As Hauser & Wirth Somerset officially opens its doors this brand new gallery and education centre will surely confound all expectations. For Hauser & Wirth has pulled off the feat of creating a cutting edge art space - a little bit Guggenheim, a little bit Tate Modern - whilst still retaining the rural identity of the 16th century Durslade farm in which it resides. It is proof that anything is possible in the country - albeit with vision, endurance and serious investment.
The project combines the passions of its owners Iwan and Manuela Wirth - art, architecture, landscape, conservation and food (in the shape of the Roth Bar & Grill and coming soon, a farm shop). It is nothing short of a revolution for the once-sleepy Bruton. The beautiful but wrecked Durslade Farm has been restored and redesigned by architect Luis Laplace, with 2 new wings added to the existing buildings so that on arrival there is the feeling of a courtyard with an astonishing ice bucket sculpture by Suboch Gupta in the middle.
The sculptor Phyllida Barlow opens H&WS with her exhibition GIG, a series of site specific installations created in response to the architecture and surrounding landscape. The exhibition starts in the beautiful Threshing Barn with a celebratory display of vividly coloured pom poms hanging from the rafters and a clear indication to viewers that this will be something different.
Throughout her career Barlow has been fascinated with the relationship between objects and the space which surrounds them. Sculptures made from cardboard, plaster, cement, polystyrene and timber, scavenged every day materials, dominate the next 3 galleries, a brightly painted echo of the rejuventation of their once derelict surroundings.
Untitled stashhoarding 2014 by Phyllida Barlow Barlow, a committed urbanite, said that during her residency in Somerset she had become fascinated with the countryside and the element of darkness lurking beneath the idyll. The renowned landscape designer Piet Oudolf (of New York High Line and Serpentine Gallery fame) has designed a garden for H&WS which will open to the public on September 14 when the plants will be seen at their best. It stands, painstakingly planted and already beautiful, with a huge Alice in Wonderland clock in its midst. Meanwhile H&WS is holding an exhibition of Oudolf's drawings at the gallery, including those for the Skyline, a series of meticulous, felt tipped works of art, symbols in highlighter colours, a private language which corresponds to individual plant names and is fascinating to see. All this before we've even got to the Roth Bar & Grill. At its heart is a bar designed by Bjorn and Odur Roth, son and grandson of the artist Dieter Roth and long term friends of the Wirths. Working closely with Cath Butler from At the Chapel, the restaurant is serving simply grilled meat from neighbouring farms, classics such as Dorset lobster with lemon mayonnaise, salads and home cured meats from the farm. You can also head here for breakfast - kippers, porridge, bacon sandwiches, top knotch coffee.
Next to the restaurant there's a shop (beautiful books, sketchbooks, colouring pencils) and general hangout area. The day I visited two laptoppers had hijacked a comfortable looking table for two and it hadn't even opened yet. I suspect it's going to be packed. The new education centre, housed in a converted outbuilding, will be running events and seminars for schools, colleges, universities and teachers. Then there's family day on the first Saturday of each month (starting July 26) with sketching, gallery tours, puppet making and story telling aimed at those with children aged 6 to 12. There are many events planned - installation artist Bruce Munro talking about Light and Landscape, novelist Victoria Glendinning on What Does a Garden Tell You About a Person and the Bristol Old Vic theatre school in residence for a week during August. The farmhouse, which opened last year, will host artists in residence and be open to the public, displaying its unique take on the (very) shabby chic as lived in work of art. Bottom line? For all us West Country folk, H&WS is finally here and it's even better than we hoped. For everyone else? Bruton just became a cultural destination.