For once the website doesn’t say it all.
We knew there would be art and a Piet Oudolf garden. What we didn’t know were the loveliness of the countryside and the delights of the village of Bruton. The eye is so taken with the surroundings – given that it has also to be on the road – you can drive past the entrance without noticing. We did, but fortunately found an accommodating farm road for reversing.
Durslade Farm was once monastic, and many of the buildings bear witness. They have been carefully maintained, and now provide sympathetic spaces for the display of new and established modern and contemporary art. There is also a restaurant, of which more later.
A weathervane on the stable block could as well be ancient as new: it blends beautifully. In the courtyard is a Mark Wallinger black horse, strange only in that it doesn’t move. Beyond is a Calder sculpture, black in contrast to the stainless steel tree by Subodh Gupta, the current temporary exhibitor.
On our way we had wondered if more than a coffee break would serve, because the weather had been wet with strong winds and even the possibility of snow: not the conditions for visiting in the open air or a garden, however celebrated, that in April could be no more than a concept. First sight changed that, however, and we knew there would be enough shelter for most weather.
Coffee it was, nonetheless, in the bar designed by Bjorn and Oddur Roth, son and grandson of Dieter Roth, who had specialised in sculpture from scavenged materials.
Gupta’s exhibition followed suit, many works recycled from, for example, cooking pots and other scraps. Some showed the source materials without any cosmetic treatment. Viewers are invited to think how these had been used and what the utensils meant in the lives of Indian women who would have used them. When they are enhanced, however, the result is beautiful, as in ‘Touch, Trace, Taste,Truth’ a huge representation of a brass cooking pot suspended on its side in one gallery. On approach it is a gleaming sun symbol; then its bulbous sides become clear, and the open rim is on the reverse as it were. It brings to mind the hours of patient polishing these vessels are given in India, as copper pans and kettles once were here.
Wherever we’ve seen them, the huge spiders of Louise Bourgeois have delighted us. The example here was no exception. Placing it across a courtyard from a variation on Rodin’s Burghers of Calais was especially poignant, given the medieval story on one hand and Bourgeois’s experience of her father’s textile factory on the other.
Enough of the art: what of the garden? Oudolf’s signature grasses provide structure even in April. There were dwarf tulips, muscari and fritillaries in the beds. The pond is at path level, so equivalent to an infinity pool. Above all is a pavilion such as appears in Hyde Park each summer, also in summer for drinks and some tantalising views of garden and buildings. A photograph shows how it plays with usual expectations of a garden building.
It was time for lunch, as promised. All produce is local wherever possible. Subodh Gupta had provided a recipe for the chicken dish one of us had; the other chose sea bass baked in salt. Both were delicious. We had ginger beer and a hedgerow fruit drink as there were several hours of driving ahead. Dessert for both was a caramel chocolate tart, something to remember all the way home. Others were eating local lamb or beef, in the latter case so intriguing we had to look again at the menu as we left. They serve a leg joint for two, three or four people. The more in your party the more economical – I can’t say cheap! – it becomes. It kept the three opposite busy for a long time.
A pause for reflection, given the comfort of most of our lives, comes with Gupta’s evocation of a South Indian house, brilliantly lit inside so as to be impenetrable. Stainless mirrors hang on walls around the gallery and these are periodically shaken into thunder sheets by machines attached to their backs. If you have been in a monsoon you know how defenceless a rural Indian house must feel. For those who haven’t it is evoked in Satyaijit Ray’s beautiful film ‘The Life of Apu’.
Half an hour later we were passing Stonehenge, another site for celebrating fine old structures and – in their day – feasts. Nothing is new, only the forms and styles change. I should add, though, admission to Hauser & Wirth is free, and if you have to pay for the food at least you don’t have to catch it yourself.