Last weekend, I visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. We often take our dog for walks there, but last Saturday, although the dog came too, I was on a mission: to visit its latest exhibition, a stunning major show of more than fifty pieces by the American sculptor Ursula Von Rydingsvard.
As her name suggests, she wasn’t born in the USA, but in Germany, to a Polish mother and Ukrainian father, in 1942. After a tough time in various refugee camps, she and her family emigrated to America in 1952. Admirers of her work say that they see the suffering of her childhood rooted in it. She herself says that it may be there, but that no single piece of her work conveys a single message, because that would bore her, and probably bore others, too.
I agree wholeheartedly with this, and was certainly not thinking about her past when I walked, awe-struck, past the pieces in the gardens at YSP and then on to the indoor part of the exhibition which is housed in the spectacular underground studio there. Von Rydingsvard is particularly fascinated by cedar and many of the pieces consist of huge planks of cedar wood that she has sculpted to bring out its innate qualities in more stylised form. Her monumental bronze and synthetic material sculptures also convey the textures of their cedar moulds. One of these, Bronze Bowl with Lace, has a fine, billowing filigree band at the top, based on a real piece of lace; it is astonishing to see how delicate this is. She first talked of achieving this as long ago as 2002 and it is undoubtedly her most ambitious piece so far. It is internally lit with an ember glow and has external base lighting, too, so it transforms itself over a twenty-four hour period.
It was, however, the pieces actually made out of cedar that I liked best. Some of these are huge figures or monuments that tower over the visitor. Others, though still relatively large, are representations of more homely objects, such as spoons and other household utensils. [“I did not play games nearly as much as other children did. When I did play them, they were in a style I recall as being serious. I often played with sticks, wooden balls and other knife-carved wooden objects made with a child’s will and awkward technical skills. I also played with crude domestic objects in bombed-out brick buildings, the ruins of which were layered in ways that for me felt exciting.”] There are also some textiles pieces. There are identifiable ‘periods’ to Von Rydingsvard’s work, but she has remained faithful to cedar, in many different incarnations, for the whole of her career.
Right at the end of the indoor exhibition was a small seating area where visitors could linger to watch a video of Von Rydingsvard describing her work. I was at first surprised at how halting, nervous and at times almost incoherent she seemed in this production. Then I realised how arrogant it was of me to make this observation. Sculpture is her medium, not words, and she has indicated in many interviews that she is uncomfortable with trying to analyse her sculpture too closely or on too simple a level. It’s impossible as well as invidious to try to compare different art forms and I’d challenge any writer to try to convey his or her work in sculpture. Why, therefore, should we expect a sculptor to wish to convey hers in words?
The Ursula Von Rydingsvard exhibition will remain at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park until next spring. If you are interested in sculpture, it is a must-see. If you haven’t visited the YSP before, that in itself is a rare treat!
12 thoughts on “For those who love wood: Ursula Von Rydingsvard says it in cedar”
Blown away by these, just through looking at your cracking photographs. It must have been awesome to see them in the raw. Thank you for sharing.
These are magnificent, Christina. I would love to see them! What an inspiration…thank you for showing us here as I doubt I’ll every get to see them there!
Sorry, that was meant to be ‘ever see them’ 🙂
These are stunning, Christina – I’ll leave this link on my desktop for several days, they are inspiring!
Jo, Val and Jenny, thank you very much indeed. We did have a wonderful time and I’m glad that you’ve all enjoyed seeing the photographs. 🙂
Absolutely stunning! Thanks for sharing these. I could look at them all day!
Thank you, Bodicia, for both enthusing and spreading. I think there are lots of lovers of wood out there. Art like this is just so heart-warming and life-affirming. 🙂
Reblogged this on A Woman's Wisdom and commented:
I have to reblog these beautiful pieces from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park…brought to you via author Christina James
Reblogged this on AnitaJayDawes and commented:
amazing art, I just love wood! Pity I don’t live in Yorkshire, but at least I have the pictures…
Thanks, Anita. I’m glad that you can share in my excitement. 🙂 Best wishes.
These are stunning! I’m glad you shared them so we can take a virtual tour around the exhibition.
They struck me as having something prehistoric about them, as if they had been buried for thousands of years and had only just been unearthed. Did you find that?
Hello, Celine. Thank you for your lovely comment. I know exactly what you mean – there is something elemental about them. I suppose what struck me most was how the cedar, though incredibly transformed by unbelievable skill, still powerfully expressed itself, even in bronze and synthetic material.
Thank you also for your follow; I look forward to welcoming you here again. 🙂