Visitors to Chatsworth House this spring might wonder if they have stumbled through the looking-glass. The estate’s rolling parkland has been invaded by an army of vibrantly coloured, outsized garden tools, whose outlines seem to hover, mirage-like, over the landscape.
These painted-steel 2D ‘sculptures of drawings’ are the brainchildren of the conceptual artist Michael Craig-Martin. Craig-Martin finds poetry in the everyday and here he has taken 12 commonplace objects — a wheelbarrow; a spade; a lightbulb — and transformed them into something extraordinary.
He also believes that context is everything when it comes to art and the works have been carefully positioned. While ‘High Heel’ (above) speaks to the decadence and glamour of the house behind it, a trio of umbrellas — blue, orange and purple — is dotted across the lawn next to the 90ft water jet, and an enormous pair of blue scissors is plunged into the earth outside — where else? — the vinery.
Craig-Martin’s intervention (until 29 June) is three-pronged. Indoors he has laid an intriguing trail of magenta plinths, which show gems from the Devonshire family’s sculpture collection, including Canova’s ‘Sleeping Endymion’, in a new light. He has also curated a display of 12 Old Master drawings.
What, I wonder, would Capability Brown, 18th-century advocate of naturalism and architect of Chatsworth’s gardens, have made of Craig-Martin’s 11ft-6in yellow pitchfork? For all its brash, 21st-century artificiality, I suspect he would have approved.