21st century Houghton Hall has continued the tradition of carefully-placed sculptures in the landscape with its contemporary installations by artists such as Richard Long, Rachel Whiteread, James Turrell and Anya Gallaccio which await discovery in the gardens. Now Damien Hirst has arrived to break the mould with his unique sculptures outside and new works inside. The ancestral paintings and the great art classical works have art have gone, to be replaced by his ‘Colour Space Paintings’ and other active installations within the Palladian architecture of the state rooms. In the great Stone Hall, Sir Wallace Walpole, himself a great art collector, looks down from his perch on the mantelpiece while cherubs above the doorcases pointedly look the other way as suddenly two glass boxes spring into life, with coloured balls floating around, as a precursor to the paintings that now fill the house.
Following on from his success in Venice last year, this is a more limited, but equally adventurous, display. What works best are the sculptures both inside and outside the house, perhaps because their three dimensionality contrasts with their setting. The paintings work in some rooms, and are less successful in others where they clash with the original decoration. They also start to lose their impact as you visit, given they are all in the same series. While there are some interventions that add life, it would have been good if there had been some mischievous change along the way, which is what the original designers of the Hall would have done. Perhaps there is, but it is too subtle.
A great experiment:- is this the start of a regular programme, with different artists in different years?