Art in the open: the joys of Jupiter Artland sculpture park

‘You imagine what you desire,” reads an arty light sculpture in the grounds of Jupiter Artland. It’s my first visit to this privately owned sculpture park five miles west of Edinburgh and I’m feeling rather overwhelmed – Jupiter is a destination that challenges easy definitions. It has more than 100 acres of fields and woods, with views across rolling countryside to the Pentland hills, and dozens of permanent installations. Several of these artworks incorporate small buildings, islands or terraced slopes.

On a hilltop stands a huge, nebulous, humanoid steel sculpture by Anthony Gormley. From it I can see as far as the Forth Bridges. There’s also a terrifying caged hole by Anish Kapoor called Suck, but my favourite work is Stone Coppice by Andy Goldsworthy, where quarried boulders nest in the branches of growing coppiced trees. Wandering through another part of the estate, I see Goldsworthy has fixed harvested branches from the coppicing upright inside a stone-walled shed to create a linked work, Coppice Room.

There are also temporary exhibitions, galleries, a new cafe, workshops, festivals, even a swimming pool. The illuminated quote, borrowed from George Bernard Shaw, is the characteristic work of Glasgow-based artist Nathan Coley. It seems to capture something of the ambition and creativity on display here. Shortlisted for the Artfund’s 2016 Museum of the Year award, alongside the V&A and others, Jupiter is now a big-league player.

The owners and creators of Jupiter Artland live in Bonnington House, a Jacobean manor at the centre of the site. Former sculptor Nicky Wilson is the artistic power behind the project. Her husband Robert chairs several charities and runs natural medicine company Nelsons (which makes Rescue Remedy, among other things). The couple bought Bonnington House in 1999 and have opened the grounds to the public every summer since 2009. US landscape architect Charles Jencks was one of the first artists they commissioned and his giant Cells of Life, reflected in a series of lakes, took eight years to build.

Jupiter Artland reopens and is starting its second decade with a new five-star rating from VisitScotland. Talk-of-the-town restaurant Fhior, on Edinburgh’s Broughton Street, is providing “hyper-seasonal” cakes and sandwiches for Jupiter’s restaurant, Café Party, where the walls were painted with vivid murals in 2017 by Swiss artist Nicolas Party.

Jupiter is one of those places where “enchanted” doesn’t feel like a cliche. My bus from Edinburgh stops outside an animal feed depot on the B7015 (25 minutes from the city centre on the number X23 or X27) and I walk through gates studded with knots of silver nails into a world of flowering woods and twisted rhododendrons. Birds are singing in the trees and a baby rabbit hurries into a nearby hedge. Further in, I can make out works such as Phyllida Barlow’s industrial-looking Quarry (2018), framing a changeable sky and leafy beech branches. Nearby, Anya Gallacio has sunk a crystal-walled cell into the forest floor.

Female artists are well-represented at Jupiter. From a lawn near the studios, Helen Chadwick’s Piss Flowers sprout like strange white mushrooms. I enjoy a sneak preview of this year’s major new installation: Gateway is an organically shaped swimming pool designed by Joana Vasconcelos, with hand-painted Portuguese tiles, a topiary garden and a mirror-faced pool room. Visitors can book a swim there in August.

Jupiter has been part of Edinburgh’s summer art festival for several years. This year, for the first time, it is also part of August’s main Edinburgh International Festival. The Trisha Brown Dance Company will perform on a series of rafts on Jupiter Artland’s lakes, and its late summer exhibition (Time, Space, Gravity, 27 July-29 September) is a retrospective of the choreographer’s work.

For 2019’s early summer exhibition, Brazilian artist Daniel Lie is combining natural materials from around the estate to create a living installation (The Negative Years, 18 May-14 July). Sheep’s wool hangs in wreaths, mirroring the plasterwork on the ceiling above. Pots made with clay from the riverbed will be full of fermenting plants. Growing fungi and decaying flowers will create what Lie, reverently sprinkling mushroom spores into straw, tells me will be “a non-verbal show about smells, atmosphere, feelings and emotions, where other living beings guide the way”. Lie values these biodegradable resources and hopes to heat the studios using energy produced by decomposition.

The summer’s cutting-edge creativity climaxes in a festival, Jupiter Rising (23-25 August, £80.54 including camping). It expects to welcome 700 people for a weekend of art, film and music, with late-night dancing in the woods and bell tents in the wildflower meadows available for hire.

It’s not only artwork and events that are on a large scale here; Jupiter Artland’s educational plans are also ambitious. Its mission is to provide a free school visit for every child in Scotland. Tens of thousands of students have already visited, from under-fives in bobble hats to earnest groups of performance artists. In his book celebrating the 10th anniversary, Gormley writes that Jupiter Artland is “an experiment in human relations and human imagination: a workshop for the spirit, the body and the mind”.

Open daily 18 May-30 September, 10am-5pm, adult £9, child (4-16) £5, 10% off online,

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