It was a bright sunny Saturday for a change, this summer, and the main car park was full at Bretton Hall, home of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The terrace of the main restaurant was full, too, and the wasps were out.
Sophie Ryder’s Lady Hare sculptures are oddly ambivalent things. Barry Flanagan’s series of hare sculptures from the seventies and eighties are taut, wiry, representational and masculine. In contrast, Ryder’s figures are rounded and fecund. They are bronzes or constructed by the dense layering of wire mesh. So these are both stiff and robust, and transparent and light. Ryder’s figures in the grounds of Bretton Hall are often accompanied; sometimes in loosely entwined couples, or in mother/child relationships or with slim, greyhound like dogs who thrust their faces up into the bodies and faces of their mistress hares.
In the Longside Gallery, the full range of Ryder’s work with the Lady Hares is presented, from tiny maquettes for sale at £300, through her very explicit, and very beautiful, drawings of the hares in foetal positions. Here too, are her large sculptures. Their poses are often profoundly erotic, bent over on hands and knees, but Ryder cleaves these hares into quarters. Thus the viewer is presented with exquisitely rounded, upturned feet and calm knowing heads, divided by a gap that children run up and down. But there is no chance that the children will snag their clothing for these splittings, even in the wire mesh, are also carefully smoothed and rounded.
Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles in 1904 but raised in Japan, and studied with Brancusi in Paris. Noguchi’s work is presented here in the Underground Gallery and contains examples from the full range of his work, along with his Japanese garden. Noguchi also worked in the flourishing of ballet and music theatre that arose in New York in the forties and fifties – he worked with both Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham – and there are some beautiful examples of his set design. At the centre of this is his ‘Set Elements for John Brown’; John Brown, here, being an opera. In contrast to Sophie Ryder’s rounded fecundities, Noguchi is an artist whose concern is line and grace. ‘Set elements for John Brown’ consists of an open group of vertical and horizontal blue-grey spars each smoothed and worked. From these hang a fedora hat, a mohair coat and a noose. Into a spar that extends out to the viewer’s left, Noguchi has inserted three twigs, bare below the spar but fanning out above it. With such simplicity, Noguchi not only indicates the fence but the forest beyond it, and the horizon beyond that.
At the entrance to the gallery of Noguchi’s work, is his ‘Marble Table II’. At one end of a grey marble plinth some ten or twelve inches high, a rounded ellipse is positioned. In the middle is a worked depression filled with water to the level of the surrounding marble. As we walked in, a small boy was kneeling to blow ripples across the water. A gallery assistant ran towards him calling, ‘Don’t touch the exhibits!’ As we left the Longside Gallery, the sun shone down on a harvested field. On its tramlines of cut stubble, plastic bales of hay had been placed at neatly choreographed intervals, and a tractor positioned in the middle.