Lord David Cholmondeley
Houghton Hall – King's Lynn, Great Britain
What do you value and pursue as your responsibilities as a “collector”?
I like the idea of keeping a family collection relevant by bringing in work of our own time; and artists of course rely on collectors to buy or commission their work. I have found they especially enjoy site-specific commissions, as they are not always given this opportunity.
Had you been collecting contemporary art on a personal level, before desiring to activate Houghton Hall, a historical Palladian estate and your family home, as an art space that is open to the public?
The house and grounds have been open since 1976, and the idea of bringing in contemporary art came at the end of the 1990s from an encounter with the American light artist, James Turrell. Our first site-specific work at Houghton Hall was a Skyspace by Turrell, and soon after I asked Richard Long to create a piece for the grounds using slate.
Through your foundation, you aim “for Houghton to become a focus for those who wish to see great art of our time in a historic setting”. How does this take shape?
There are really very few places in the UK where one can see contemporary sculpture outside. There are many sculpture parks in Europe and the United States, but I felt there was a need for this, especially in East Anglia, where there are relatively few contemporary collections.
In 2015, James Turrell was selected for the first site-specific and solo exhibition commission at Houghton, with five commissions of British heavyweights following this. Opening today (Friday, October 22) is the latest commission, presenting Chris Levine, "528 Hz Love Frequency". How do you select the artists for these shows?
Exhibitions do not always include special commissions, although we have been able to commission work from James Turrell and Richard Long. Most of our site-specific commissions are for single works, as with Jeppe Hein’s Waterflame or Anya Gallaccio’s Sybil Hedge. A show will often come together at the last minute, which in practical terms means a few months before opening.
Private collecting is deeply personal, as you have mentioned to us before, there is no selection committee behind it. What is it about the work of Chris Levine that touches you personally? What are you most looking forward to as part of this exhibition?
I have been very fortunate that many of the artists I admire have also liked the idea of exhibiting at Houghton; so for the moment, things have fallen into place very conveniently.
I immediately liked Chris Levine’s slow-moving laser work when I first saw it about 12 years ago; it has a meditative quality and is very beautiful. His holographic portraits are also extraordinary. The most exciting piece in our show is probably the Molecule of Light, which is a bright red orb standing as high as the house; when struck by lasers it seems to be spinning around in the air.
Do you already have in mind, or even initial planning, who you will present for Houghton’s 2022 commission?
We have a new commission in the park by Claudio Parmiggiani; a 16 metre high marble column twisting towards the sky. However, we have no large-scale show confirmed for next year.
What would you like to see shift in the Art World post pandemic?
I would like more funding for schools to be able to visit exhibitions and museums
What is a beautiful moment from Houghton Arts Foundation, or your life as a collector that you would like to share with us?
I love the moment an artist sees their work in a different setting – and sometimes better than it has ever looked.
One moment I shall never forget was the evening Richard Long finished his huge slate sculpture in the park. As he laid the last few slabs, we saw the moon rising above the trees behind us, illuminating the scene. He called the piece Full Moon Circle.
Which publicly accessible private collections would you recommend visiting?
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is of course the ‘gold standard’, and should be on everyone’s list. Abroad, I have been most impressed by Château La Coste, with its incredible setting near Aix-en-Provence, high standard of artwork and amazing restaurants.
However, I have not managed to visit so many other sculpture parks.
Images courtesy Houghton Hall.
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