Ursula von Rydingsvard, Yorkshire Sculpture Park

The highly acclaimed American artist Ursula von Rydingsvard arrives at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, for her first large-scale survey in Europe. Running until 4 January 2015, the exhibition, which is the artist’s most extensive to date, features more than 40 works of drawing and sculpture made over the last two decades. Presented in YSP’s purpose-built Underground Gallery and the open air, the show represents the full scope of von Rydingsvard’s diverse practice.

With work in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, she is one of America’s most inventive and individual artists. Over time she has developed a practice of highly personal sculptural language that has become synonymous with cedar, the wood that lies at the heart of her practice. The exhibition includes wall-mounted works, monolithic structures and other complex forms, most of which are meticulously assembled from 4”x4” cedar beams.

Von Rydingsvard approaches the cedar beams as a blank canvas, a starting point from which she explores psychological and emotional themes. She does not begin with sketches or drawings on paper; instead her works develop instinctively in response to the making process. Having worked directly with cedar for 35 years using chisels and circular saws, von Rydingsvard is now allergic to the wood and consequently works for up to eight hours a day wearing a heavy, air-pumped protective suit.

The exhibition brings together the intimate and the immense, examining von Rydingsvard’s sustained investigation of the simultaneous fragility and durability of existence, which often relates to a personal history of displacement. Born to Polish and Ukrainian parents in Germany in 1942, the artist moved through numerous displaced persons camps for Polish people during her youth until her family was able to move to the USA in 1950.

The artist creates idiosyncratic sculptural forms, and works such as Echo and Sunken Shadow, both 2011, reference the simple, rustic items of this heritage, such as bowls, shovels and spoons. The exhibition includes a carefully selected display considering the way in which objects amassed by the artist over a lifetime have fed into her practice and thinking.

Cedar remains central to von Rydingsvard’s practice, but she also makes works in other materials which offer a purposeful counterpoint. Damski Czepek (2006), a large-scale polyurethane resin work, first shown at Madison Square Park in New York and now on long term loan to YSP, forms part of the outdoor display. An immersive work, Damski Czepek has particular resonance at YSP, echoing its follies, shelters and grottoes, and providing a space for contemplation. There will also be sculptures made with bronze, cows’ intestines and abaca paper.

Ursula von Rydingsvard, until 4 January 2015, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, WF4 4LG.

Video courtesy YSP.