Woman looking at drawings

London day out at Hauser & Wirth Somerset

A contemporary art treasure trove in the heart of the English countryside. That is how I would describe Hauser & Wirth Somerset. This gallery and arts centre is part of the Hauser & Wirth artistic empire, which wraps its limbs around the world to take in and then display the very best in contemporary art.

Art is not just for art’s sake at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. It’s also about providing a platform for the best in architecture, crafted objects and garden design; as well as eating and drinking sustainably – even the water is sourced from the farm well and then filtered,

To get there from London, we took a direct train to Castle Cary, followed by a 15-minute car ride. Next time I’ll consider using the bike racks on the train, and to do the last few miles on my bike.  There’s also a train station at nearby Bruton.

View through sculpture of trees and fields
View of the Somerset countryside through the walls of the Radić Pavilion

Hauser & Wirth – 9 locations

Hauser & Wirth was founded in Zurich in 1992 by Ursula Hauser, her daughter Manuela Wirth and her son-in-law Iwan Wirth.

As well as Zurich and Somerset, Hauser & Wirth has galleries in London, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York, Gstaad and St Moritz.

Next year, they are due to open on Isla del Rey, an island in the port of the Menorcan capital Mahon.

Their ventures are dreamlike in their breadth and artistic wealth – a wealth that comes from a love of art, art that they want to unwrap, make comprehensible and in a socially inclusive way share with the world.  

Label on coat hanger saying Hauser & Wirth

Marguerite London – the art network

I was visiting Hauser & Wirth Somerset with a posse of women from Marguerite, a network for women working in the visual arts, and which organises fun, unique experiences and encounters in the world of art.

Life is so much more dynamic when you do things as a group of like-minded people. I have different groups of friends: my art friends, my kundalini yoga friends, my wine friends, my neighbours, friends I know through my blog, and of course what I call my true friends, where friendship is taken to a more profound level.

woman taking photo of painting
In the frame: Self Portrait as One Eyed by Austrian artist Maria Lassnig (1997) in the Threshing Barn at Durslade Farm

Hauser & Wirth Somerset

Hauser & Wirth is at Durslade Farm, among the willows, the tors (as the hills are known locally), the orchid meadows and woodlands, for which the county is so well know.

The refurbished Grade II-listed farmhouse is centred at the heart of a 100-acre working ‘free-range’ farm that provides food, and wine, with its own vineyard, for the gallery and the centre’s Roth Bar & Grill, while the woodlands provide natural materials for resident artists and craftspeople.

The atmosphere is open, engaging and enlightening in a similar, but larger, more rural vein than at Hauser & Wirth Zurich, where I visited last summer, and Hauser & Wirth in London’s Saville Row, where I am a regular visitor.

Roth Bar & Grill
Roth Bar & Grill is all about eating & drinking sustainably

Marguerite at Hauser & Wirth Somerset

Marguerite members were welcomed by Elly Hawley, Associate Director, Hauser & Wirth, under the sculpture Apple Tree Boy Apple Tree Girl by LA artist Paul McCarthy.

Woman in front of sculpture
Elly welcomes us in front of the sculpture Apple Tree Boy Apple Tree Girl by LA artist Paul McCarthy

We then visited the current exhibition, Unconscious Landscape: Works from the Ursula Hauser Collection, curated by Ursula’s daughter Manuela.

Ursula, who was born in St Gallen, Switzerland, has been collecting art for the past 40 years. She has built up a remarkable collection of works by women of an older generation. She did not go out of her way to collect works of women, let alone older women, but that was just the direction her gut and her heart took her in.

As Ursula recounts in the book The Inner Mirror: Conversations with Ursula Hauser – a nice little parting gift for the Marguerite women: “You can tell that a lot of the works in my collection have been made by women because of the vision and sensitivity in dealing with materials.”

Woman looking at painting
Here you can see parts of the Louise Bourgeois spider, with works by Italian artist Carol Rama (1918-2015) in the background.

One of Ursula’s favourite artists is Paris-born Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), who lived in the US. Louise is famous for her sculptural spiders, which she started making in her 80s. (There’s hope yet for me.)

I instinctively wanted to stand beneath Louise’s spider at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, with its long legs cocooning me, keeping me warm. Later I read that for Bourgeois the spider symbolised a protective, maternal figure – reflecting that her own mother was a weaver.

Garden by Piet Oudolf

Before lunch, we went for a beautiful summer walk through the vivid colours and flowing textures of the Oudolf Field. Dutchman Piet Oudolf is one of the most famous garden designers in the world, renowned for his perennial meadows of colour. Recent projects also include New York’s High Line.

pond with lilies
Pink-spotted flower
Reflecting the orchid meadows of Somerset

The Oudolf Field stretches up to the fibreglass Radić Pavilion, designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić for the Serpentine Gallery 2014 pavilion, and then transplanted from London’s Hyde Park to Somerset.

As humans, we have an innate desire to head to a summit or focal point, and then to climb up to reach a vantage point to look out across the landscape. Perhaps this is a remnant of our early hunter-gathering days, as we scanned the horizon for danger. The Radić pavilion was perfect for this. We could go for lunch feeling that we were conquerors and safe in our territory.

Flower gardens with pavilion

Lunch at Hauser & Wirth

Hauser & Worth Somerset’s in-house café and restaurant, the Roth Bar & Grill, is home to no ordinary bar. The bar is sourced locally and made from discarded materials. It was specially created by Björn and Oddur Roth, the son and grandson of Swiss artist Dieter Roth. Dieter was the first artist in residence at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. He is also into bars. At his first exhibition with Hauser & Wirth in Zurich, in 1997, he had insisted on having a bar – a bar that also served drinks.

If I had known how symbolic the bar was, I would not have focussed on the lemons!

The walls of the Roth Bar & Grill are lined with artworks. Naturally, of course. Below is a back-lit self-portrait by Vancouver-based artist Rodney Graham.

Man with chefs hat sitting under tree

Before sitting down, we filed past the chickens roasting on spits above the open fire.

Grill roasting chicken

Our set menu was roast chicken with sautéed potatoes and salad. Simple, wholesome, local.

Roast chicken and potatoes

The plum & cream was delicious. I thought the plum season began in August?

Plum and cream

Down the grassy path

After lunch, we went through the wooden gate in the garden, crossed the road, over the allotments – gifted by Hauser & Wirth to the local community – and down a grassy path to the nearby town of Bruton, with its population of 3,000.

Visit to ‘Make’ – IN a Georgian townhouse

Last September, Hauser & Wirth – never to stand still, always evolving, developing – opened Make, a ‘destination for contemporary making and the crafted object‘. (I am desperately trying to avoid using the word craftsmen … craftspeople does not sound right.) The space occupies two ground-floor rooms of a Georgian town house on Bruton’s winding high street.

Logo of Make

The current exhibition, Current Ground, features wood and clay works by Nic Webb and ceramics by Akiko Hirai.

Japanese-born Akiko, whose work Moon Jar (bottom left picture) was nominated for this year’s Loewe Craft Prize, is based in the deliciously named ‘Chocolate Factory’ in North London.

She uses the ash from apple trees growing in the Somerset garden of Make’s Director, Jacqueline Moore, for her glazes, to give a mossy green tinge. For Akiko, it’s not just about the effect, it’s also about the collaboration between herself, Jacqueline and nature.

It’s all about finding pleasure

Before we knew it, we were on the bus to Castle Cary station going back to London. I wish we had had time to stop off at the Hauser & Wirth shop… we did, but being in a group we all preferred to talk with each other.

I had been eyeing some works by local wooden bowl maker Greg Power (must be an Irish compatriot) – a chopping board, to be precise, to forge that collaboration between me, nature and the food me and my son eat.

On the train, I flicked through The Inner Mirror: Conversations with Ursula Hauser to find inspiration as to how she collects. “As a collector, I want to live with things that inspire and energize me, that give me pleasure.” Ah, so that is what it is all about…. pleasure. I want to explore this concept of pleasure … what is pleasure?

I do know that the art I have at home gives me ‘big’ pleasures… while the hand-hewn, ash chopping board – it’s got a dent, that’s why I want a new one – in my kitchen only gives me ‘small’ pleasures. I also know that my day out to Hauser & Wirth Somerset was very pleasurable.

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