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Published: January 7th 2021
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Damian Hirst - The Virgin Mother
Driving home for Christmas. It would be different in 2020. The shadow of COVID would mean for many the journey would not happen - and for others, it would be a very brief visit. London and the South East had been placed in Tier 4 just before the big day. Travel from the area was effectively banned, although nobody had bothered to enforce the message as a deluge of people desperately descended on St Pancras Railway Station in a bid to depart north before the last trains of the evening left. A scene reminiscent of a World War 2 evacuation before the Blitz unfolded. A few days previously, the South had been almost sniggering at the North as they enjoyed an almost normal pub life. Drinking in the then Tier 2 could continue, as long as accompanied by a "substantial" meal. A senior Government Minister lent his weight to the concept of a Scotch egg being a "substantial" meal. The credibility of political argument descended to levels not seen since the "Special Advisor" had his appointment at an optician in Barney. Scotch egg sales no doubt soared on the free publicity.
The Tier system had always been criticised for being
a mixed bag of messages and the constant swapping of your Tier meant digesting a whole new set of rules. There has been a perceived bias of the North being victimised. The South generally remained in lower Tiers, until the new variant of COVID was identified as spreading like wildfire around London and Kent. However, spare a thought for poor old Herefordshire. A different day, a different Tier. In a matter of weeks, they had almost done the full circuit. We will return to Christmas later, but first time to move on to the great outdoors.
The opportunity to do all the normal things associated with this time of year were off limits to most. Pubs closed in many areas. The majority of museums and galleries closed. No indoor mixing. Friends, who would normally return "home", remained in other parts of the country or the world. We seem to be back firmly in Square 1, where we were last March. Outdoor entertainment was the answer. Alas, football matches have only been available to intrepid investigators in recent weeks and pretty much all restricted to "home" fans only. The Football Association in their wisdom deemed it safe to continue with
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Niki De Saint Phalle - Buddha
FA Vase and FA Trophy games for the smaller clubs, but in many cases they were behind closed doors. The so called elite clubs of the sport carried on largely oblivious as a TV spectacle and some even sneaked winter break in Dubai. The answer for a possible outdoor walk with a difference. The Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I add some photographs from the time when non-essential travel was allowed.
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park used to have free access. The catch? A hefty parking charge. Ideal if you own a people carrier and arrive with a small tribe, but quite pricey for 2 people in a car. The reduction of visitors due to COVID restrictions has seen an admission charge (albeit only for the adults), partially so they can more easily identify the exact number of visitors. Online advance booking was easy with a ticket just stored digitally on the mobile and negated the need to feed a parking meter.
Alas, the full Yorkshire Sculpture Park experience is not currently available. The indoor galleries are understandably closed to minimise crowding in confined indoor spaces. The cafes are closed too, but takeaway is available. Wakefield has put itself at the
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Sean Henry - Seated Man
forefront of being a modern art destination, following on from the links with Barbara Hepworth. The starter for 10 is the Hepworth Museum in the town centre, which contains many of her smaller works and those of fellow sculptors such as Henry Moore. The outdoor works in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park are on a much bigger scale - 500 acres takes a bit of filling. However, the focal point on arrival was a huge cockerill by guest artist, Joana Vasconcelos. It sits next to the main building and looks over the sprawling parkland. The Sculpture Park is set around the old Bretton Hall Estate, owned originally by the Dronfield family and then subsequently by the Wentworth family. It is a large pad and the old Hall was once graced by King Henry VIII for a 3 night stay. The current Hall largely dates from 1720 and was a family home until the sale to the local County Council in 1947. The building then operated as a College until 2001 and was part of the extended campus of Leeds University until 2007. The grounds, parks and gardens are now under stewardship of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
We set off down
towards the closed indoor galleries, where more Vasconcelos works await. The walled garden contains a huge ring, constructed of alloy car wheels and plastics glasses for the diamond. There is a bottle, a teapot and a huge ladies handbag - modelled on a Mulberry Bayswater, if I am not mistaken. The other works - a giant pair of shoes - are visible inside the gallery. We moved out into the open parkland. The Hepworth "Family of Man" is watched over by the Standing Man, a work by Elisabeth Frink. The boggy ground made walking a bit difficult at times, but we pressed on to the Cascade Bridge and the horizon beyond. One of the larger statues in the Park was on the far ridge - the Seated Man by Sean Henry. The work had been on the North Yorkshire Moors until last year, when concerns were raised about erosion with the sheer numbers of walkers trampling across the heather to visit it. The Seated Man has found a new home, looking out over this piece of Yorkshire.... or at least, this version has. I read that the sculptor has completed a second work - very similar, but not identical -
and it is to be found in a remote part of Otago, New Zealand, somewhere near Otago. The 3.6 metre Man gazes back towards the Hall below. The visitors were fewer in number at the extremities of the Park and the muddy surface made the walking a bit more challenging. A few visitors regretted the inappropriate choice of footwear. The new trainers for Christmas don't quite cut the part, when covered in brown mud.
We descended through the woodland to the Dam Head Bridge, where a Damien Hirst work dominated the landscape. The 2005 Virgin Mother stands 6 metres tall and has two distinct sides to the character. I can imagine it is not in the taster of everyone. At 6 metres tall, you can't miss it. Hirst hails from Leeds and as well as a few other works in the Sculpture Park, there are simultaneous displays in the city centre. This area was probably the busiest in visitor numbers and the social distancing required a bit more thought in proximity to the Hirst works. The final section of our walk was all Henry Moore. A founding patron, his works dominated the climb back to the car.
return to the Driving Home For Christmas theme. Top to toe in tailbacks, it was not. The roads were absolutely dead on the Christmas Day journey north. Have yourself a Merry "Little" Christmas, quipped Number 10. They had a point. Social distancing was the order of the day, but the Outlaw had requested that we visit. She had been devoid of company for a lot of the year and had been so looking forward to the original Boris plan of 5 days. In her eyes having lived through the explosive objects falling from the sky as a child in London, she was more than prepared to take the COVID risk to see her daughter... even only for a day. I was on driving duties, so there was no chance of over indulgence. Fortunately, the supplies of Guinness provided do not go off and will be there for another day. However as I write, we are once again back in national lockdown status and who knows when I might get to drink them. Schools are now closed. Exams scrapped and it is enshrined in law, that there will be no travel to write about. Stay at Home is the message. What
was it that the politicians said, the Tier system is working. Perhaps, that was a little optimistic after all. Things can only get better in 2021. We await the roll out of the vaccine. Happy New Year.
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