WEST BRETTON, ENGLAND — On arriving at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, visitors see a broad swathe of the park’s rural landscape, punctuated by trees, a chapel, the lake and many free-standing sculptures predominantly made from natural materials and neutral tones. But until January 2021, this peaceful scene will be watched over by a 30 ft high colorful rooster. “Pop Galo [Pop Rooster]” (2016) is Joana Vasconcelos’ homage to the traditional Portuguese symbol of the rooster. Covered with 17,000 glazed tiles and brought to life at night by 15,000 LED lights, the pop culture icon has become an unexpected guardian of this typically English landscape.
“Pop Galo” is a bold introduction to Joana Vasconcelos’ solo show Beyond, which takes place in Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s Underground Gallery and in the surrounding gardens. The exhibition offers a survey of the artist’s work from the last 20 years, but focuses primarily on more recent pieces.
Many of the works use materials, found objects and techniques from everyday domestic life, pointing to Vasconcelos’ belief in the irrelevance of the hierarchy of materials and subjects established by the art historical canon and frequently echoed in contemporary art. In particular, Vasconcelos is best known for her large-scale pieces using fabric, embroidery and stitching, which constitute a feminist attempt to monumentalize and liberate the traditionally domestic or feminine task of sewing.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is the monumental 40 ft long “Valkyrie Marina Rinaldi” (2014), which is suspended from the ceiling in the main gallery space. Part of a series inspired by the mythological “Valkyrie” women warriors, the sculpture unfolds across the space with a power and engineered complexity apparently belied by its crocheted and beaded surfaces.
In the gallery next door, Vasconcelos changes tack by presenting the stereotypically masculine image of an oversized Beretta pistol created out of 168 old-fashioned telephones. These machines are turned into a musical instrument by a piece of music composed by Jonas Runa, which uses the clicks and rings of the phones to create an almost overwhelming symphonic sound.
Outside, on the hill above the gallery, gendered stereotypes come together in “Solitário [Solitaire]” (2018), an enormous engagement ring made of out golden car wheels and crystal whisky glasses. It’s a deliberately unsubtle commentary on consumerism and the gendered symbolism of luxury, just as “Marilyn” (2009/2011) — a huge pair of high heels constructed out of saucepans — is a similarly in-your-face statement about women’s subjection in the home.
Vasconcelos’ work is often brash, bold and has a clear message. It might not be for everyone, but its central messages — challenging the snobbery of the art world and the hierarchy of aesthetics and championing the inclusion of women and outsiders — are important reminders for us all.
Joana Vasconcelos: Beyond continues at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (West Bretton, Wakefield, UK) through 3 January 2021. The exhibition is curated by Clare Lilley.
Editor’s note: Please note that viewing hours for this exhibition may be reduced in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Discussions around art and culture are important during this time, but we encourage readers to practice social distancing and self-isolation in an effort to mitigate against the outbreak, which may include opting to explore an exhibition virtually instead of physically.