Christmas in York

In 2018 and 2019 we spent Christmas away from home, staying in Haarlem where our daughter was living at the time. We’d enjoyed the experience but last year’s lockdown meant that Christmas 2000 was spent at home in the house watching the telly, reading, and eating and drinking. This year, though, we decided to get away. Despite the resurgence of the lurgy with the Omicron variant, we were all fully vaccinated and boosted and decided we’d get away, booking a rather nice apartment in Fossgate in the centre of York. Like Haarlem, it’s an old city with plenty to see (although only a couple of hours drive from home – M62 willing, of course!) while being careful to minimise the risk of picking up the virus.

Our apartment on Fossgate. The top 2 floors of an old Georgian building above a shop

We arrived late afternoon the day before Christmas Eve returning the day after Boxing Day. After a relatively trouble free drive over the Pennines, we unloaded and then set out to explore the streets of York. It was the last day of the Christmas market and we managed to catch the last few hours before it shut down.

Christmas tree on Parliament Street
The Christmas market

After a mooch around the market and town centre we returned to the apartment and settled in, adding a few Christmassy touches (I was surprised that the owners hadn’t put up a few decorations)

After a few hours relaxing we went out again, but not so far. We’d booked a table in a Polish restaurant, the Blue Barbakan, just a few doors down the street.

Afterwards we had a short stroll around the now quiet streets

The Shambles. It’s usually jammed with tourists!
Colliergate
The MInster

On Christmas Eve I was up fairly early before the rest of the family and popped out to stock up with some supplies for our traditional Christmas Eve buffet. Later when everyone one was up we set out to explore the city in the daylight. Son and daughter did there own thing but we all met up later for a coffee.

Low Petergate

West end of the MInster

St William’s College
One of the many Medieval churches
St Crux Parish Room
The Kiosk – an excellent coffee shop just across from our apartment

We returned to the apartment and spent the late afternoon watching the live stream of the service from the Minster while preparing and then eating our meal. Lots to eat and plenty of leftovers for Boxing Day!

Everyone (with one usual exception!) was up bright and early on Christmas morning. When everyone was up it was time to open our presents. A few hours later it was time to prepare our Christmas dinner. No turkey for us – we’re not fans and – but we’d bought some good quality steaks. We hadn’t been sure of what the cooking facilities would be like so had opted for a relatively easy approach. The steaks would only need frying and we’d bought mainly pre-prepared veg that only needed heating in the oven.

My Christmas dinner main course – with a smoked wild salmon stater preceding and follwed by Christmas pud

Afterwards we sat and chatted before going out for a short mooch around the quiet streets to walk off some of the carbs! Most of the evening was spent eating, drinking and watching TV. Not much different than at home but the change in surroundings made it a nice change. And later on I went out for a short walk around the quiet streets.

Tree dressed up with lights in York Castle square
The Merchant Adventurer’s Hall at night
Bootham Bar
The Minster central tower
East end of the Minster

Boxing Day was spent on more sightseeing along the walls and around the streets of the small city.

The Merchant Adventurer’s Hall

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On the walls
Looking towards the Minster from the walls
Foundations of the original Roman Walls
The Merchant Taylor’s Hall

A number of the shops were open for the post Christmas sales.

We returned to the apartment and spent the evening finishing off the food and drink left over from the previous two days while watching Christmas films on TV before turning in for our last night of our short Christmas break. We’d enjoyed it – it was good to get away for a change of scenery. All being well we’ll be doing it again in 2022.

Saad Qureshi: “Something About Paradise” at the YSP

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During our recent trip over the Pennines to the YSP (hard to believe it’s only just over 3 weeks ago) we called into the Chapel to take a look at the exhibition by the British artist Saad Qureshi, which was due to close a few days after our visit.

The old Georgian chapel has been converted into a really simple, beautiful and contemplative exhibition space and the YSP have programmed exhibitions that are really suited to it’s ambiance. During this visit, the strong sunlight was streaming in through the windows creating contrasting patterns of light and shadows.

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In this exhibition the artist was exploring “what paradise means in a contemporary context” and the exhibition website tells us that

Qureshi is an avid gatherer of stories. In developing Something About Paradise he travelled around the country asking those with and without faith what paradise means for them. Speaking directly to people allowed the artist space to interpret the descriptions of indistinct and imagined places, as seen in memories and dreams, into physical installations that he refers to as ‘mindscapes’.

The result is a series of fantastic imaginary landscapes of hills, trees and miniature buildings of different architectural styles from around the world.

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One thing that struck me about this “paradise” – there was a distinct lack of colour! I’m not sure what that was meant to say.

Besides the landscapes other works included this building on the moon

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a number of large, ornate Gates of Paradise

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and this ladder (cue Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven“!) , which the artist had very cleverly shaded to make it look as if was disappearing into the ether.

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Joana Vasconcelos: Beyond at the YSP

It seems forever since I took a week off work but it was only 3 weeks ago. Such a lot has happened since then. The weather at the beginning of that week hadn’t been so great but by the Thursday things had brightened up and we decided we’d drive over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, A new exhibition had just started and we wanted to see how J’s name had weathered on the new “Walk of Art”.

It was bright and sunny when we arrived, but very windy. It continued like that for most of the day, and it was very muddy underfoot, so we didn’t spend as much time as we’d have liked walking around the grounds (in fact, the paths around the lake were closed off due to the strong wind). However, there was plenty to see in the Underground Gallery and the more sheltered areas close to it.

We parked up by the new Weston Gallery, Restaurant and Shop so we could take a look at the Walk of Art. The plates installed last summer had weathered and oxidised, blending in with the ones that had been installed earlier that year.

We set off battling against the wind across the muddy fields of the parkland over towards the old chapel and the Underground Gallery.

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We called in to the Chapel to look at the exhibition Something About Paradise by Saad Qureshi, that was due to close a few days after our visit. More about that in another post

The new main exhibition, which had only opened a few days before our visit, features works by the Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos. As has been the case several times during visits to the major exhibitions at the YSP, I hadn’t heard of this feminist artist. The exhibition website tells us that she

creates vibrant, often monumental sculpture, using fabric, needlework and crochet alongside everyday objects from saucepans to wheel hubs. She frequently uses items associated with domestic work and craft to comment from a feminist perspective on national and collective identity, cultural tradition and women’s roles in society.

I think that sums up what we saw very well.

The first of her works that we saw as we walked across towards the main visitor centre was this giant ceramic cockerel Pop Galo [Pop Rooster] (2016) which was inspired by the image of the Portuguese rooster.

The sculpture is over nine-metres-high and is covered by 17,000 glazed tiles. It also includes 15,000 LED lights which are illuminated at dusk while a composition by musician Jonas Runa is played. As we’d left well before dusk we weren’t able to see and hear that – perhaps we’ll have the opportunity towards the back end of the year – assuming we’re let out by then!

The large scale nature of this, and many other of her works, means that they’re necessarily a collaborative effort. The role of the artist is more of a designer than craftsperson – rather like that of an architect during the construction of a landmark building.

Moving inside the Underground Gallery the first works we saw this statue of the godess Diana covered by a cotton crotchet

and three ceramic animal heads, similarly adorned.

Moving into the first gallery there were several large works including this giant pistol made of 168 old style telephone handsets with the sound of a modern electro-acoustic composition by Jonas Runa playing. A number of the works in the exhibition incorporate music.

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Call Center (2014-16)

In the next gallery you couldn’t miss these gigantic high heel shoes made of stainless steel saucepans. The work was created for the Milan fashion show

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and hanging from the ceiling was this massive work, inspired by the Valkyries of Norse legend, made from fabric and crocheted panels

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Valkyrie Marina Rinaldi (2014)

Another large crocheted work in the 3rd gallery

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Finisterrra (2018)

Moving outside, there were a number of large scale works on display.

This massive mask, constructed from Baroque style mirrors, was on the lawn facing the Underground Gallery.

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I’ll be Your Mirror ~1/7 (2018-20)

I wouldn’t mind a tea pot as big as this one! Although being made of wrought iron “lace work” it wouldn’t be so good for holding the tea.

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Pavilion de The (2012)

and, similarly, this jug wouldn’t be so good for storing your wine

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Pavilion de Vin (2016)

This gigantic ring, perched at the top of the lawn above the Underground Gallery, is made of hubcaps with a diamond made of whiskey glasses is a statement on consumerism and the greed for material possessions and wealth.

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The final work outdoors, sited near to Barbara Hepworth’s Family of Man, was this oversized ice cream cone constructed of plastic sand moulds of apples, pears, strawberries and croissants.

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Tutti Frutti (2019)

As is usually the case with exhibitions at the YSP, this one merits another visit. Unfortunately the park is closed now for the foreseeable future.

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.

An autumn day at the YSP

A few photos taken during our visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park last Saturday.

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Black Mound (2013) by David Nash
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Large Two Forms by Henry Moore, in the distance
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Wilsis (2016) by Jaume Plensa
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Square with Two Circles  by Barbara Hepworth
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Albero folgorato by Giuseppe Penone
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A new work by Peter Randall Page Envelope of Pulsation (For Leo) 2017
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Square with Two Circles at sunset

Sean Scully: Inside Out at the YSP

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Last Saturday we drove over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It was our third visit this year but we wanted to see the Sean Scully exhibition that had recently opened in the Longside Gallery, with some additional works outdoors. We’d seen them starting to install one of the latter during our visit during the summer.

Sean Scully was born in Dublin, grew up in London and currently lives in the USA and Ireland. He’s best known for his abstract paintings made up of coloured stripes, rectangles and squares and we’ve seen many of his works in various galleries we’ve visited. I wasn’t aware that he also produced sculptures, so I was particularly interested to see the examples included in the YSP exhibition.

We arrived around 11 and after a brew and a cake set off over the park heading over to the Longside Gallery, which is at the far end of the park, about a mile or so walk from the main Visitor centre and car park.

There were four of his large sculptures outdoors in the park and we encountered the first of these just before we reached the lake.

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Crate of Air (2018) is a large construction made of Corten steel. Unprotected from the elements it’s surface covered with red iron oxide, it’s appearance will change over time as the metal is affected by the elements and also by the light conditions, the red colour particularly standing out in the sunshine. It looks rather like an unfinished industrial structure, the sort of think that I often see during visits to some of my clients.

Carrying on down the slope we crossed the dam at the end of the Lower Lake, following the path and climbing up David Nash’s Seventy One Steps

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and then walked the woods along the top of the hill, past several works of art by artists including Andy Goldsworthy. 

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Descending down towards the Longside Gallery we passed a group of locals who were curious to have a look at us too

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Outside the Longside Gallery there was another Corten steel sculpture, Moor Shadow Stack

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We entered the gallery where there were four more sculptures together with a large selection of paintings, works on paper and photographs.

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Coin Stack (2018) is inspired by Scully’s  childhood when his father, a barber, would bring home his tips and count them in stacks on the kitchen table. There was a sketch of the stack together with a poem which explained its origin

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The other three sculptures were also stacks, but of rectangular rather than round slabs – one of wood, one of painted metal

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and the third of unpainted metal, neatly stacked

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The exhibition guide tells us that

Their stacked format retains the simplicity of Scully’s reduced visual language. He describes a job he did as a student, stacking flattened cardboard boxes from a supermarket into a lorry – hard, filthy work, with protruding staples lacerating his skin – but aware all the time of creating teetering sculptural forms that gradually filled the vehicle’s void with mass.

The paintings were very representative of his work – coloured strips and squares

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There was also a series of photographs of dry stone walls. My immediate reaction was that they reminded me of those I’d seen during my several brief visits to Galway, and which are very different from the ones we see in the English countryside, so I wasn’t surprised to find that they’d been taken in the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, where Scully is a regular visitor

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Looking at the photos it was clear that these structures, together with the horizontal patterns produced by the landscape and sky, influenced the style of Scully’s work.

After spending a good hour looking around the gallery we set off back down the hill towards the other side of the park, taking the alternate route back through the fields. At the bottom of the slope, just before the bridge between the two lakes, we saw the third of the outdoor sculptures, Dale Stone Stack, which is constructed of local stone.

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The final open air work was in the lower park on the other side of the lake. Wall Dale Cubed is a massive structure also made of Yorkshire stone

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My first thought was that it looked like something from the Flintstones! The Yorkshire Post compares it to 

Stonehenge-style prehistoric architecture or even an ancient Inca temple.

Like his paintings it’s made up of rectangular blocks in different orientations. Lit up by the autumn sunshine, there were different colours evident (although of a more limited range than his paintings) and variations in texture. There was plenty of interest and, like the other outdoor works, it’s appearance will change over time and also with the light.

We’d seen the main exhibition in the Underground Gallery a couple of times now, so spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the grounds, looking at the outdoor sculptures, having a brew in the Visitor Centre cafe and also taking the opportunity to have a look at the exhibition of prints by Norman Ackroyd. Enough scope for another post, I think.

Chiharu Shiota: Beyond Time in the Chapel at the YSP

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As well as the sculptures on show around the magnificent Country Park, the YSP has a number of really excellent indoor exhibition spaces. One of our favourites is the old Georgian Chapel building which is a really beautiful space and the YSP use it for some inspirational installations.

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The current exhibition features a work created by the Berlin based Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota. Many of her works are large scale webs of threads, often filling entire rooms, that frequently incorporate everyday objects such as keys, , dresses and shoes. . The main work in the Chapel is one of these. Beyond Time is a web of white thread almost filling much of the space from floor to ceiling, (2,000 balls of thread were used to construct it),  and incorporating photocopied pages  of sheet music from the YSP’s archives.

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The artist usually uses crimson or black  thread, but in an interview for the Studio International website explains why for the Chapel white thread has been used

“For purity. And death.” White is the colour of mourning in Japan, which seems appropriate, given the simple gravestones and marble memorial slabs embedded in the site. But it also represents renewal.

Visitors can walk around and through the installation and view it looking down from the seats in the balcony

Photographs can’t do it justice. It needs to be seen and experienced

Giuseppe Penone: A Tree in the Wood at the YSP

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Last Sunday we decided to drive over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. A new exhibition had opened the previous week that we wanted to see and it’s always nice to combine seeing good contemporary art with a walk through the Country park, especially on a sunny day.

The new exhibition is devoted to the work of an Italian artist, Giuseppe Penone. I’d seen an exhibition of his work in the gardens of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam a couple of years ago so was familiar with his work. Rather like David Nash, much of his work is created from trees, often integrating with other natural materials like rocks and marble. Like Nash he also casts trees and wood and bark in bronze.

As usual with the major YSP exhibitions, works were displayed both outdoors around the park and gardens and inside the Underground Gallery.

Pathway 6 (1986) – a bronze work of a human like figure made of bark growing out of a tree

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Bifurcation (1991) – a bronze sculpture of a tree trunk with a handprint from which water flows – I’d seen this one in Amsterdam

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Stone veins between the branches (2015), another work I’d seen in Amsterdam. A bronze tree trunk supporting a large granite block which has two smooth faces while the other two bear the drill marks made during the extraction of the block from the quarry

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Lighting Struck tree (2012) – yet another work I’d seen  in Amsterdam

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One of the first works we saw in the Underground Gallery was  In the Wood (2008). Here the artist had taken a block of wood and cut into it, carving back to a single tree ring so it appears as if a young sapling is emerging from the block.

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The centrepiece that straddled the three rooms in the Gallery, Matrix (2015)was a large pine tree split in half along it’s length and then with the middle carved out following a tree ring. The two halves facing each other.

Other works in the first room were two marble works. Body of Stone – Branches (2016) has bronze branches that seem to be growing out of the stone

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In a companion piece – Body of Stone – Grid (2016), the marble is covered by a metal grid which appears to eat into the stone

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The works in the second room included With Eyes Closed (2009), a picture in which the artist’s eyes are rendered in thousands of acacia thorns.

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Moving into the third room, the back wall was dominated by To breathe the shadow (2008) consisting of a collection of laurel leaves held in a mesh cage, with a bronze sculpture of a branch and an impression of the artist’s face in the centre

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The left wall was covered with a drawing, Propogation (1998/2018) with an enlarged impression of the artist’s fingerprint at the centre

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Another marvellous exhibition. We’re never disappointed by all of those we’ve seen at the YSP since our first visits about 10 years ago. And there was more to see (and write up!). The days always seem to disappear when we’re there. I’m certainly not a Telegraph reader, but looking at the review on their website I have to agree that

It all adds up to perhaps the best day out in British art.