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    Art en Plein Air
by Thomas Flynn
 
     
 
Andrew Sabin
Land Bin
at Goodwood
 
Tony Cragg
Pillars of Salt
1998
 
Jon Isherwood
Passages, Origins, Circumstances
1998
 
Eilis O'Connell
Carapace
1999
 
William Pye
Miss Prism
1998
 
Stephen Cox
Granite Catamarans on a Granite Wave
1994
 
Bill Woodrow with the plaster model of Regardless of History
 
Sculpture at Goodwood, West Sussex, England, PO18 0QP.

They said it couldn't be done, that it was doomed from the start, that despite the English love of landscape, creating a sculpture park in an English forest was simply...barking up the wrong tree. The skeptics have now fallen silent, as Sculpture at Goodwood -- the ground-breaking outdoor gallery started by Wilfred and Jeannette Cass at Hat Hill Copse on the Goodwood estate in West Sussex -- has enabled the production of more large-scale sculptures by top British artists than any other gallery or arts organization.

Sculpture at Goodwood places over 40 works within a 20-acre forest each year, and sells about half of them, thanks to a dynamic marketing strategy and its cutting-edge website. Among the leading artists who have completed projects in the park are Anthony Caro, Tony Cragg, Bill Woodrow, David Nash, William Turnbull, Bernard Meadows, Kenneth Armitage and Lynn Chadwick, as well as younger artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, David Mach, Shirazeh Houshiary, Nicola Hicks, Vong Phaophanit and Dhruva Mistry.

Andrew Sabin's Land Bin, currently on view, functions as an apt visual metaphor for the Goodwood sculpture project. A pair of elegant, bifurcated aluminum baskets Land Bin is gradually being filled with leaves and mulch. The forest doesn't just cradle the sculpture, but also becomes part of the work. This cross-pollination between the objects and their location is what makes Sculpture at Goodwood so successful.

In 10 year's time there should be around 130 works that would never have been realized without Goodwood, not counting the independent commissions many of the sculptors have received as a consequence of having shown there. What's more, the sculpture forest has spawned numerous exhibitions -- Tate curators gave Bill Woodrow an exhibition in 1996 after having seen his work at Goodwood.

The Battle of Trafalgar
The importance of Sculpture at Goodwood is evidenced by the open-air gallery's involvement in the impassioned debate over the vacant fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, London. Should the plinth, which has been empty for the past 150 years, be occupied by the obligatory man in uniform on a horse, or some equally traditional symbol of Britain's glorious colonial past? Or should it be opened to a more adventurous, provocative expression of British culture in keeping with the dynamism of contemporary life?

The jury is still out, but were it not for the intervention of Sculpture at Goodwood and a handful of other cool heads, a pitched battle would most surely have ensued by now. The solution for the time being is to use the plinth as a changing exhibition space for contemporary work. Goodwood has had an important hand in helping three British artists -- Mark Wallinger, Rachel Whiteread and Bill Woodrow -- to realize works for temporary display. All have taken creative advantage of the high-profile location to provoke and unsettle, thereby injecting fresh cultural energy into one of London's busiest tourist centers.

Bill Woodrow's bronze Regardless of History, which shows a powerful concatenation of symbolic motifs -- a book and tree enmeshed in the roots of a blasted tree -- will be unveiled on March 15. It will almost certainly rattle the cage of the establishment, but Rachel Whiteread's proposal to erect an upturned cast of the plinth itself in water-clear resin is sure to cause outraged spluttering over port and cigars. Who knows, it may even provoke one or two questions in the House!


THOMAS FLYNN is a writer based in London.