Sunday, 2 May 2010

Extraordinary Measures at Belsay Hall

'The Garden of Unearthly Delights' by Mat Collishaw. Courtesy of Haunch of Venison © Mat Collishaw

Just been to the new exhibition at Belsay Hall, Northumberland (until 26 September 2010). Everything about Belsay confounds expectations, and avoids being just another English Heritage house and garden by curating bold and innovative arts events. Previously, fashion designers such as Alexander McQueen, Viktor & Rolf and Stella McCartney have created installations to display here. Stella's stunning crystal horse (see picture, right), Lucky Spot, has been on show twice, to great effect. But now it has left the building to make room for works by a group of artists including Ron Mueck, whose six hyper-real sculptures, displayed throughout Belsay's austere 19th-century hall, are show-stopping. I thought the vast naked Wild Man might be a bit disturbing for young kids, but mine found him hilarious – though I'm not sure running round the room guffawing 'Look at his massive bottom' was quite the reaction Mueck had in mind. In the weird and wonderful Quarry Garden there's a giant window to step through, and stuffed squirrels and knitted robins to discover. Not all of it works, but the whole show (curated by Judith King) is bold, brave and unexpected. The star piece though, for me, is Mat Collishaw's zoetrope, The Garden of Earthly Delights, upstairs in the 14th-century castle. Far bigger than it appears above, it's simply dazzling: there was a gasp from the audience of all ages as it spun into life, like some vivid and dark scene from a Bosch painting. Worth the trip to Belsay in itself.

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