A Walk Through the (Sculpture) Park with Frieze Curator Clare Lilley

By Ana Finel Honigman

Part of the pleasure for collectors and viewers at Frieze is imagining the work within their own personal context. Few visitors, however, could envision a more specular and dynamic location than Regent’s Park, where Clare Lilley is enjoying her second year curating the extraordinary Frieze Sculpture Park. As the Director of Programme at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Lilley has developed her profound appreciation of outdoor art’s vast potential and power. Her section for 2013 combines contemporary work from Frieze London with historical pieces from Frieze Masters. The artists involved include: Helen Chadwick, Alice Channer, Judy Chicago, Marilá Dardot, Elmgreen & Dragset, Gimhongsok, Jeppe Hein, Joan Miró, Peter Peri, Yinka Shonibare, David Shrigley, Rachel Whiteread, and Richard Woods. Here, Lilley reveals her thinking while developing one of the most vivid and engrossing sections of London’s leading art event.

Ana Finel Honigman: What are your considerations when arranging the sculptures? Is there a narrative you’re developing through the arrangement?

Clare Lilley: This is an idiosyncratic selection of works and there isn’t a narrative, but the English Gardens are a large area, so it’s important to have bold works in strategic places that attract people’s curiosity from different directions. We have a very bold, stainless steel play on Robert Indiana’s LOVE by Gimhongsok right at the southern end, then towards the northern end two very tall and quite dramatic works by Yinka Shonibare and Jaume Plensa, plus a large concrete cast of a garden shed interior by Rachel Whiteread. Those sculptures, through their height, surface and volume serve as a framework. Other works are sited in places that seem to offer themselves up for certain treatments—from the intimate to the exposed—and where their scale, alongside open space and trees, can be accommodated. Last year I had to ‘learn’ the English Gardens very quickly and thoroughly and this year I felt a little more playful, but still you must heed this designed landscape, which I find quite beautiful, and allow it to tell you things so the sculptures can reveal some of their secrets.

AFH: How are you working with the multiple entrance and exit points?

CL: I think about them a lot, hence the framework I just referred to. It’s important that the exhibition doesn’t flag at any point, that I maintain a momentum that keeps people journeying through and that the sculptures are in the best possible places.

AFH: How intensely did you work with the galleries in the Fair to select the sculptural works?

CL: Galleries who are showing at Frieze or Frieze Masters proposed works for the Park and we got off to a good start. I also chased some artists and sculptures quite hard. In the end there were more good works than we could accommodate, which is a nice position to be in, though also a shame to turn down such sterling pieces. Really, the Sculpture Park could be twice the size it is.

AFH: How will the Frieze London and Frieze Masters works be coordinated together this year?

CL: Except for the dates the sculpture were made and knowing the galleries, you probably won’t know the difference and I’m delighted to be able to put older works alongside new. Artists don’t work in bubbles and they’re entirely aware of what has gone before, so there’s a natural relationship that I think works well in this selection. For me, being able to show medieval gargoyles is fantastic; I started my career working as an assistant to the curator of the Royal Academy Age of Chivalry medieval exhibition and this architectural period is special to me. I’m particularly interested to show the carvings as artworks, as opposed to artifacts, as they’re often presented in museums. Here they’re going to live and breathe under the London sky and are up close in a way that is rarely seen.

AFH: Please tell me about Judy Chicago’s contribution to the Park and why she was chosen this year?

CL: When I studied Art History, Judy Chicago was an influential feminist artist—particularly because of her later Dinner Party installation of the mid-late ’70s—and it was very exciting to be offered a work by her. Rearrangeable Rainbow Blocks are painted aluminum blocks, which were fabricated in 1965 and were one of a series of coloured, multi-part sculptures. They are a minimalist statement by a woman who was using a dominant mode to explore spatial concerns and the experiential nature of colour. At the same time we were intent on disguising her gender. The sculpture at Frieze can be shown in a number of ways and the plan is that I’m in contact with Judy during the installation so our thoughts can come together. The work has never been shown in the UK and was repainted in 2011, so will absolutely sing out at Frieze. One of the beauties of having Frieze Masters galleries contributing to the Sculpture Park is that gems like this, which may have been overlooked, can take their place in such a good setting.

AFH: What works from the Sculpture Park’s past have been most successful with the least art savvy of the park's citizens: children and dogs?

CL: Last year the brightly coloured Yayoi Kusama flower, intriguing Anri Sala clock, and Peter Liversidge illuminated texts were very immediate and were instant hits. But I’ve learned never to underestimate an audience; dogs I’m not so sure about, but children can definitely be art savvy. Last year I listened to a group talking about the Jean Luc Moulène, Adip Dutta, and Hans Josephsohn—none of them ‘easy’—and they had very interesting thoughts. One of the reasons I love to curate outdoors is this accessibility to looking and thinking and speaking; literally the walls of the gallery are gone and certain boundaries disappear, allowing a freedom of expression.

AFH: How much do you know about viewers’ responses to each year’s selection? How do you evaluate a successful Sculpture Park?

CL: Frieze has a far-reaching evaluation process for those on their database and of course the media give some sense of a response; sales of course are a very important indicator. I suppose the success of the 2012 Sculpture Park was the reason why this year we had so many more proposals and why 2013 is the largest to date. I’m fairly self-critical so personally my evaluation is how proud I feel taking people around and watching people use the Park. Of course it’s satisfying to see colleagues, artists, and other professionals responding positively to the exhibition, but I’m also interested in the reaction of the mums, the workers, the runners and all the thousands of people who regularly use this public space. I enjoy seeing a runner do a u-turn and go back to a sculpture, jog around it and even stop to stand and look; or to hear a couple of teenagers discuss a work. Of course it isn’t all positive, but on the whole the public reaction last year was heartwarming—contrary to some claims, in my experience the Great British public are pretty inquisitive and open to the unusual.

AFH: When you curate, are you looking to stimulate joy and play or serious contemplation?

CL: All of those and more. For me, bringing a group of works together is one thing, and finding the right space for them in terms of scale, space, and association is vital, but also challenging. I spoke earlier about creating a rhythm through the exhibition; some works will immediately draw you to them, others to stand away from; some demand to be walked around or through, or they require pause and stillness. The physical effort of journeying through the Sculpture Park contributes to its experience and like most things, the more you put in the more you get out. All of the works give food for thought and have the potential to make your heart beat faster.

In the open-air the sensory aspects of sculptures are more evident than elsewhere. Changing natural light, shifting tones, and subtleties brought to light by rain and sunshine in their many dimensions; even the wind and the colours of the trees—all these affect our sensory response to sculpture outdoors, giving a life and energy that is entirely different to work in the gallery or museum.

Stone Model of a Seated Lion, Taifa Kingdom of Badajoz, 11th century, Coll & Cortés Fine Arts; Five Gargoyles, England and France, 13th – 15th century, Sam Fogg. 

On view at Regent’s Park, London, October 17th – 20th.

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