Fountains Abbey to host 'big and bold' outdoor exhibition of artist Steve Messam's work

The controversial Folly! exhibition is returning to Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal this spring.

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens

2020 is the fourth year that site owners the National Trust have commissioned an artist to design ambitious pieces to display within the abbey ruins and surrounding water gardens.

The fourth Folly! event is described as 'the biggest and boldest yet' and is inspired by a 16-metre funerary pyramid proposed by 18th-century estate owner William Aislabie as a memorial to his father. There is no evidence the mystery structure was ever built, but plans for its design have been preserved.

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Deer in the Studley Royal grounds

Folly! pays homage to the Aislabie family's penchant for using follies to delight guests visiting the Studley Royal gardens, which they laid out as a pleasure ground during the Georgian period.

County Durham-based artist Steve Messam's work will feature in this year's Folly! trail, which runs from May until November. He will supply two full-time and one pop-up installation.

His work explores the colour and scale of places. Previous commissions include Paperbridge, a packhorse bridge in the Lake District made from 22,000 sheets of paper, and Hush, a lead mining scar in the Pennines that was filled with 5km of yellow fabric.

His works planned for the Fountains Abbey grounds are called Bridged, Drifted and Spiked.

Studley Royal Water Gardens

Bridged is a textile-clad outdoor footbridge crossing the River Skell on the site of a bridge that once stood there in the 1770s. Drifted is a series of 20 floating pyramids in the upper canal. Spiked, which will appear occasionally, is an inflatable yellow starburst projecting from the colonnade of the Temple of Piety, one of the existing follies in the gardens.

Steve Messam said:-

“I guess the overall thing is identifying with the whole concept of follies - architectural oddities of no specific function other than their visual aesthetic. While over time we may invest them with meaning or stories, at their core they’re just there - large-scale artworks in the landscape, and as an artist that’s what I’ve been interested in for the past 20 years. I’m also interested in the role that follies play in creating focal points in constructed views of the landscape.”