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Yorkshire Sculpture Park: a gallery without walls

Yorkshire Sculpture Park is one of the largest open-air sculpture galleries in the world. Dr Maddie Boden reveals highlights from their collection.
A photograph of a Henry Moore sculpture at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. A sheep is standing to the side of the sculpture and looking at the camera.
© University of York

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is an example of an outdoor exhibition space for sculpture.

Once the seat of the aristocratic Wentworth family and a former drama school, the Park is set over 500 rolling acres in the village of West Bretton. Rather than buildings and galleries, the Park displays an outdoor collection of 80 ‘Open Air’ sculptures across the natural landscape. These external spaces are useful to help us think about the reasons for displaying sculpture outdoors.

According to the founder and director, Peter Murray, the Open-Air collection is an opportunity to see “art without walls”. His vision for Yorkshire Sculpture Park was a cohesive museum experience, just without the architectural constraints of a museum building. For many examples in the Park, this relates to the size of the sculpture. The outdoor setting can accommodate monumental and large-scale works that otherwise could not practically be displayed in a museum. As a result, the Park commissions artists to make ambitious sculpture suited to its spacious display environment.


The phrase “art without walls” also suggests that your personal encounter with a sculpture outdoors will be much different to that of a painting hanging on the wall of a museum. Unlike painting, sculpture typically does not have any need for walls and can stand freely on its own and withstand harsher conditions.

The Open-Air collection includes many works where the landscape plays an integral role in its appearance and display. This means that the outdoor environment transforms, enhances and, in some cases, becomes the subject of the sculpture. This is particularly important in the work of the British sculptor, Andy Goldsworthy (b. 1956).

Goldsworthy creates site-specific installations that use the natural materials in the surrounding landscape. In other words, his sculpture is guided by the outdoor environment. At Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Goldsworthy’s Outclosure is made using the same dry-stone walling technique widely found in rural Yorkshire. In another installation, he collaborated with a local tenant farmer, Phillip Platt, to build a new functional sheepfold. As you can imagine, it’s not possible to ‘move’ either of these installations or recreate them in an indoor gallery. Goldsworthy’s sculpture reflects on the longstanding relationship between people and their environment and sculpture’s dependence on natural, organic materials.

For other pieces in the Open Air collection, such as a series of bronzes by Henry Moore, the outdoors can have a profound physical effect. Bronze naturally oxidises and therefore, once a sculpture has spent a period outdoors, the patina, or surface, changes into a mixture of brown, copper and green tones. We can see this in the example below, a sculpture by Moore titled Large Two Forms. The Park’s conservation department works to preserve the original colouring Moore gave to his bronzes, but it is interesting to note the physical changes sculpture can undergo, long after it has left the artist’s studio.

Oxidised Henry Moore

© University of York
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