21 May 2016–2 January 2017 Underground Gallery and open air Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) presents the first major UK exhibition and largest museum project to date by the extraordinary and enigmatic Swiss artist, Not Vital. New works, specially developed for YSP’s indoor and open-air spaces, are shown alongside a selection drawn from the last thirty years of Vital’s career. The artist’s work is inextricably linked to his native Sent, a tiny village in the lower Engadin valley in the Swiss Alps, yet his practice is crucially fed by a life made rich through global travel and an enduring sense of enquiry and wonder. Vital is currently working in numerous and divergent places: Bataan (Philippines), Beijing, Flores (Indonesia), Rio de Janeiro, and Patagonia.
Within the Underground Gallery are paintings, works on paper and sculpture made from materials including plaster, silver, gold, marble and glass, reflecting the characteristic strokes of Vital’s practice – its muted palette, pared-back elegance and meticulous craftsmanship. Centrally, the Engadin landscape, with its particular way of life, its mountains, snow, reflections and textures, is expressed through pieces such as Piz Nair (2011), a portrait of the mountain rendered in coal, Marble Sled (2004) and a glass Snowball (2001). Other major recurrent themes are also referenced, from animals and nature to the surreal, in works such as 4 Camels for Yorkshire (2016) and 8 Halves (2006), the latter an amalgamation of eight repeated white casts of the rear half and long hind legs of an animal.
Self-portraiture is an important strand in Vital’s work – revealed in sculptures such as the bronze Self Portrait with Six Ears (2016) and the plaster Self Portrait as Village Idiot (2012). Vital uses the genre to disguise himself and to try out different identities, exploring
Not Vital Media release
ideas of the real and imaginary self. The exhibition is also the European premiere of an extraordinary group of monochrome portrait paintings, one made especially for the gallery and measuring eleven metres long and four metres high. Vital’s sitters are closely connected to his personal and professional life, and include family, friends and studio assistants. Portrayed in full frontal poses against a minimal background, they are at once intimate and confrontational.
The experience of walking between gallery spaces along a full height glazed concourse brings together indoors and outdoors, something that is so symbolic in the artist’s work. From the gallery a series of HEADS (2014) can be seen against the dark green of the historic yew hedge. Other works in the open air resonate with YSP’s rolling 18th-century estate. Let 100 Flowers Bloom (2008), comprising 100 elegant lotus buds on three-metre long stems, rendered in stainless steel, stretches almost the entire length of the 18thcentury Terrace. Big Tongue (1996–97) overlooks the Bothy Garden and Yorkshire landscape beyond.
Cast in bronze, 80 Cow Dungs (1990–) raises the status of ubiquitous natural countryside waste to precious object, re-emphasising the relationship between animals and land, pivotal both to YSP and to Vital himself. Vital began the edition of 1,000 cow dungs when he went to Nepal in the late 1980s and saw that dung was being burnt for fuel. He witnessed children injured from the fires and discovered the local hospital lacked a burns unit. Income generated from sales of the cow dungs has since created a specialist unit, which is still running today, and profits from the edition, which is nearly complete, continue to support it.
Central to Vital’s wider practice is an exploration of the spatial, economic and cultural contexts of his homes and workplaces. Makaranta (school) (2003), an adobe pyramid in Aladab in Niger, is a ‘human sculpture’, a structure in which students shelter and learn, and on which they can sit, sing and pray, transforming the artwork into an open-air schoolhouse or vice-versa.
Vital’s House to Watch the Sunset (2005) is precisely that, drawing out the locations’ extraordinary qualities and indigenous materials, and simultaneously giving work to local people. The artist is building the same house on each continent, always using a different, local material; two have been completed in Agadez, Niger and in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, others are at different stages of construction in Indonesia, Mongolia and Thailand. The exhibition features a large model of the work in the open air. Vital’s largest work to date is an island in Patagonia that he acquired in 2008 and named NotOna (2009). Here he has excavated a fifty-metre long, domed space, polishing its floor to create a ‘house’ in a solid piece of the island’s natural marble.
Having spent time exploring YSP’s landscape, Vital will create a site-specific work in the form of an aluminum bridge that will stand as a long-term legacy of the exhibition. In the far reaches of the historic Bretton Estate, the bridge will draw visitors deep into the lakeside area, echoing the tradition of 18th-century follies marking key viewing points. The second in the series of seven bridge projects by the artist (the first can be seen in Vital’s sculpture park in Sent), it joins other commissions at YSP by Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash and James Turrell. Models of all seven bridges are displayed in the Project Space as part of the exhibition.
Born in 1948 in Sent, Switzerland, Vital grew up among the mountains and forests of the lower Engadin valley, on the border with Austria and Italy. His first language is Romansch, the rarest of Switzerland’s four official languages spoken only by 35,000 people, and by a young age he could already speak four languages. His polyglot abilities and his nomadic lifestyle play an important role in his exploration of the world and its peoples, enabling Vital to work with craftsmen around the world, including steel-chasers in Beijing, glass blowers in Murano, Tuareg silversmiths in Agadez, and ceramicists in Jingdezhen.
NOTES TO EDITORS
ABOUT NOT VITAL Not Vital established a foundation in Ardez (a small historic village in the Engadin) in 2003 with the aim of preserving the cultural assets of the Engadin. He has a sculpture/ architecture park in nearby Sent and has realised contemplative buildings in Belgium, Patagonia, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Amazon, and Niger. His work has featured in “Plateau of Humanity” at the 49th Venice Biennale, Italy (2001), with major recent exhibitions at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Germany (2005); The Arts Club of Chicago, Illinois, (2006); KÖR Kunsthalle Wien public space Karlsplatz, Vienna, Austria (2009–2010); Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China (2011); the Cabinet d’Arts Graphiques, Musées d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva, Switzerland (2014); and the Museo d’arte di Mendrisio, Mendrisio, Switzerland (2014–2015). In 2013, 700 Snowballs was on view on the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, Italy, and in autumn 2014, Vital’s Tongue was featured in the Busan Biennale 2014, South Korea. Muntognas , an intimate group of the artist’s marble sculptures, will go on display at Ordovas in Savile Row, London from 10 June to 5 August 2016.
YORKSHIRE SCULPTURE PARK Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) is the leading international centre for modern and contemporary sculpture. It is an independent charitable trust and registered museum (number 1067908) situated in the 500-acre, 18th-century Bretton Hall estate in West Yorkshire. Founded in 1977 by Executive Director Peter Murray, YSP was the first sculpture park in the UK, and is the largest of its kind in Europe, providing the only place in Europe to see Barbara Hepworth’s The Family of Man in its entirety alongside a significant collection of sculpture, including bronzes by Henry Moore, and site-specific works by Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash and James Turrell.
YSP also mounts a world-class, year-round temporary exhibitions programme including some of the world’s leading artists across five indoor galleries and the open air. Recent highlights include exhibitions by Bill Viola, Anthony Caro, Fiona Banner, Ai Weiwei, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Amar Kanwar, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Joan Miró and Jaume Plensa. More than 80 works on display across the estate include major sculptures by Ai Weiwei, Roger Hiorns, Sol LeWitt, Joan Miró, Dennis Oppenheim and Magdalena Abakanowicz.
YSP’s core work is made possible by investment from Arts Council England, Wakefield Council, Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation and Sakurako and William Fisher through the Sakana Foundation. YSP was named Art Fund Museum of the Year in 2014.
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