Q&A: Clare Lilley, Frieze Sculpture Park curator

Published 13 October 2014

Darth Vader, wicker sculpture and this year's show-stoppers – ahead of Frieze London, we talk to the Sculpture Park's curator about the 2014 show and the impact of the Art Fund's app.

The Frieze Sculpture Park is in its third year now. What have been your personal highlights?

I love interaction and it’s been an absolute pleasure for me to be able to work with some of the artists during installation. In the past Oscar Murillo and Alice Channer were fantastic, working away for hours in the pouring rain until they were absolutely satisfied. And it was an incredible buzz to meet and work with Judy Chicago on her installation, also with David Notarius who helped us install Helen Chadwick’s Piss Flowers.

This year I’ve enjoyed being with Kristin Oppenheim, Marie Lund and Caroline Achaintre ­– all of them so thoughtful – and perhaps especially with the veteran American artist, Richard Nonas, who has made a really powerful site-specific work. Again, he’s thoughtful and has real wisdom, so I’ve learned a lot.

Have people's reactions to the Sculpture Park surprised you in previous years?

In 2012 it really was surprising to see how menacing some people found Jean-Luc Moulène’s Body Versus Twizzy. It’s a highly polished, smooth and brooding work made from a collapsed and reorganised Twizzy car and has something of Darth Vader about it, which people clearly picked up on.

If you believe the British press you might think the British hate contemporary sculpture, but I know that isn’t true and working in Regent’s Park reinforces to me how curious and expansive people are. I think a lot about the huge variety of people who use the English Gardens on a daily basis and I try to make a wonderful experience for everyone, not just Frieze people. I’ve had the most fantastic conversations with complete strangers and I love how sculpture in the public realm can be such a force for communication and exchange.

How did the Frieze Sculpture Park app change people's experience of the park last year?

Many people have spoken to me about it and the app is perfect in giving a way into a very diverse clutch of sculptures. One of the great things about the Sculpture Park is that it allows time for thinking and breathing between the more hectic fairs, and the app helps give a richer experience.

Does being in a central London park give a different experience of sculpture to the open Yorkshire countryside?

Actually I think they’re quite similar; these kinds of nurtured landscapes and their features enable a relatively coherent presentation, which is far more difficult in an urban setting. Of course in Yorkshire people make repeat visits over time and see works in different weather conditions and so build up a kind of relationship, but even over the course of a week there will be people in Regent’s Park who form an intangible connection with the sculpture.

The park features pieces from the 1960s and 1970s alongside contemporary works. Has sculpture changed much since then, and did your choice of modern works influence your selection of contemporary pieces?

You know artists are still wrangling with similar concerns, whether they be political, around material and its interaction with space, or with contemporary (at the time) culture such as comics or music. In my selection of works I focus more on the quality of work than the time at which it was made. It’s interesting that last year I had many sculptures with mirrored surfaces, whereas this year I have more earthy materials, like wood, wicker, copper, bronze and stone.

What are the biggest challenges of curating an event like Frieze Sculpture Park?

The process means I’m selecting works from images that I often haven’t seen in real life – and that means turning other proposals down – and then siting them on a map, which goes to print long before I ever see the sculptures. I’ve sited a lot of sculptures in my life and I’ve spent an awful lot of time in the English Gardens – you have to learn a landscape in order to successfully site works in it – but even so, it’s not easy to truly understand the scale and presence of a work from a photograph. Another challenge is that sometimes trees are cut down, have growth spurts, or are planted between the time that I’ve sited the works on paper and physically site them. Even quite small changes can radically alter a space.

What works are you most excited about having in the park this year?

That’s a tough one because my heart beats faster every time I walk into the Park, and that comes from the whole combination of works and how they interact with the landscape, but this year the sheer scale, presence and audacity of KAWS’s Small Lies makes it a show-stopper.

Frieze Art Fair 2014 is at Regent's Park from 15 to 19 October. Save 25% on advance tickets with a National Art Pass. The Frieze Sculpture Guide app is available for free from the App Store or Google Play.

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