I had the privilege to visit the Cass Sculpture Park near Chichester last week. It was bitterly cold and, as the park is not open to the public in winter, hardly anybody else appeared to be about in the 26 acres of woodland that make up the grounds. Coming across marvellous sculptures among the trees was an extraordinary experience. It also got me thinking about the importance of putting sculptures in the right place and the difference the setting can make to our perception of a work. While there were obviously some that I liked better than others, I was also struck by the fact that some of the works seemed much happier in their woodland surroundings than others. It was difficult to work out why. It was not to do with form; you might think that organic shapes and materials would work better than more geometric pieces, or sculptures which had been created out of steel, plastic or glass would work less well than those made out of granite or wood. That did not appear to be the case. Nor did it appear to be necessarily position in the park, though works on the periphery, where they were not juxtaposed against others, appeared to have some advantage.
The Cass Foundation was set up in 1992 by Wilfred and Jeanette Cass with the aim of supporting new and emerging artists. The Foundation has commissioned some 400 sculptures over the twenty years all of which have been for sale. Prices are substantial ranging from a few thousand pounds to £750000. At any one time there are about 80 sculptures on display; they are often far larger than could possibly be housed in a gallery.The one stipulation the Foundation makes to the artists that it commissions is that the works should not be site specific; they need to be able to be sold and therefore transportable. This constraint is entirely understandable in the context of the Foundation’s mission, but it does remove what could be a glue which could bind all the works into an aesthetic whole. The Foundation had thought very carefully about such matters as directions – the suggested way through the woods was marked by these rather fetching yellow arrows. The buildings holding the lavatories and the benches were all of interesting designs.
But there were no sculptures that made use of the trees themselves; I wanted to see cats’ cradles linking trees together, defining the space between them or creatures slithering up things or down things, or unseasonal leaves suspended from bare branches, or bark apparently peeled back to reveal … what? I don’t know. This is a quibble; here are the ten works I liked best, in no particular order, which seemed to me to work well in their surroundings. You can see how varied they were.
1. Seven Gregory: Fish on bicycle
Near the entrance and far smaller than the majority of works was this rather whimsical piece by Steven Gregory which I though might look even better in an urban setting, perhaps near other bicycles. I like the look of quiet determination on the fish’s face; it obviously finds the bicycle useful, giving lie to the old saying.
2. Stephen Cox: Lingam of a Thousand Lingams
This huge phallus by Steven Cox worked superbly well at a point where the paths crossed. It seemed to form a natural landmark in the woods and the granite from which it was made had weathered in a satisfying way.
3.Sean Henry: Folly
This sculpture took me entirely by surprise: as I mentioned I thought I was alone, though I half expected somebody else to be wandering down the paths. Then, suddenly, I came round the corner and saw what appeared to be this relaxed man standing on a pavilion and then I realised I was looking into an interior. Apart from the absence of walls there is the surreal touch of a chair on the ceiling. It is a thought-provoking piece as it leads the viewer to realise how little we know about the lives people lead when in their own homes. To a greater or lesser extent it is something about which we all speculate. Here we have an voyeur’s insight.
4 Tony Cragg: Tongue in Cheek
This was one of my favourite pieces; I loved the way the coils worked in the setting. Looking into the piece. the patterns changed and worked together. I liked the way the hard metal contrasted with vegetation and the mud but at the same time seemed to share some of the same qualities.
5 Awst and Walther: I miss you
I thought this jar was really fun and again it worked really well in the space capturing different views through the circular hole at its centre. This is one I might have thought would not work in a rural setting but in fact it did. The contrast between the tree trunks framed by the jar and the modernity of the materials was interesting.
6. Rob Ward: Gate
Of all the sculptures in the park this was probably the one I liked the best. I thought it would work well in any urban setting as well. As you can see the surface is highly reflective and this created a strange illusion of looking into another dimension. The name gate seems well-chosen. The first photograph shows how it appears as you come across it along the path. The second is a photograph of me taking the photograph, looking as though I could, if I chose, step through a gateway into a different world.
7. Diane Maclean: Encampment
Here was another sculpture which despite its modern chrome and metal materials, I felt worked well in the woods suggesting a settlement, which on closer inspection turns out to be an illusion. I liked the way that the tent structures had been divided into two, so that there was a clear path between them. Two camps you might say, though this was only visible from certain directions.
8. Danny Lane: Stairway
This stairway I could also imagine could also work very well, perhaps even better, outside a building reflecting the staircases within.
9.Philip King: Sun’s Roots II
I was surprised that Sun Roots worked as well as it did. I might have thought that the colours and materials would jar but in fact it looked extraordinary. The splash of colour brightened up the winter woods.
10. Jon Isherwood Passages and Circumstances
Finally this piece by Jon Isherwood was intriguing in the way that you could both get inside it, but also see through it so, it according to your position it framed different vistas or slivers of the countryside.
The Cass Sculpture Park is open 0n Saturdays from January 26 to 23 March between 10.30 and 4.30. The new season starts on 29 March 20123 when it is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10.30 to 4.30
- Chattanooga’s Main Terrain Art Park opens today (timesfreepress.com)