Hauser & Wirth are one of the powerhouses of worldwide contemporary art with galleries in Zurich, London, New York, Los Angeles (2015) and Somerset. Yes, you read that right, Somerset. In fact Bruton to be precise – a sleepy village home to some three thousand souls.
So why Bruton? The first thoughts are that the site is perhaps ideal for the outdoor display of extra large scale sculptures, or that it could be considered a refreshing alternative to the widely prevalent ‘white cube’ city galleries. But whilst these thoughts are both in some way correct it is soon apparent that there is much more to the story.
Whilst Bruton may well turn out to be a great commercial success, the deciding elements were much more personal than financial. Back in 2005, gallery founders Iwan and Manuela Wirth decided to live temporarily in England, at least in part so that their children were schooled for a while experiencing a different culture and language.
Before long their attachment became much deeper. They developed a love of the Somerset countryside, moving in to their own medieval house before discovering the almost derelict Durslade Farm. Realising its potential and with a strong desire to contribute to the community, they quickly purchased the 18th century property and set about its restoration.
The work that has been done is astonishing – a labour of love that has no doubt drawn on their considerable contact list. The run-down buildings have been sympathetically restored with old stone, brick and traditional materials, whilst stylish contemporary extensions are hidden behind the old facades without detracting from the existing structures.
The very best architects and designers have been given virtual free rein and have injected new life to the historic buildings, creating no less than five gallery spaces plus offices, educational spaces, bar, bookshop and restaurant. Outside a muddy pasture is now a stunning garden – created by Piet Oudolf no less – the internationally-renowned designer behind New York’s High Line and the Queen Elizabeth Park at the London Olympic site.
Moving on to the contents of the space, again it is hard to rein in the superlatives. The galleries will of course house some of the world’s finest contemporary art. Since the first Hauser & Wirth gallery opened its doors in 1992 at the old Löwenbräu brewery building in Zurich, they have steadily built up a remarkable stable of artists, now representing giants like Allan Kaprow, Paul McCarthy, Ron Mueck, Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois, amongst many others.
The first to occupy the main gallery spaces is Phyllida Barlow, who recently wowed the art world with her striking installation ‘dock’ at Tate Britain (see our review here), and is similarly impressive with this show. Entitled ‘GIG’ it commands the four varied spaces it occupies, her ramshackle aesthetic of accumulated fabric scraps and building materials nicely commenting on the cycle of dereliction and renovation work just completed at the site.
As would be anticipated, the bar and restaurant doesn’t just serve top quality food (courtesy of At The Chapel, Bruton) but is also an ‘installation’ by artists Bjorn & Oddur Roth with sundry fine artworks lining the dining room walls.
Add to the above a big educational and artist residency programme plus a distinct community bias, this is an establishment of huge ambition and matching quality. Bound to become an important fixture in the regions cultural and artistic landscape, it’s future programme and progress is one to watch.
For further information please visit: Hauser & Wirth Somerset
All images by CELLOPHANELAND* and Hauser & Wirth Somerset.