Tjuvholmen sculpture park near Astrup Fearley Museet in Oslo
End-of-Summer Cultural Tourism Guide - Ten Sculpture Parks. From the excellent, to the really weird
The environment plays a big role in sculpture parks, by its very nature displacing the usual “white cube” with a background of manicured lawns, forest thickets or the crashing waves of the sea. Here it rains, the sun dries, and the snows blow freely. The sculptures practically change according to the weather, looking different under clear skies than they do under overcast ones. The works of art faithfully stand where they have been placed, but they live a much more intense life than if they were in a museum or gallery. It's a given that the best and most interesting sculpture parks are an essential part of a good cultural tourism trip. We've selected ten parks located in Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Norway, all of which are perfectly suited for visiting in the final days of summer, when we all want to avoid having to go indoors for as long as possible.
For those interested in going on a similar tour in 2014, we recommend keeping an eye on developments in Oslo. Construction is currently going on for a gigantic sculpture park costing almost 40 million euros, and which is set to display 80 works by renown artists. Although the city's inhabitants aren't too excited about the park (trees growing on Ekeberg Hill, where the park will be located, had to be sacrificed), the project's initiator – businessman and art collector Christian Ringnes – is unwaveringly charging ahead. The drama can be followed on the park's regularly-updated Facebook page, as well as on the Facebook page set up by the movement that sprung up in opposition to the park – “Save Ekeberg Forest”.
But for now, we'll concentrate on parks that opened last year, or ten years ago, or even twenty or eighty years ago.
Tjuvholmen, Astrup Fearley Museet, Oslo
“A world-class sculpture island” is how the Tjuvholmen sculpture park is described in a press release that tells of the ten-year-long process it took to create the park. The Park was designed by renown Italian architect Renzo Piano, who also designed the new building for the Astrup Fearnley private museum, which will see its first anniversary on 29 September. The adjacent sculpture park opened a bit earlier – on 11 August of last year. Here you can see Louise Burgeois' “Eyes”; Antony Gormley's bronze figure “Edge II”, which horizontally “stands” on the museum's wall, facing the ground; and Ugo Rondinone's large-scale bust with a rag-doll's smile – “moonrise.east.november”, among many other works. Right next-door is the city's new public beach, which was constructed at the same time as the museum, making the new territory a true crossroads of contemporary recreation. www.tjuvholmen.no
One of Norway's tourist magnets is the 80 acre-large Vigeland Park, which holds the world record for being the largest sculpture park created by just one artist. It is located inside of Frogner Park, Oslo's largest city park, which also contains Oslo's City Museum, a swimming pool complex, a stadium, a 19th century manor, and a pond. Vigeland Park was the lifetime-long project of Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943), and contains over 200 of his bronze, granite and iron sculptures. The unbelievably prolific artist (who also designed the medals given out to Nobel Prize winners) differentiated himself from his peers not only with his ability, but with his imagination as well. Although they were created around 70 years ago, the sculptures in Vigeland Park are neither old-fashioned nor stiff and boring. In fact, they are quite the opposite. Here you'll see a huge bronze child bawling his head off, about to stomp his little foot against the ground; a naked man fending off four infants with his leg and strong hands; a child in the fetal position, head pointing downwards; and the park's most popular statue – a 14-meter-high monolith made up of 121 interwoven human bodies stretching towards the sky. This huge tower was hewn from one, single block of granite. Having worked on the the piece for 14 years, three stone-masons carved the sculpture according to a model that Vigeland had made from clay. Another widely recognized work is a fountain consisting of 60 bronze reliefs that depict tree branches melding together with little children, thereby symbolizing the never-ending circle of life and death. Gustav Vigeland was also responsible for the park's design and architecture. How did this all begin? – you may ask. His workshop and home were demolished in 1921 to make way for a library. The city gave Vigeland a new studio, in exchange for which Vigeland promised to gift all of his forthcoming works to the city of Oslo. Frogner Park, where at the time the artist was working on the fountain, became the place where he displayed all of his new works for public viewing; eventually, it morphed into the sculpture park that we see today. www.vigeland.museum.no
An hour's drive northwest of Oslo, along a bend in the Ranselva River and in the village of Jevnaker, you'll find the Kistefos-Museet, a three-in-one attraction: an industrial museum, an art gallery, and Scandinavia's largest contemporary sculpture park – which is continually expanding. It currently holds the works of 22 artists, including such names as Anish Kapoor, Olafur Eliasson and Claes Oldenburg, among others. Here you can also see the bronze and stainless steel, brooch-like, gigantic ring titled “All of Nature Flows Through Us” (2011), by British “bad boy” Marc Quinn, and through which the river's water creates a small waterfall. One piece in the park can come as quite a shock to visitors not “in-the-know” – “Forgotten Babies 2”, by the Danish/Norwegian duo of Elmgreen & Dragset, consists of an abandoned baby-carrier containing a baby that looks so real that one must come up very close to see that it is, in fact, just a doll. Take note that this year the museum is open only from 26 May to 6 October; it is closed during the winter season. Every year, the adjacent art gallery holds one exhibition; last year's featured works by Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei. This year the gallery's two floors are home to a retrospective on Norwegian contemporary sculptor and installation artist Fredrik Raddum (1973). Raddum's work can be easily identified by his plastic sculptures that are like a funny, and at the same time – insane, cartoon that has come to life: a pink porridge-like mass flows from a man's eyes; a large fir tree stands upon a gray cloud of smoke – it turns out that the tree is a rocket; another fir tree sprouts out of the fly of a man's trousers; a dismembered woman's leg lies in a pool of blood, an elegant shoe still on the foot; and so on. Located in a 19th-century building and grounds that used to be a cellulose factory powered by the neighboring river, the Kistefos-Museet is a testament to Norway's industrial revolution. www.kistefos.museum.no
Artscape Nordland began as an international art project with participants from 18 countries, and arose from heated discussions on the role of art in society. 240 thousand people live in Norway's Nordland region, but there isn't a single art museum in the area. People must travel long distances to see contemporary art. The idea to make an art gallery in the nontraditional location of the natural environment first arose in 1988, even though the basic theory was borrowed from the 1970s – namely, that a sculpture creates its own “art space” simply by its being there. Construction on Artscape Nordland began in 1992 and lasted for six years. The sculptures have been placed in a sublimely wild landscape on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. This “art gallery” without walls and ceiling spans 40 thousand square kilometers and contains 33 sculptures – including pieces made in the 1960s and 70s. Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Per Kirkeby and Tony Cragg are just a few of the “names” that you'll “come across” here. www.skulpturlandskap.no
Wanås Konst, Knislinge
Sculpture parks are well suited to territories that are far from the capital city and closer to nature. A special place in Sweden (and only an hour-and-a-half drive from Copenhagen) is the Wanås sculpture park; it celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, and throughout all these years has had the objective of bringing high-quality art to the masses. Founded in 1987, the non-profit Wanås Foundation annually invites both Scandinavian and other artists to created sculptures specifically for the park. As of now, 50 works can be seen at the park, including Marina Abramovic's “The Hunt Chair for Animal Spirits” (1998). Abramovic was inspired to make the piece when she visited the park during the hunting season; it is a twelve meter-high steel chair made in the form of deer and moose antlers, and it is the third tallest art work in the Wanås sculpture park. Another piece in the collection is Yoko Ono's “Wish Trees for Wanås” (1996/2011), in which visitors are invited to hang notes listing their most longed-for wishes on the branches of the park's apple trees. At the end of every summer, the “harvest” is reaped – the notes are collected and sent to Iceland, where Ono created her “Imagine Peace Tower” in 2007, on Reykjavik's Viðey Island; it is an archive of wishes and dreams from all over the world. Every year on 9 October, this lighthouse of peace shines a ray of light up into the sky, in honor of the birthday of John Lennon, who was Ono's husband. A bright light can be seen in the lighthouse every evening immediately following sunset, through 8 December. This is also done around Christmastime and New Year's, as well as in the spring. Along the edge of the forest in Wanås park, you'll find a charming little house with bright and narrow windows. This is “A House for Edwin Denby” (2000), by the talented and imaginative theater and opera director, Robert Wilson; the piece also has an audio installation component (which includes Wilson's voice), and is dedicated to the American poet and prominent dance critic Edwin Denby (1903-1983), who committed suicide at age 80 by overdosing on sleeping pills. www.wanas.se
The history of Ladonia is like a tall tale that you want to listen to again and again. In 1980, the Swedish artist Dr. Lars Vilks found himself in a hard-to-reach corner of Sweden – the rocky seashore of the Kullaberg nature reserve in the southern province of Skone. Here he built a huge sculpture from 75 tons of driftwood; it looked like a gigantic house made from matchsticks, and he called in “Nimis”, which means “too much” in Latin. The local government found out about the sculpture only after two years, and they ordered it to be knocked down, since construction is not allowed in the nature reserve. The structure really did look like a building, and so it was considered to be one. Vilks went to court and lost; nevertheless, he refused to give in. It should be noted that during this time, in 1984, the wooden sculpture “Nimis” was bought by the German performance and installation artist Joseph Beuys; after his death, it was bought in 1986 by Christo and Jeanne-Claud, who had become world-famous by “wrapping up” almost everything and anything, including the Reichstag and the Sydney coast. On 2 June 1996, Vilks declared Ladonia a micro-nation with a territory of 1 square kilometer, even though not one country has officially recognized it as such. From 1991 to 1998 Vilks worked on another sculpture in Ladonia, this one made from stone and called “Arx” (Latin for “fortress”). The case was again brought to court at the end of the 90s, and Vilks was finally recognized as a sculptor, and his creations – as sculptures rather than buildings; it was also deemed that they sculptures didn't even belong to him, and so the order to knock down “Nimis” did not concern him anymore. In 2000, the local council of Skone officially removed the piece of land known as Ladonia from the territory of the nature reserve. Therefore, the sculptures are not under any jurisdiction, and Swedish law does not apply in Ladonia. Ladonia currently has more than 15 thousand citizens, representing 50 different nationalities (including a couple of dozen Latvians) even though none of them live there. It isn't all that easy to find the “Nimis” sculpture complex because there aren't any official signs, nor markings on maps, that would indicate its location. Look for it a couple of kilometers northwest of the town of Arildad; it can only be reached on foot, and following a path lined with an occasional tree or fence painted with a yellow “N”. You can follow along with what's going on in Ladonia by checking out the micro-nation's on-line newspaper, www.ladoniaherald.com, which is updated several times a month by Dr. Lars Vilks himself.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk
We could make a whole separate list consisting just of sculpture parks that surround museums. One of Scandinavia's most vivid examples of this kind of park is the one by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art – 32 kilometers north of Copenhagen. Thanks to the museum's location, many of the sculptures stand right by the sea, or rather, the Øresund Sound, which connects Denmark with Sweden. Each piece's placement has been carefully considered, taking into account the background, slope of the ground, and other such aspects. The park is, basically, a direct continuation of the museum's excellent collection, but under the open sky. And of course, there is no lack of famous names here as well: Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and Richard Serra are just a few of many.www.louisiana.dk
Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893–1982) is seen as the pioneer of Icelandic sculpture. Having been inspired by the local landscape, fairytales, legends and people, his works are marked by their massive size; some are even quite provoking. In 1983, shortly after Sveinssons death (he almost lived through the whole century), a museum was opened to display his collection. It is located in a unique building that the artist built himself in the period from 1942 to 1959. The domed buildings of the Middle East and Egyptian pyramids served as inspiration for Sveinsson in creating an image for the structure. Sveinsson lived and worked in the building, which is now ensconced by nearly 30 of his works. www.artmuseum.is
Europas Parkas, Vilnius region
In 1991, the Lithuanian sculptor Gintaras Karosas created an open-air museum at the geographical center of Europe, just 17 kilometers away from Vilnius. The synergy between the beautiful landscape and art works makes for a wonderful place. More than 100 works from 33 countries are arranged over the park's 55 hectares. “Europe's Park” has a symbolic meaning – when Lithuania regained independence, this is how it demonstrated its openness to European art and culture. The park also contains a large-scale work by the American artist and theoretician Sol LeWitt, “Double Negative Pyramid” (erected in 1999), an important part of which is the piece's own reflection in water. Karosas' own piece – a pile of 3000 television screens that look like a tree when viewed from above – is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest sculpture made from TVs. Europas Parkas also has a restaurant and an artists' residence. www.europosparkas.lt
Veijo Rönkkönen sculpture park, Parikkala
If this isn't the strangest sculpture park in Europe, it definitely is the strangest one in Scandinavia. This is its story. For 50 years (from 1961 to his death in 2010), a Finnish self-taught artist and one-time worker at a paper factory – Veijo Rönkkönen – made poured-concrete sculptures of people, which he then painted and arranged around his life-long house in the deep forests of Parikkala County. In all, there are about 500 of these frozen bodies in distinct poses: women, children, aliens – with creepy grimaces and weird smiles that sometimes reveal real human teeth! The Park's “highlight” is a group of 200 sculptures – self-portraits of the artist doing various yoga positions. In this way, Veijo marked each yoga position that he had mastered. Some sculptures even have built-in speakers that create an especially spooky atmosphere. The artist avoided the public eye while alive; even though he didn't prohibit people from looking at his works, he never led any tours himself. After his passing, all of the sculptures and land were bought by the Finnish businessman Reino Uusitalo, who maintains and restores the sculptures as necessary, and has established the site as a tourist stop.