Out in the Somerset countryside, with the fields turning yellow in the heatwave of the 2018 summer, there is something strange in the landscape floating behind a sea of plants which move slowly in the wind, with what could be circular yellow footsteps leading to it at the top of the hill. Is it something from another world, a huge boulder or a huge egg?
For those of you with good memories, you will remember it as the 2014 Serpentine Pavilion designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radic, a place for community, for engagement and for events, and the ‘footsteps’ will soon return to their rich green colour when the autumn rains revitalise the grass and the landscaping designed by Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf who is perhaps best-known for the High Line in New York. The Pavilion looks more at home here in the wide open spaces of Somerset expansive landscape than it did in the constrained garden of the Serpentine.
The international gallery Hauser & Wirth, with its London base in Savile Row, has created its new Somerset base at Durslade Farm, with the farm buildings dating back to the 18th century sensitively refurbished and extended to provide gallery spaces, shop, restaurant and other learning and arts spaces by Laplace & C0 and benjamin+beauchamp, while the restaurant Roth Bar and Grill serves local produce, including meat from Durslade Farm itself.
Sculptures placed into the landscape include Richard Long’s slate ‘Madrid Line North’ and several by Alexander Calder linking to the current major exhibition ‘From the Stony River to the Sky’, showing almost 100 of Calder’s works. Most of these have not been seen in the UK before and range from small domestic items to major sculptures, filling the different gallery spaces – a highly appropriate setting as Calder himself bought a delapidated farmhouse in Roxbury, Connecticut in 1933 and converted it to his home and studios, and it was this rural setting which he inspired him to make outdoor sculptures, as described by his grandson Alexander S C Rower: “Roxbury had a direct impact on my grandfather’s work. He owned 18 acres and was inspired to bring sculpting outdoors for the first time. My grandparents lived in the fresh air and close to the land. ”
Is Hauser & Wirth Somerset the start of a trend, with Messums Wiltshire also not so far away, enabling galleries to do things they couldn’t do in the confined spaces of London such as community and youth events and artists residences, while also providing a rural landscape in which to display sculpture?