The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is one of the world’s leading open-air galleries. It has been one of Yorkshire’s biggest attractions for many years and has grown massively since its creation in 1977.
Broadening out from humble beginnings, the park has gone from being a modest exhibition centre for sculpture in Yorkshire to being one of the most popular art attractions in the country.
This summer proves to be a good one for Yorkshire, as not only will the Tour de France be passing through, but the Yorkshire Sculpture Park has been shortlisted for the Museum of the Year award.
Peter Murray, the Sculpture Park’s founder and Executive Director, was awarded an OBE in 1996 for his services to the arts, and also a CBE in 2010. Commenting on how it feels for the Sculpture Park to be on the Museum of the Year shortlist, he said: “Its terrific; a big surprise, really, when you look at the shortlist. But we are, obviously, absolutely delighted, and it’s great for us, it’s great for the staff, and it’s great for Yorkshire as well.”
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is situated in an idyllic setting in a park near Wakefield, and has been since it was founded, but why did Peter decide that Wakefield would be the best place in the country for the park? “To a certain extent I didn’t, I think Wakefield decided,” he laughs. “I came to Bretton Hall College to run a post-graduate course in Art Education and had this idea of putting some sculpture in the grounds of the college, and that’s really how the Sculpture Park started. It was a very modest beginning, but I really did sense the potential from the outset. I can’t really say I had an image of what we have now. I do think it is one of the best sites in the country, if not in Europe, for the type of work we do. It’s a beautiful landscape and it’s a very varied landscape.”
The Park has expanded massively since its creation. Murray says that the public attitude to it has changed just as much as the landscape. “In the early days, there was a lot of opposition,” he says. “One’s got to realise that back then the land wasn’t open to the public, it was part of a college, so the Sculpture Park actually was the catalyst that opened up the Bretton estate to the public. There wasn’t a great deal of interest or empathy for contemporary sculpture, particularly in the open-air, when we first started. It’s been a big learning curve for me and my colleagues, but it was also quite a learning curve for the politicians and the public, so the difference is enormous now and we have terrific support from the public. We also attract great art and we’ve got a tremendous staff, as well. So, the combination of land, location and all those things is really a wonderful mix.”
Are there any exhibits he would like to see at the Sculpture Park that have not yet been featured? “An exhibition by Alexander Calder. I would love to show Calder at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. He made these wonderful mobiles.”
Murray says that the Park will continue to expand. “We have big plans for next year. We are hoping to organise another Henry Moore exhibition, which would be a fantastic thing because he was born in the Wakefield area and he was our founding patron. The other thing we’re doing is we’re going to celebrate the life and achievements of Sir Anthony Caro who died last year and is recognised as one of Britain’s great sculptors.”
The winner of the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year will be announced at a ceremony at the National Gallery in London on Wednesday July 9.