There can be few artists better suited to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park than Not Vital whose show opened there last week. Yvette Huddleston reports.
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park has done it again.
Consistently delivering world-class exhibitions from renowned international artists, they are following up their outstanding, hugely popular, exhibition of the work of American artist KAWS with the first major UK show – and the largest museum project to date – by the enigmatic Swiss artist Not Vital. “It is a coup for us because he is not an artist who shows very often,” says the YSP director of programme Clare Lilley. “We have been tracking him for a few years because we can see something in his work which connects with what we are trying to do. Most of his work comes out of his connection with nature – and that chimes with us.” Born in 1948 in the tiny village of Sent, set among the mountains and forests of the lower Engadin valley in the Swiss Alps, Not Vital (his real name, after his father and grandfather before him) is a largely self-taught artist and all his work is closely linked to his alpine home. However, his outlook is global and he regularly collaborates with artists and craftspeople from all over the world. He is currently working in a number of places including the Philippines, Beijing, Indonesia, Rio de Janeiro and Patagonia.
This diversity of influence and inspiration is reflected in the range of the work on display in the exhibition, which opened last week. “It has gradually come together over the past two years and we have brought work from Brazil, China and Europe, some of it existing and some of it new,” says Lilley. One of the exciting new pieces specially developed by Vital for the exhibition is a large-scale work measuring 11m by 4m and consisting of a group of monochrome portrait paintings, which receives its European premiere at the YSP. “As soon as he saw the gallery he knew he wanted to make this enormous canvas,” says Lilley. “Since around 2009, he has been working on a series of portraits; he has held them back until now because they are so important to him and he wanted them to be seen in a museum context. The portraits are either of himself or people close to him and together they form the piece The Last Supper which features thirteen heads hanging in space. It is between figurative and abstract art and it is very beautiful.”
Other works in the open air resonate with the YSP’s rolling 18th-century estate, including Let 100 Flowers Bloom which comprises a hundred elegant stainless steel lotus buds on 3m-long stems, while 80 Cow Dungs, cast in bronze, explores the relationship between animals and the land. “Not has taken a huge amount of time to really get to know and understand the landscape here,” says Lilley. “He walked around the parkland at different times of the day – and even at night – looking at the different viewpoints. At the preview, where we had people coming from all over the world, he was asking visitors if they had seen the bluebells in the woods.”
The woods themselves will be the site for a permanent structure that Vital is working on, to be installed at a later date – an aluminium bridge which will draw visitors to the far reaches of the park. “Not’s work melds architecture, sculpture and the land – it makes him a perfect artist for YSP,” says Lilley. “We care hugely about people and the experiences and emotions that are played out here and we can see that people are really responding to this exhibition already.”
At YSP until January 2, 2017.