and then set off up the path through the woods.

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Lots of bluebells to be seen

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My first destination was somewhere I’d visited a few times, including last August – Walla Crag. The path climbed up through the woods, eventually reaching a path where we turned right towards Castlerigg farm. Views opened up over Derwent Water, the fells to the west of the lake, and, to the north, Skiddaw and Blencathra.

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Skiddaw
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Blencathra
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After the farm there was a shortish, steep climb up the fell before I reached the top of Walla Crag, where I stopped for a bite to eat and to take in the views. They were pretty good even though it was something of a grey day.

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Looking over Derwent Water with Bassenthwaite Lake in the distance

Time to get moving again. During previous walks up here I’d turned off down one of the routes back down to the lake but this time I took the path that would lead me over to Bleaberry Fell, a relatively modest fell at 1,936 feet high – not quite a mountain if you take the definition as 2,000 feet. It looked enticingly close, but looks can be deceiving!

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Looking towards Bleaberry fell

Part of the way to the summit the rain that had been promised arrived. But it didn’t last long and had moved on after less than 20 minutes. I was still glad I was wearing my waterproof coat, mind, and needed to use the waterproof cover for my rucksack.

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Looking over to the top of Borrowdale. and the high fells, including Scafell Pike and Great Gable

Another relatively short, steep climb and I was on the summit. Time for a coffee from my flask while I looked out over the fells. Despite the cloud and grey skies, visibility wasn’t too bad and I see over to Helvellyn in the east and the high mountains at the top end of Borrowdale.

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I wasn’t the on;y one on the summit of Bleaberry Fell
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Looking across to the fells to the west of Derwent Water
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Looking over to Blencathra
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It’s raining over Thirlmere. The rain obscuring the view of Helvelyn. But no rain on Bleaberry Fell. That’s the Lake District for you. Rain in one valley and none in the next

I might have turned around and retraced my steps back down the hill, but I decided to carry on to the next summit, High Seat, which was about a mile away. Another fell I’d never climbed. It’s a few feet higher than Bleaberry Fell, and at 1,995 feet is again just short of a mountain

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The modest looking bump in the mid-ground is High Seat

It looks like a relatively easy walk over to High Seat. There isn’t much loss in altitude and the terrain is fairly flat. But looks can be deceiving. The ground is notoriously boggy and Wainwright reckons that  “this is a walk to wish on one’s worst enemy“.

I soon hit boggy ground. Fortunately, we’d had a few relatively dry weeks so it wasn’t as bad as it might have been and I managed to get across the bogs fairly unscathed. It must be horrendous in winter or after a prolonged wet spell.

I made my way to the summit cairn and once again took in the views.

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The trig point was just a few feet away

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Another walker standing on the rocky outcrop to the east of the summit with Helvellyn in the background

Time to start making my way back down. The path which would take me to Ashness Bridge was clearly visible. It looked a much better surface than the one across from Bleaberry Fell

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It was, but there were several boggy stretches to cross as I made my way back towards Derwent Water

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There were a few other people about, but it was relatively quiet

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Getting closer to the end of the descent now

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I reached the popular beauty spot at Ashness Bridge. It’s graced many a chocolate box and postcard!

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I stopped for a brief rest and removed my waterproof coat. It had turned sunny and down off the fell it was feeling warm. Then I set off down the path through the woods towards the car park, about another mile away.

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Reaching the car park, I hadn’t quite finished. I decided to walk the short distance over to Calf Cross Bay on Derwent Water.

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The Hundred Year Stones, a monument created by Peter Randall-Page to mark the centenary of the National Trust, are often at least partially submerged by the water, but not today. The level of the Lake must have been relatively low

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After a short time enjoying the tranquil atmosphere, I walked back to the car and then drove allong Borrowdale to Seatooler to check in at my B and B.