The first large-scale survey in Europe by highly acclaimed American artist Ursula von Rydingsvard opens at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) on 5 April 2014. The exhibition, which is the artist’s most extensive to date, illustrates the full scope of von Rydingsvard’s diverse practice, with more than 40 works of drawing and sculpture made over the last two decades, presented in YSP’s purpose-built Underground Gallery and the open air.
One of America’s most inventive and individual artists, with work in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, among others, von Rydingsvard has evolved a distinctive, highly personal sculptural language that has become synonymous with cedar, the wood that lies at the heart of her practice. The exhibition features wall-mounted works, monolithic structures and other complex forms, most of which are meticulously assembled from 4”x4” cedar beams.
The cedar beams serve as von Rydingsvard’s blank canvas, a starting point from which she explores psychological and emotional themes. Her works do not grow from sketches or drawings on paper; rather their development is instinctive and responsive throughout the making process, imbuing the works with a feeling of life and a tangibly visceral quality. Having worked directly with cedar for 35 years using chisels and circular saws, von Rydingsvard is now allergic to the wood and consequently works for up to eight hours a day wearing a heavy, air-pumped protective suit.
From the intimate to the immense, the exhibition examines von Rydingsvard’s sustained investigation of the simultaneous fragility and durability of existence, which often relates to a personal history of displacement. Born to Polish and Ukrainian parents in Germany in 1942, the artist moved through numerous displaced persons camps for Polish people during her youth until her family was able to move to the USA in 1950.
Von Rydingsvard’s ancestral family were peasant farmers and wood featured as an integral part of everyday life. As the artist says “they were surrounded with wood – wooden homes, wooden fences, wooden tools to farm the land.” The exhibition draws out the related resonances of von Rydingsvard’s idiosyncratic sculptural forms, and works such as Echo and Sunken Shadow, both 2011, reference the simple, rustic items of this heritage, such as bowls, shovels and spoons. The exhibition includes a carefully selected display considering the way in which objects amassed by the artist over a lifetime have fed into her practice and thinking.
Although cedar remains central to von Rydingsvard’s practice, she makes works in other materials which offer a purposeful counterpoint. Damski Czepek, 2006, a large-scale polyurethane resin work, first shown at Madison Square Park in New York and now on long term loan to YSP, forms part of the outdoor display. An immersive work, Damski Czepek has particular resonance at YSP, echoing its follies, shelters and grottoes, and providing a space for contemplation. Bowl with Lace, a new, six-metre tall sculpture cast in bronze and made especially for the exhibition, greets visitors at the entrance to the Park and overlooks the 18th-century Bretton Estate. Lit from within and featuring delicate filigree, the sculpture appears ember-like with a magical presence changing dramatically according to the time of day. In the Underground Gallery, delicate works made with cows’ intestines, such as Pinned Blankets, 1995, are stitched like fabric into ‘blankets’, while others including Maglownica II, 2012-13, are stretched over wooden subframes to appear as skin undulating over bones. Incredible cast abaca paper works Hemorrhaging Cedar I and II, 2012 which seem to exist at a juncture somewhere between carved wood, flesh and fabric, are also featured.
A series of associated events, including an In-Conversation with the artist, accompanies the exhibition. A documentary film will explore the artist’s practice and a major publication, including an interview with the artist, will be available alongside exclusive exhibition merchandise.