“I can’t bear sculpture parks that are ‘shop and plonk,’” says Nicky Wilson, director and co-founder (with husband Robert Wilson) of Jupiter Artland, a 100-acre sculpture park in a rural setting just outside Edinburgh, Scotland. “It’s never successful shoving a piece of sculpture on a bit of grass and then saying it’s a well-installed work. We take time to get to know the artists and their practice.” Fueled by philanthropic zeal and a passion for the educational power of art, the Wilsons have created an extraordinary contemporary sculpture experience that consists almost entirely of unique, site-specific commissions.
Jupiter Artland currently features more than 30 permanent artworks and a program of temporary exhibitions and commissions, including sculptures by internationally renowned artists such as Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley, Cornelia Parker, and Phyllida Barlow. For the 2022 season, which runs through October 2, Tracey Emin’s I Lay Here For You was unveiled in a wooded area of the park called The Wilderness, accompanied by a gallery show of paintings and works on paper. “We’re very lucky,” says Nicky. “We’ve got some exceptionally good sculpture that was made in good heart. I’m very proud of the work.”
Open to the public since 2009, Jupiter Artland began its story 10 years earlier, when the Wilsons moved from London to a dilapidated Jacobean mansion; Bonnington House, now restored, sits at the heart of the sculpture park site. While the intention was to create a family home in a stunning setting, a shared love of art—Nicky, who is originally from Edinburgh, studied sculpture at Camberwell and Chelsea Colleges of Art—soon led to other developments, starting with a speculative phone call to the Scotland-based American landscape designer and architectural theorist Charles Jencks (1939–2019). Nicky had been introduced to Jencks’s distinctive sculptural landscaping through his work outside the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh and was convinced that he would create something spectacular for the site. She wasn’t wrong. Cells of Life (2003–10), Jencks’s series of monumental landworks, provides a genuinely immersive experience; the road to Jupiter’s parking lot passes through this almost otherworldly landscape, and visitors can enjoy walking along the gently inclined, coiling paths.
Jencks’s curving grassy banks and glistening pool immediately establish the ambition and energy at the heart of Jupiter Artland—there’s a distinct sense of priorities shifting, of art moving from the periphery to the center of everyday life. But while the scale and impact of Cells of Life make it impossible to miss, the uniqueness of the Jupiter experience often reveals itself in more intimate and subtle ways. This is as much about the careful siting of works—always undertaken collaboratively with the artists—as the art itself. Many of the sculptures, including works by Andy Goldsworthy and Ian Hamilton Finlay that Nicky describes as “very important planks” in the development of the Jupiter project, are set within wooded areas delineated from farmland by simple stone walls or wire fencing. With an illustrated map in hand, you can access sculptures via narrow winding paths or suddenly encounter them as you round a corner or reach a clearing.
Some of the park’s earliest works can be discovered this way, including Hamilton Finlay’s Portland stone Temple of Apollo (2005), originally intended for Little Sparta, his garden in the nearby Pentland Hills, and adapted for its site at Jupiter. Nicky recounts how Hamilton Finlay, who died in 2006, explained to her that, while he was at Jupiter, it was very much a case of “work begat work.” “And he was right,” she says. “The moment you put one work in [at Jupiter], it reveals a space or a conversation with another piece.”
A short stroll from Hamilton Finlay’s temple—one of four works by the artist—leads to Goldsworthy’s Stone House (Bonnington) (2009), a rustic, single-story structure built over an area of excavated bedrock. Stepping inside is strangely disorienting, the expected shelter and comfort replaced by an altogether more primal, elemental experience of uneven, rocky ground beneath your feet. Goldsworthy’s Stone Coppice (2009), on the opposite side of the park in an area known as Badger Wood, is equally elemental. Large stones left over from the construction of Stone House (Bonnington) are cradled by coppiced trees, a coming together of natural forces that seems both mysterious and immovable.
While Goldsworthy’s and Hamilton Finlay’s works are noted for their connectedness to place and landscape, this is not a prerequisite for Jupiter artists. All that is required is a willingness to engage fully with the context, and to be open-minded about the possibilities this might offer. Nicky believes that “artists get a chance to experiment at Jupiter and be a little bit braver, because they know they’re dealing with people who understand outdoor sculpture.”
This “open brief” approach has resulted in a hugely varied collection of works that interact with their settings in pleasingly different ways. For A Forest (2010), Glasgow artist Jim Lambie covered the exterior wall of a former farm building, now a gallery space, with chrome panels that curl up at the edges to reveal vibrant colors. The woodland opposite is reflected in the panels, creating an ever-changing sculpture constantly in tune with its surroundings. In Anya Gallaccio’s The light pours out of me (2012), visitors descend down a slope into a large chamber-like hole in the ground, the walls of which have been studded with amethyst and obsidian. Cornelia Parker’s Landscape with Gun and Tree (2010), meanwhile, consists of a super-sized cast iron and steel shotgun leaning against a mature tree in the Gala Hill Wood. Even the cafe is a work of art, courtesy of a multicolored makeover by Swiss artist Nicolas Party. Poetic, surreal, beautiful—a walk around Jupiter Artland is full of intriguing and unexpected twists.
None more so, perhaps, than Rachel Maclean’s purposely incongruous upside mimi !ɯ!ɯ uʍop (2021), a graffiti-covered, abandoned high-street shop with a neon sign that can be found, Hansel and Gretel-style, at the end of a woodland path. Maclean, who represented Scotland at the 2017 Venice Biennale and is best known for her CGI-heavy films in which she plays all the characters, has created a candy-colored, upside-down space that offers a dark dissection of the beauty industry, Instagram influencers, and the veneration of youth. Inside the topsy-turvy shop, there’s an unsettling, fully animated short film starring the cute/unhinged Mimi, as well as a stock of dolls of the same. It’s as if some kind of twisted urban nightmare has gatecrashed the rural idyll—and in a similarly topsy-turvy way, it has. A version of Maclean’s installation will be the first commission for a new initiative, Jupiter +, which will take sculpture beyond the park and into Scotland’s towns and cities. “The sculpture at Jupiter will inform the work in a new urban context,” explains Nicky. “Rachel’s installation is a classic example of a work that can have a magic and a magnetism both in the woods and on the high street.”
Maclean’s “Mimi store” will pop up in the Scottish city of Perth in September. For Nicky, the new development—which has been a long time in planning—is all part of Jupiter’s ongoing commitment to education and engaging with children and young people in Scotland. “Up until now, all of my energy has been about getting Jupiter to be the most inspiring place that it can be and getting young people in,” she says. “Jupiter + is really different. It’s absolutely embedded in Jupiter the place, but it’s a big change to the original plan and shows that we’re evolving.”
Bearing in mind this new drive toward siting work outside Jupiter Artland, I wonder if there’s a limit to what can be sited at the sculpture park. Will it ever be full? “I don’t have the answer to that,” Nicky says. “And I think in a way that’s what keeps us on our toes.”