Throughout Europe, signs of spring are emerging and the optimist within us all, who waited patiently all winter for the gift of sunlight, is being rewarded with an early injection of Vitamin D. Decades of research have confirmed the sunshine vitamin’s pivotal role in general wellbeing—protecting us against inflammation, lowering blood pressure, keeping muscles healthy and improving brain function—but with our lives increasingly connected, and less offline, it is sometimes easy to forget that something as simple as going outside can dramatically improve your state of mind and productivity.
Indulging in art as therapy is a widely recognised concept, yet is less commonly considered an outdoor activity, but why? Our natural surroundings are profoundly beautiful and incomparably soothing, shouldn’t we endeavour to combine the two? Before the age of the internet, the birth of the smartphone or the erection of sprawling galleries and museums, some artists focused on the landscape as their stage and the seasons as an ever-changing backdrop. Thankfully, as a result of elegant urban planning and intuitive land protection, there are now many ‘al fresco’ art destinations around the globe. Whether you live in a bustling city or prefer the deafening silence of a far flung rural location, there are lessons to be learnt from experiencing art in the unparalleled greatness of the outdoors.
Nestled among the towering skyline of Manhattan, New York City’s famed Museum of Modern Art features a high-rise-flanked sculpture garden showcasing the work of some of the world’s most famous contemporary artists, while perched on the south bank of the iconic River Thames, London’s Tate Modern gallery just opened a new Franz West exhibition which extends out to the southern landscape of the recently extended location, with six brightly coloured outdoor sculptures including ‘Dorit’, a six metre, pink, aluminium piece. However, to really experience outdoor art as the artists intended, it’s worth heading a little further north to Yorkshire, a cluster of four counties defined by scenery so striking that locals often refer to it as ‘God’s own country’.
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Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Pivotal artist and renowned Yorkshireman Henry Moore once said, “Sculpture is an art of the open air. Daylight, sunlight, is necessary to it, and for me, its best setting and complement is nature.” Born in the West Yorkshire mining town of Castleford, Moore is widely celebrated as a pioneer of sculpture and, alongside fellow Yorkshire native and celebrated sculptor Barbara Hepworth, has inspired the area’s internationally recognised Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle.
Uniting four impressive destinations—Leeds Art Gallery, The Henry Moore Institute, The Hepworth Wakefield and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park—the route spans acres of land, and rather than bringing the works of selected artists to one venues, encourages art-lovers and wanderers alike to traverse the varied landscapes of Leeds, Wakefield, Castleford and beyond, exploring the topography of the area for a taste of the perspective shared by the artists celebrated.
Contemporary in its curation, the old soul and heritage of the land that has become the renowned sculpture park is a welcome juxtaposition—simultaneously thought-provoking and soothing. Opened in 1977, the park was the first dedicated sculpture park in the UK, although its conception was largely inspired by a number of temporary open air exhibitions between the 1940s and 1970s. Unlike many other outdoor galleries, the collection is ever-changing, with only a few permanent installations. Welcoming more than 300,000 visitors every year, the site’s open-air collection features long and short term loans, gifts from artists and individuals and site-specific commissions. Visit any time and expect to find at least 80 sculptures and installations scattered thoughtfully across the rolling landscape. The unique placement and set-up lends itself to showcasing unexpected works and current exhibitions include works from Ai Weiwei, Giuseppe Penone, and Katrina Palmer.
Hauser & Wirth Somerset
Swiss contemporary and modern art gallery Hauser & Wirth has emerged in Zurich, London, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Gstaad, but for a truly enchanting art experience it’s worth heading to Somerset in the south west of England. Located in the picturesque village of Bruton, and flanked by breathtaking great British countryside, this rural gallery space occupies the Grade ll* listed buildings of Durslade Farm, and opened its doors in 2014. Despite showcasing an awe-inspiring array of contemporary artists and works from international sculpture pioneers such as Alexander Calder, the gallery maintains close ties to the site’s agricultural heritage, including the welcome addition of the art-led Roth Bar & Grill, where hungry travellers can indulge in a mouthwatering menu of local and seasonal produce in a friendly, informal setting.
Current exhibitions celebrate local artist Catherine Goodman Eve and the multi-medium works of artist-in-residence Matthew Day Jackson. The outdoor areas showcase a changing program of outdoor sculptures by the gallery’s roster of artists while the stunning garden is the brainchild of internationally-renowned Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf.
Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden
Around 600 km from her birthplace of Wakefield (home of the Hepworth Wakefield, which is part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle), the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden perches on the St Ives seafront, in the most southern corner of the UK. The famed sculptor and icon of the British art world relocated to Cornwall with her husband and fellow artist Ben Nicholson and their young family in 1939, at the start of the Second World War.
She lived and worked in Trewyn studios—now the Barbara Hepworth Museum—from 1949 until her death in 1975. Hepworth declared that her home and studio should be established as a museum of her work, so after her death Trewyn Studio and much of the artist’s work remained, was gifted to the nation and placed in the care of the Tate Gallery in 1980. This incredible destination offers a rare opportunity to experience the work of an artist within the very landscape that inspired it.