What makes a venue in the sticks

Informality visit Hauser & Wirth in Somerset

Hauser & Wirth Somerset sits on the entry and exit of a small town, Bruton, deep in the Somerset countryside. Informality saw the excuse to tie a visit with the opening of Unconscious Landscape, a presentation of works from the Ursula Hauser collection.


Like many culture enthusiasts we travel the world to see and experience items of desired interest, but this was an exceptional location, an arts centre combined, food and bar, curated bookshop in a giant converted barn, and a landscape garden designed by renowned architect Piet Oudolf to make feel as though you’ve transformed into the world of the ephemeral Teletubby.


Over the next 10 years, it is only possible for more initiatives similar to this to emerge, unless we expect another global financial crash, astronomical rent prices in major cities will continue to push us creatives out to utilise bigger spaces and which therefore creates a wider distribution and audience for the arts.


To fulfill what has been happening at Hauser & Wirth’s tranquil setting of an art gallery, we went to view the works exhibited in Unconscious Landscape, showing 11 female artists of the Ursula Hauser collection. Curated by Manuela Wirth and Laura Becuter. It’s rather exciting to view works under beamed ceilings and brick walls as opposed to the regular white cube with the ‘now’ fluoro lighting. The feeling and attitude of the space concluded my dislike for art regularly being shown in similar contexts in overly populated environments, with viewers disappointed to touch one another, the experience was white air in the lungs and far from the 20 minute viewing times for the 9-5 hustle.


The exhibition was confronting and the selected works echoed and haunted themes around the erotic, the sensual and fear. Renowned artist, Louise Bourgeois, prominent throughout the collection set the standard by opening the exhibition with three Portrait Cells, a series of works Bourgeois used to investigate her own subconscious. Viewing these works felt like torture, stressed identities of the body are suspended, hung and sat in a black cage which to me replicated a meat chamber. In the Rhoades Gallery a masterpiece by Bourgeois, Spider (1996) balances expertly on its 8 legs, forcing viewers to get underneath the arachnid, the sculpture is dark and large and the only feeling for your body is to permit its vulnerability.

The final room of the exhibition shows a contrasting meditative work by the artist, Shelia Hicks. The French artist who has dedicated her practice to understanding indigenous forms of weaving. The work Pigment Sticks 2014-15, are in my opinion deeply personable, it feels as though I should forget that this has anything to do with the visual arts or whether it is technically sound or not, the dialogue with the work was about the medium and a response to form, Pigment Sticks felt extracted from an organism to show a DNA structure with a tautness representing the bonding keeping us together.


Hauser & Wirth Somerset is a triumph for the experience of art. Ursula Hauser has shown deeply personal works from a collection spanning the last forty years.


Unconscious Landscape runs until 8th September.

June 8, 2019