Fine art is put out to grass

Duncan McLaren on work by Anya Gallaccio and Simon Patterson
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The Independent Online

Compton Verney is a Grade I Listed country house in Warwickshire which is in the process of being turned into an art gallery by the Peter Moores Foundation. It won't be fully open to the public until summer 2003 (the ground floor galleries are displaying works from the foundation's growing collection of pre-1800 painting), but in the meantime several "Art in the Park" projects are planned.

Compton Verney is a Grade I Listed country house in Warwickshire which is in the process of being turned into an art gallery by the Peter Moores Foundation. It won't be fully open to the public until summer 2003 (the ground floor galleries are displaying works from the foundation's growing collection of pre-1800 painting), but in the meantime several "Art in the Park" projects are planned.

This summer a couple of prominent contemporary artists have created site-specific works in the grounds "reflecting the history of Compton Verney and its 40-acre estate".

The house was remodelled in the 18th century by Robert Adam. Anya Gallaccio has taken an Adam motif intended for the ceiling of the great hall, and has introduced the idealised floral pattern into the lawns around the house, with the aid of templates and a team of mowers. Aerial photographs used for publicity make the work seem much more spectacular than it appears to the park visitor. But there are vantage points from which the pattern - distorted by perspective - can be seen. The work brings to mind the links that exist between the interior and exterior, between nature's incorporation into the artificial and vice versa. If "Capability" Brown removed formal decorative features when landscaping the grounds at Compton Verney, Gallaccio has re-introduced them by borrowing from Adam. But not at the cost of Brown's earthy vision. Close up, the lines and patches of unmown grass are studded with thistles and bees: it's ironic that the imposition of such a formal design can effectively bring attention to nature. The work also prompts thoughts about what a centre of far-reaching influence the British Empire was, its decorative and recreational choices being imposed on land all over the world (cricket pitches in India, Africa and Australia, for example). In the case of Repen), it's not intended that the pattern be maintained by further mowing. It will gradually disappear - poignantly perhaps - as does the majority of Gallaccio's work.

Simon Patterson's Landskip is also less spectacular to experience than its publicity shots would suggest, but this piece too encourages the visitor to enjoy the landscaped garden for its own sake. Two or three times a day, single canisters of coloured smoke are set off at each of half a dozen points on either side of the lake. (A starting point for this work was the army manoeuvres which took place at Compton Verney during the Second World War.) From certain sightlines, several of the sites are visible, but the 30-second gaps between each "burning" means there is little mixing of colour. Still, it's startling to see a 250-year-old Cedar of Lebanon suddenly set off by a great purple splodge. And if you miss all the live excitement, mounted photographs of previous burns are on display inside the house. The scenes are reminiscent of sketches that Turner made while staying at Petworth in Sussex, where he painted its "Capability" Brown park at sunset, using watercolour to produce smoky, colour-saturated clouds.

When Turner stayed at Petworth, courtesy of Lord Egremont, his main gain was access to a collection of Old Masters at a time when there was no public collections of art. Whereas in these days of site-specific art, Compton Verney provides a site worth being specific about. It's great that two talented artists have had the run of the place for long enough to prepare the ground for a rich experience for the new "owners" - all of us.

Art in The Park: Compton Verney, Warwickshire (01926 645500), until 28 August

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