Theresa Thompson admires the sculpture exhibition at Asthall Manor
One of the best things about the biennial on form sculpture exhibition at Asthall Manor near Burford is their invitation to visitors: “Please do touch.”
But then, if I started to discuss this show in terms of ‘best’ I would soon be overloaded – for there is so much here that is first-rate. This year there is more than ever to see and do. The number of stone sculptures has risen, to 204, the number of artists to 30, with more women showing than ever (fittingly in the former home of the Mitford sisters), and the exhibition, dotted about the house, ballroom, office, lovely grounds, and church, now has a month-long run.
On form 14, the seventh biennial since they began in Oxfordshire in 2002, is as usual dedicated entirely to works in stone. It’s all the better for that, in my view, as it reveals the myriad beauties of stone and its many qualities. Visually and materially sensual, stone seems meant to be touched, handled, stroked – it is strange how innate the desire to run one’s fingers over stone, whether smooth or roughly configured, wet or dry – even to pat it when it pleases – and above all to be admired.
I did find myself patting one of the first sculptures I saw this year. Temptingly smooth and green-veined, Anthony Turner’s Galaxy Gourd in Connemara marble is located by the house not far from the entrance. His equally tactile Life of Earth awaits discovery further in the garden.
Discovery is the name of the game. Wandering here and there, up and down whatever paths take your fancy, between hedges and under trees, beside pool, lake, the lush Windrush meadows – in nooks, peeping over the top of greenery, inside buildings or cloisters, you find carefully sited sculptures. The placement of the works is an art in itself, and this well respected sculpture exhibition has yet again been imaginatively and sensitively curated by Rosie Pearson, Asthall Manor’s owner, and Anna Greenacre.
At the entrance, greeting visitors under the spreading beech tree Matthew Spender’s Campionessa perches on a Vespa. At the base of the tree are five red marble pieces by Ana Ruiz-Agui from Tenerife: beautifully exploiting the stone’s curves and contrasts, Evolución is a series of dynamic opening forms. On the lawn nearby, her partner, French sculptor Régis Chaperon’s House in the Clouds is intuitively worked in pink Clipsham stone.
Four Oxfordshire artists are exhibiting this year. Tom Stogdon, from Thame, has eight works here including his homage to the city skyline (in the ballroom), which will prove popular: though not pretending at accuracy, Christ Church, the Botanical Gardens, and so on, are clear to see and fun to pick out. Like his London Thames scene (on the terrace), it’s made of stone, slate, and found objects.
Johannes Von Stumm, who lives near Wantage, shows five works. Ascent at the far end of the lake is the largest he’s ever made; three metres high, this soaring pinnacle of roughly shaped Cornish granite bursting from a stainless steel sheath speaks of watery elements, of contrasts yet unity. As he says, “The stainless steel is light, full of light, full of wave reflections...The heavy is held by the light, the rock is floating, rough and smooth have become one.”
Local sculptors Emma Maiden (Charlbury), and Chris Elmer (Chipping Norton), have eight and five works apiece here. Maiden’s Watchbird I & II (in Portland stone) guard a path beside a topiary hedge that echoes their shape; I find her wonderfully archaic bird forms immensely attractive. Elmer says, “Organic forms, music, harmonics, and repeated patterns all fascinate me.” His comment and the titles he gives his works offer clues to their form – Twist, Emerging, Sprouting, Seed, Unfolding – and clues to where they might be sited.
With innovations such as sculptures that explore the musical qualities of stone, figurative and abstract works from established and new sculptors alike working in a variety of stones, plus events like stone balancing demonstrations by Adrian Gray (who has several works here), workshops and drama, bookshop and café, on form is a biennial treat and not to be missed.
on form 14 sculpture biennial
Asthall Manor, Burford
All sculptures are for sale; prices from £250 to £40,000
Until July 6