Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Recalling a visit to a contemporary art exhibition these days conjures up images from direct looking at the work, (in this case sculpture, photos and screen-prints), bits of the catalogue essays, and the video explaining it all. Add the architectural space of the gallery, the other spectators, and occasionally the view.

Here at the Longside Gallery, in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the view insistently calls for your attention like a 4 year old. Through the picture windows tractors silently spray undulating fields. Visitors picnic and process up and down the hill.

The view from the gallery is interrupted by Claire Barclay’s smears of mirror paint on the huge window, a sort of ‘clean protest’. Shuffle outside to look in as you leave and the landscape is smeared back at you. It feels a bit urban for here, all the whited-out shop windows and empty mirrored-glass offices are down in nearby Barnsley. The artist clad in respirator and protective gloves on the video strikes more of a rural note.

It could be beautiful this window-work, like clouds behind Karla Black’s desert-island landscape on the concrete floor, with scrumpled plastic and paper floating on threads in the wings. But the black gloss window-frames stop such musings in their tracks. Barclay’s sculptures further inside are installation fragments in black metal rectangles, here a loom, there black parquet bricks, or half-circle lampshade hats, or silvery logo trophies. It all seems anachronistic and a bit repellent, and therefore free to shrug off pastel immersiveness, and ask a few awkward questions, like art should. I mean not just the self-answering questions posed by too directly conceptual art.

Karla Black insists on a bodily, instinctive, physical reading of her work on the video, a reading without language, or interpretation beyond the ‘raw creative moment’. I stand there and let all my connotations stampede over her irregular rectangle of sediments, let them scuttle off into the distance, like a failed invasion. Away you go several landscapes: lunar, Ozymandian desert, sub-marine, beach, or under the floorboards of a toxic bordello; off go too the archaeology trenches, nomadic battlefield shrapnels, moon-landings, tracks, ridges and footprints that came to mind.

Eventually I’m left with a residue of stranded dessication, with the grains smoothed flat in places, with a canyon delineating a crack in the concrete floor. Then eventually a plateau of horizontal nothing. The smells and the dust in the throat long gone. No really, this is a compliment. So it works, in the way that enquiring about a stranger’s story for long enough can produce a deep rapport, but the questions have been so open and seductive, that you only know the half of it.

Becky Beasley ‘asks photographic questions about sculpture’. But her narratives are clear. She too has high-gloss black sculpture, it discusses itself with its photograph on the wall, while we look comfortably on. Similarly she has gelatin prints of curtains theatrically linked to a series of Glenn Gould quotes, about how his piano work crystallizes out of choices. Although the curtains are drawn, the sense of this mutual interrogation between narrative and image is open, and harmonic.

Her most extensive narrative, however, is stretched along the whole back wall. An eight-part correspondence between a story of a mechanism to open windows, and a runic line of jointed wooden strips, like semaphore signals. Ostensibly about the linear passage of life, to me it goes beyond to become a loop of circular questioning. Unanswerable but posed so as to be contained, in a sort of happy aporia.

As a whole, it is as though the work of the three artists clings to the walls, floor and windows, like strangers at an opening that lasts 12 weeks. All those days and nights, all those different lights.

Is the landscape ultimately winning? Even out in the distant park it’s the same, Henry Moore outmanoeuvred by a chestnut tree. But don’t draw Beasley’s curtains over the windows, don’t revert to a white cube. This is really good work, but ill at ease staying over in the country. How will it look in Bristol and Wolverhampton?