The Sculpture Park Waldfrieden lies above the Wupper valley in the Christbusch woodland between the town centers of Elberfeld and Barmen. It rises steadily over an area of twelve hectares (ca. 30 acres) up to one of the many wooded hills that surround the city of Wuppertal. Old leafy trees line the long serpentine road that leads to the park. Already here individual sculptures by Tony Cragg can be seen along the path’s embankments. The café comes into view at the last sharp bend in the road, located on the ground floor of a house built in rough masonry in 1914. From here via an outdoor staircase, you enter the bungalow built in 2007 that is the entrance to the sculpture park. The visitors’ ascent runs along one of the mighty retaining walls of sandstone that bolster the garden estate of the Villa Waldfrieden, which looks out on the valley below.
Landscaping the grounds and its garden was part of the whole Waldfrieden concept that the architect Franz Krause developed shortly after the end of World War II for the entrepreneur Kurt Herberts. At the center of this project was the two-story villa that was built 1947 to 1950 on the foundations of a previous building destroyed in the war. Its design plan for the interior was dynamically attuned to the inhabitant’s movement through the house, while the exterior was allowed to merge organically with the landscape and its natural surroundings.
On the periphery of the lawn that surrounds the house and abuts on the park and woods, a six-metre high glassed-in exhibition pavilion was built in 2007 on an area nineteen times fourteen metres. This purist room of glass was conceived as a presentation site for sculptures that could not be shown outdoors. However, its transparency allows the pieces on display to relate to the environing nature and its moods of color and light.
In the Park, the perception of art is bound up with, and inseparable from, an experience of nature. The special character of the Waldfrieden estate is marked by its situation on a slope. The steep ascent above the narrow V-shaped Wupper valley and a stony ground that discourages residential housing resulted in the preservation of much inner-city forest. One step at a time, the Cragg Foundation is expanding its collection of notable sculpture. The focus is on the modern and the contemporary; however the collection means to evolve beyond this.
An encounter with three dozen sculptures in nature stimulates our perceptions. Even now the tour of the grounds brings together very different and quite complex forms of sculptural praxis. The sculptures by Anthony Cragg, Richard Deacon, Thomas Schütte, Wilhelm Mundt, Norbert Kricke and others show a whole range of major positions on modernism and the present-day.
Different from a closed exhibition room, the Park confronts the work and the viewer with the fleeting phenomena of the day and the season. The mighty leafy umbrella of old trees combines with the park setting to a living, breathing terrain, which allows warmth and cold, wet and dry, leaf coloring and light reflections of the seasonal position of the sun to interact with the sculptures and impact their formal appearance.
Old deciduous trees are the striking feature of the parkland, among which are chestnut, linden, locust, maple, larch, oak and beech. The reddish leaves of the copper beech and flowering plum provide contrast. A sequoia stands near the entrance, while the weeping beech, Japanese maple and ginkgo encircle the villa. In spring, the star and tulip magnolias unfold their magnificent petals, followed by the blossoms of the cherry, lilac, wisteria and rhododendron. The range of woody plants in the park corresponds to the diversity of woods used inside the villa. The compatibility between the house and garden, as Franz Krause staged it, is still very much alive today, as in the sweep of the villa’s flanking walls that snake into the planted borders. The existing network of paths was extended over the whole area and today guides the visitor to the many placements of the sculptures and past thickets, lawns and the tall trees of the mixed forest. The Park’s characteristic topography and proximity to the town have favoured its development, where the sculpture, in the fullness of all its shapes and forms, is meant to settle into a home and be made accessible to the public.
It was thanks to the private initiative of Tony Cragg, a British sculptor living in Wuppertal, that the Sculpture Park was founded and established. Thirty years after Cragg took up his exhibition activity, he began looking for a permanent site for presenting sculpture outdoors and discovered the abandoned Waldfrieden property, which he bought in 2006. That very same year he began redesigning the park grounds and the buildings that, after long years of vacancy, needed to be thoroughly renovated and modernized. In appreciation of the historical estate, its former structures and material substance were preserved to the greatest extent possible, thus keeping its historical dimension intact despite the conversion of the park and buildings to accommodate their new use. In 2008, the Sculpture Park was opened under the auspices of the Cragg family’s nonprofit foundation. It houses a steadily growing collection of sculpture, including examples from Tony Cragg’s own large oeuvre. All is accompanied by changing exhibitions of internationally known artists, lectures on culture and the humanities, as well as concerts. Beyond this, the Cragg Foundation is also dedicated to research on, and the publication of, the subject of the fine arts.
For more information: www.skulpturenpark-waldfrieden.de