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Jupiter Artland, Edinburgh: Imagine What You Desire

Shortlisted for Museum of the Year 2016

29 April 2016

The Museum of the Year award celebrates the most imaginative and engaging institutions in Britain, as selected by The Art Fund. In the first of a series of five articles, WILLIAM COOK pays a visit to one of the institutions shortlisted for the 2016 prize - Jupiter Artland, a beautiful sculpture park and gallery near Edinburgh. Featuring landscaped gardens and specially commissioned artwork from some of the art world's biggest names, it was originally conceived as a private park by Robert and Nicky Wilson, who then decided to open it to the public.

Museum of the Year shortlisted: Jupiter Artland

Jupiter Artland, near Edinburgh, shortlisted for the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2016.

Arriving at Jupiter Artland, on the rugged green edge of Edinburgh, you’re confronted by an illuminated artwork by Scottish artist Nathan Coley. ‘You Imagine What You Desire,’ it states, in bright block capitals.

It could almost be a mission statement for this surreal sculpture park, which has just been shortlisted for the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year.

What we’ve tried to do is take an old landscape... and sympathetically allow sculptures to live amongst it
Robert Wilson

Jupiter Artland is the inspired creation of Robert and Nicky Wilson, who live here with their four children, in a grand old hunting lodge on this handsome windswept estate.

Most folk lucky enough to own a place like this would be content to sit back and enjoy the view.

Instead, they’ve spent sixteen years turning these grounds into a vast work of art.

‘What we’ve tried to do is take an old landscape, which has been here for three or four hundred years, and sympathetically allow sculptures to live amongst it and enhance it,’ says Robert.

‘That’s why it’s called Jupiter Artland – the land and the art are inextricably linked.’

And why Jupiter? ‘Jupiter is the bringer of joy, the bringer of creativity.’ It sounds a bit fanciful, but when you come here, you can see it makes perfect sense.

You drive into Jupiter Artland through an enormous earthwork, carved out of the soil by Charles Jencks. An orchid sculpture by Marc Quinn, forty feet tall, dominates the skyline.

Other artworks are hidden in the forest that surrounds this Jacobean house. As you walk into these wild woods, you’re confronted by a huge cage, an artwork by Anish Kapoor. Within it is a hole that seems to reach right down into the bowels of the earth.

Robert & Nicky Wilson, owners of the Jupiter Artland site. Photo: Paul Vicente.
A detail from the sculpted landscapes of Charles Jenck's Life Mounds at Jupiter Artland. Photo by Allan Pollock-Morris.

Hiding in the trees beyond are sinister statues of weeping girls by Laura Ford. It’s like a scene from Alice in Wonderland or Through The Looking Glass. You cross a tiny bridge that leads to a little acropolis.

It’s like a scene from Alice in Wonderland or Through The Looking Glass

This is the last work of Ian Hamilton Finlay, made just before he died.

Nearby, Andy Goldsworthy has built a simple stone cottage.

From the outside it looks humdrum, but its plain wooden door opens onto another world. Inside, Andy’s stripped away the earth, revealing the bare rock below.

It’s like a landscape in miniature, a tiny mountain range beneath your feet.

Surrounded by a ring of hills, Jupiter Artland is a natural amphitheatre. It’s a post-industrial panorama, littered with bings (the Scots word for slag heap). You can see the Forth Bridge on the horizon, lit up by the pale sun.

Most of these sculptures are specially commissioned, which is unusual. ‘Most artists don’t get asked to create something brand new,’ says Nicky.

Consequently, these sculptures feel as if they belong here. It’s hard to imagine them anywhere else.

‘We don’t really want to buy off-the-shelf sculpture,’ says Nicky. ‘We want a proper connection with the artist.’

Yet Robert and Nicky don’t give their sculptors a specific brief. They’re invited to come and stay, for weeks or even months on end, to get to know the scenery and the family.

‘They have complete freedom,’ says Robert. The sculptures they make here are a personal response to this special place.

Museum of the Year 2016

Anish Kapoor, Suck, 2009. Photo by Brian Fischbacher.

Over lunch, Robert and Nicky tell me how Jupiter Artland evolved. Robert’s business is homeopathy; Nicky trained as an artist.

The gardens are an attraction in their own right. It’s accessible for all ages, but this isn’t just a theme park

They’ve always collected art - their house is filled with leading British artists like Damien Hirst, Sean Scully, Phyllida Barlow and Alison Watt.

When they moved here in 1999, it was a natural progression to site some additional works outside.

As these works mounted up, it seemed a shame not to share them. When they opened to the public in 2009 they had a dozen outdoor artworks.

Now they have over thirty, by big names like Antony Gormley and Cornelia Parker. They had 70,000 visitors last year, up from 40,000 the year before.

‘It wasn’t really a plan – it just developed step by step,’ says Robert. ‘It’s taken us quite by surprise – I didn’t realise how much I was going to love it,’ agrees Nicky.

They’re passing on their love of art through an extensive education programme, and it’s not only for schoolchildren.

Everyone from young carers to dementia patients gets a chance to study here.

After lunch, I take another walk around the estate. There are sheep and pigs, a delight for youngsters.

The gardens are an attraction in their own right. It’s accessible for all ages, but this isn’t just a theme park. Cutting edge sculpture is what Jupiter Artland is all about.

This unique setting, and the unique way in which artists are encouraged to engage with it, has inspired Britain’s finest sculptors to produce some of their finest work.

This year’s Museum of the Year winner will be announced at London’s Natural History Museum on 6th July.

Firmament, Antony Gormley, 2008. Photo Allan Pollok-Morris. Courtesy Jupiter Artland.
Ian Hamilton Finlay, Xth Muse, 2006, Photo Allan Pollok-Morris.
Love Bomb, Marc Quinn, 2006.
A Forest, Jim Lambie, 2010.
Helen Chadwick, Piss Flowers, 1991-1992. Photo FXP Photography.
Hayley Tomkins, Digital Light Pool CIV, 2015, courtesy the artist & The Modern InstituteToby Webster Ltd, Photo Max Slaven.
Christian Boltanski, Sombras, 2015, La Lonja, Palma de Mallorca, Spain, 2015, © Stefan Müller, Berlin.

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