‘A sculptor’s playground’

Janus Head by Peter Burke at the Cass Sculpture Foundation.  Picture: Steve Reid (122094-088)
Janus Head by Peter Burke at the Cass Sculpture Foundation. Picture: Steve Reid (122094-088)
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In a clearing deep in the South Downs countryside, the biggest creature that has ever lived on earth has been taking shape.

Workers and machinery have cleared space and shifted materials and the 23m blue whale now sits among scaffolding waiting for visitors to marvel at its size and magnificence.

Claire Shea looking through Loop by Eilis O'Connell at the Cass Sculpture Foundation. Picture: Steve Reid (122094-207)

Claire Shea looking through Loop by Eilis O'Connell at the Cass Sculpture Foundation. Picture: Steve Reid (122094-207)

But this is just the outline of the creature that is bigger than the biggest dinosaurs. The whale has been formed by welding together pieces of stainless steel tubing and is a life-size version of a sketch by sculptor David Brooks.

New Yorker David is on site for this momentous occasion at Cass Sculpture Foundation – the beautiful woodland setting for more than 80 pieces of work by emerging and influential sculptors at Goodwood, near Chichester.

In the 30-acre leafy grounds, stunning and intriguing examples of contemporary art sit in the shade of trees or grace small fields overlooking the rolling South Downs. These amazing pieces, created by some of the biggest and up-and-coming talents in the sculpture world, are for sale and can cost up to £1.5m.

‘It’s a sculptor’s playground, it really is,’ says 36-year-old David, an emerging artist who has made quite a name for himself along the East Coast of America.

‘This is an enormous opportunity for me. Some of the people that have work here are the sort of sculpture giants I was studying when I was at art school.’

David’s whale is just one of the new things taking shape at Cass Sculpture Foundation, which is enjoying a pretty special year.

Not only is it the 20th anniversary of the charity – founded by sculpture collectors Wilfred and Jeannette Cass who live on the site – but the foundation will also be celebrating a connection with the Olympics by hosting a very special event.

On July 16 the Olympic flame will be carried through the Cass grounds where specially-invited organisations will be gathered.

The Olympic connection is with Thomas Heatherwick, who has a stunning piece called Pavilion at the Cass site. He is the designer of the Olympic Cauldron, which will house the torch at the 2012 games.

Cass Foundation director Claire Shea says: ‘Pavilion was one of his first pieces when he was a student. Wilfred and Jeannette saw it in London and asked him to rebuild it at Goodwood.’

Cass Foundation is also behind a special project for the Cultural Olympiad – a UK-wide programme of events running for the next few months.

British artist Tony Cragg – one of the world’s most influential sculptors and Turner Prize winner in 1988 – will be displaying several pieces of work along London’s Exhibition Road and in the V&A and Natural History and Science Museums from September.

The exhibition is a project of the Cass Foundation, which has also been working with Cragg for a 20th anniversary celebration.

Two fields at the Cass site are now dedicated to special exhibitions and the first artists to show work here are the renowned Cragg and the emerging David Brooks.

‘One of the reasons Wilfred and Jeannette set up the foundation was to encourage and support younger artists, as well as show the work of more established sculptors,’ says Claire.

‘So it’s fitting that for the 20th anniversary we have one field for an established sculptor and one for someone who is emerging.’

Cragg’s work is in the Coastal Field overlooking the Downs all the way to the Solent. His fibreglass sculptures Luke (2008) and Current Version (2010), are twisted towers of layered material that have been placed directly on the grass and stand tall against the backdrop of slopes and sea.

David’s work is in the Deer Hut Field which also enjoys the Downs and distant coast view. His Picnic Grove is a sprawling sculpture of custom-made interlocked picnic tables that have trees growing through them.

‘I like to look at how humans try to dominate the landscape and these have gone viral, they’re like a sprawl that’s growing,’ says David. ‘But we can’t dominate because the trees are growing through and reclaiming them.’

The Cragg and Brooks exhibitions run until November but the rest of the sculptures stay on the site, although they are not permanent.

Wilfred and Jeannette Cass had the idea for a sculpture foundation after collecting works that stood in their garden. They spent a year travelling the world looking at sculpture parks before coming up with a model for their own grounds.

‘They noticed that a lot of the places they visited had become cluttered and dated, so they came up with something very different,’ says Claire.

The idea was to commission artists to produce works and pay the production costs. The works would then be for sale and in this way they could provide an ever-changing site for sculpture.

‘It’s great for emerging and younger artists because creating something for this sort of space often helps them to develop and change the way they think,’ explains Claire.

‘It’s an opportunity to explore work on a larger scale and this is when elements of construction and engineering come into play.’

Sitting at one of his picnic tables, David Brooks looks delighted to be at the Cass Foundation and seems happy with the progress of his other piece, Blue Whale.

‘Again it’s a look at our attempt to dominate the landscape. But this creature is so huge it can compete with things we create,‘ he says. And yes, it is also for sale, at a cool £125,000. Anyone need a blue whale for their garden?

Look out for these...

The beautiful, the disturbing and the puzzling catch the corner of the eye as the visitor wanders wooded paths and clearings at Cass Sculpture Foundation.

The 80 or so sculptures at the idyllic site are widely spaced, so they seem to leap out from the leafy setting and jolt the senses.

In a clearing, heading towards David Brooks’ playful but reflective picnic table sculpture, stand 40 silently expectant and eerie figures, facing the same direction like a watchful army.

This is Host by Peter Burke, a collection of people-like figures made from copper containers and squashed into a mould. Cass Sculpture Foundation director Claire Shea says: ‘The sculptor is interested in using industrial processes to produce a very random effect. Even thought they’re standing the same way they are very different, so I think it’s a case of ‘no matter how hard you try, people are going to be themselves.’

Helaine Blumenfeld’s Spirit of Life is a sculpture that grabs the attention for its beauty and flowing lines. The marble piece could almost be fluttering in the breeze. ‘It reminds me of a flower, it looks so delicate. But that delicacy is combined with great strength,’ says Claire.

Folly by Sean Henry is popular with amateur photographers as visitors can stand, sit or lie in the sculptor’s ‘set’ featuring life-like but enlarged figures of a man in different states of consciousness.

There are plenty of other sculptures waiting to surprise the visitor in the grounds at Goodwood, near Chichester. Cass Sculpture Foundation is open from Tuesday to Sunday between 10.30am and 4.30pm from the beginning of April until the end of October. Admission is £10 per person. Visit sculpture.org.uk or call (01243) 538449.

Exhibition Road and the London 2012 Festival

Tony Cragg’s work will form the first exhibition of sculpture along the pedestrianised section of Exhibition Road, London – an area with a grand history of display.

The road has links with the Great Exhibition of 1851, conceived by Prince Albert and inventor Henry Cole as an international showcase of industrial design and technology.

The profits generated by admission to the Great Exhibition helped to found major institutions along the road, including the V&A, Science Museum and Natural History Museum.

Cragg’s work, presented by Cass Sculpture Foundation, will also be on display in some of the museums.

The exhibition is part of this year’s London 2012 Festival or Cultural Olympiad, a UK-wide festival of events which started this week and will run for the next few months.

Cragg’s work will be in Exhibition Road from September until November.