White Cube in Arley Hall: contemporary sculpture meets English country garden
The White Cube’s first outdoor sculpture exhibition features the work of 12 modern and contemporary artists, including Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley and Danh Vo, in the grounds of Arley Hall in Cheshire
Arley Hall and Gardens, a stately home in Cheshire, north-west England, is famous for its Jacobean architecture and picturesque landscape created by successive Viscounts Ashbrook and their families over 270 years. To these attractions it can now add an impressive exhibition of contemporary sculpture, courtesy of White Cube.
The London and Hong Kong based gallery has chosen the Arley grounds as the venue for its first-ever outdoor sculpture exhibition, which will feature 12 modern and contemporary artists from its roster and will run until 29 August 2022.
“Simultaneously a symbol of continuity, history and stability, gardens are constantly changing and evolving,” says Susanna Greeves, Senior Director at White Cube, of her inspiration for the exhibition. “This is a theme we had in mind when we took on the task of placing contemporary art in this already very carefully curated environment. We thought about the ideas of nature and order, the tropes of the English country garden, and how we might play with and subvert them.’
Tracey Emin, White Cube at Arley Hall, until August 29, 2022. Photo © White Cube (Theo Christelis)
Antony Gormley, White Cube at Arley Hall, until August 29, 2022, Photo © White Cube (Theo Christelis)
Among the more ambitious installations is that of Tracey Emin surrounded by you (2017), originally created for the artist’s solo exhibition at Château La Coste and inspired by Mont Sainte-Victoire, not far from the Provençal art destination, and a recurring theme of Cezanne’s paintings. Viewed from another angle, it resembles a reclining female nude, a signature Emin motif. Its alternately monumental and sensual shape doesn’t easily match the pristine hedges and manicured lawns next to it, but it makes a memorable statement nonetheless.
Of similarly impressive magnitude is the late Greek artist Takis’ kinetic sculpture, Aeolian (1983), 4.5 m tall, towering over a field of wildflowers. Above, a pair of hemispheres gently rotate around an axis, reminiscent of a modern radar picking up signals from afar, disrupting our vision of rural idyll.
Next to an untitled cedar pavilion by Danh Vo (2020) – a modernist take on Qin dynasty architecture that previously stood outside the White Cube gallery in Bermondsey, London and incorporated into its new home with planting by Arley’s gardeners – are the smaller works respond better to the current landscape.
Takis, White Cube at Arley Hall, until August 29, 2022. Photo © White Cube (Theo Christelis)
Notable is a trio of Antony Gormley’s anthropomorphic Domain Sculptures (2003), made of stainless steel rods ending at the perimeter of the body, sit atop 17th-century garden walls, appearing and fading with changing weather conditions in a poetic ode to transience.
Classical statues are often placed where they could draw attention to a fully orchestrated view; In a prime location along Arley’s Furlong Walk where one might expect a nymph, Greeves has installed a radical work by Canadian artist David Altmejd. L’heure (2016) shows a figure in contrapposto, whose head consists of cast hands of the sculptor: “It’s almost as if the sculpture creates itself or dissolves itself,” says Greeves.
Equally well placed is a recent example of Marguerite Humeau’s “sculptural elixirs” – imaginary plants meant to revive bygone medicinal traditions. Greeves placed it near Arley’s Kitchen Garden: “I liked the idea that it referred to an earlier tradition of large-scale domestic cultivation of medicinal plants,” she says. The full title of the work is as evocative as its placement: Noxcalidus, The intense heat on a sleeping person’s skin, as if all their secret delusions were vaporized. Inspired by the milk of poppies, which induces deep sleep and intense dreams, connecting us to a primordial consciousness or cosmic times (2022).
Marguerite Humeau, White Cube at Arley Hall, until August 29, 2022, Photo © White Cube (Theo Christelis)
Meanwhile, Mona Hatoums Inside Out (concrete) (2019), a waist-high spherical work covered in an intricate pattern resembling the lobes of the brain, stands in a small clearing in The Grove (an informal garden set in a woodland setting) as if an alien seedpod were about to take root to beat .
A large part of The Grove is dedicated to the work of Isamu Noguchi, represented by White Cube since 2021. Each of the hot-dip galvanized steel sculptures gleams softly in the summer sun and has an alluring silhouette that ranges from the majestic peaks and valleys of Rain Mountain to the Venus of Willendorf-esque goddess (both 1982-3). But the star of the show is the bright red play sculpture (circa 1965-80). The Japanese-American sculptor came up with the idea of connecting standard sections of industrial sewage pipes into a wavy loop around the 1970s. The results are whimsical and eye-catching, and just as Noguchi intended, Arley invites visitors to climb around or perch on the structure to rest. Dynamic in form and democratic in spirit, this is White Cube at Arley Hall at its best. §