‘A Playground of Creativity’ is a new feature for Boom Saloon’s inaugural Issue #001 ‘Beginnings’ about Jupiter Artland, an award-winning private museum for contemporary sculpture outside of Edinburgh, UK. Built on a conversation with founder Nicky Wilson, the piece approaches the unique concept of the space, what it means to be an art collector in the 21st century and the future of Scottish art.
Set in a 100-acre country estate of thick woodlands, gentle mounds, vast fields and an impressive Jacobean manor house tugged away to the west of Edinburgh City, Jupiter Artland by now is a not-so-well-kept secret treasure trove for art aficionados and landscape lovers alike.
When homeopath Robert Wilson and his wife Nicky bought Bonnington House in 1999 and moved up from London with kit and caboodle, using the venerable building and its enormous surrounding grounds just for private matters never crossed the mind of the trained sculptress: ‘My first thoughts were that the land had possibilities to house sculptures. My husband has grown up surrounded by artists and poets and the plan simply evolved naturally.’
With over 140 landscape parks in the UK, the idea was not necessarily something new, yet there is a major detail that sets Jupiter Artland apart from shining examples such as the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, New York’s Storm King Art Centre or the Yorkshire Sculpture Park: Jupiter Artland is a private collection that seeks the connection with the general public and is therefore a perfect antidote to the common perception that private investment in art is solely used for personal gain.
Seeing themselves as art philanthropists, Nicky strongly emphasises the interplay of art and its audience as a necessity for creative development: ‘Our love of art comes from a need for it to be in our physical environment. Our wish to share our art comes from a need to not be sitting on an extraordinary collection as a private delight. Art benefits from being seen.’
So after ten long years of observation, planning, alteration and cultivation, the Wilsons finally opened the gates to their newly designed sculpture park that sits alongside the family home. It shows site-specific permanent works by leading contemporary artists like Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Anya Gallaccio, Ian Hamilton Finlay or Cornelia Parker as well as an ever growing number of commissioned pieces.
As early as his first visit in 2004, American landscape artist Charles Jencks, whose monumental landmark piece ‘Cells of Life’ takes centre stage at Jupiter Artland, once gave the couple a valuable piece of advice for their humble beginnings: ‘For me sculpture parks are wonderful, but the more successful they are, they turn into parking lots for sculpture.’
The Wilsons have taken his words to heart, when it comes to acquiring new art for the collection and preventing Jupiter Artland from such an unlikely fate. Clearly, acquiring or commissioning a piece of art doesn’t work in quite the same ways as curating an exhibition for a gallery. Topography and complexion of the terrain plays an equally important role alongside components of aestheticism and appeal. ‘You have to be very self critical about your choices, listen to your own ideas about the landscape and listen to the landscape itself’, Nicky notes. Their philosophy follows a healthy understanding for the space and its capabilities and limits, in seeing the art and its surroundings in parity, as equal partners. ‘We are talking about an understanding about the landscape, a relationship with the artist and an idea of how those two manifest the “other”.’ And so far, the sculptor manque ends up being right. Even though their park features over 30 different art pieces by now, Jupiter Artland’s sheer size ousts any feeling of an art overkill.
Aside from being sought-after as a heaven for sculpture by an audience from far and wide, Jupiter Artland plays host to the contemporary arts extravaganza of the Edinburgh Art Festival every year, yet takes great pride in its own educational programme in particular. ‘The extraordinary access to the family collection we allow is something you won’t find in any public collection but we believe that art needs to be touched, experienced and have time spent with it to allow the full meaning and power of it to make an impact‘, she observes with a hint of pride. It’s the education in art that is one of the pillars of a healthy society, the Wilsons believe, and makes artist-led workshops, school projects, creative writing courses and digital collaborations an important aspect of their continual work-in-progress at Bonnington House.
The future is bright beyond the horizon. Even in these times of painful cuts in public arts funding, Nicky is far from worried about Scotland’s homegrown art scene: ‘Scottish art could not be healthier, and perhaps the fact that it is shielded from the siren calls of the YBA movement geographically has allowed it to have a worldwide impact of integrity and true value. It’s the culture of debate, ambition and deep thinking that makes the Scottish artists so successful.’
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