In 2019, Loretta Würtenberger and husband Daniel Tümpel impulse-bought a dilapidated 18th-century castle and converted it into Schlossgut Schwante Sculpture Park. We talk to Loretta about their popular work-in-progress.
Was the sculpture park the fulfilment of a life-long dream?
No, not at all! We were very happy in our old house by the Havel and wanted to grow old there. We came to see this place on a rainy day and I thought it was impressive but I couldn’t really see myself here. Then we bought it spontaneously, mainly because the seller was under strong pressure to sell. Once we had it, we didn’t know what to do with it! It took us about three months to realise that what we wanted was a sculpture park.
How did you come up with that idea?
It was kind of natural. Sculpture is our passion and the field I’ve been working in with the Institute for Artists’ Estates. These kinds of houses were always created as a centre for business, a working farm… and we are not farmers! But we thought long and hard about how to make it con- temporary, how to recreate a working farm in a modern sense that is busy and not just a relic of the past. For us, the sculpture park was the answer. And anyway, what else is a family going to do with 20 hectares?
How did the artists respond to the idea?
We told a few artists about the concept and immediately there was this momentum: they told other artists, and then everyone was super excited. Last summer, Carsten Nicolai told us he would like his sculpture ‘Echo’, a recreation of a monk’s meditation chamber, to stay here for the next 10 years. It’s beautiful that the artist loves the setting so much that he wants it to stay.
How did you set about curating the park?
Bringing art and nature together can sometimes be a bit complicated because nature works as a catalyst on art – bad art looks worse in nature and good art is enhanced. It’s why public sculptures can so often look awful. We tried to place the sculptures in different parts and give them space to breathe. The whole place is surrounded by a big ring of trees. So I always feel that although it is huge you feel kind of protected, like you’re in a bird’s nest. And we wanted to make a space where you could relax and have your soul touched.
Do the works interact with their surroundings?
Most of the works are in some way about art and nature. We have a sculpture by Lee Ufan and when it rains, minerals wash out from a large stone and run into the iron underneath to change its patina. Nature then becomes part of the creative process – the iron is the canvas.
One of the first things you see is a blue-and-white flag by Ai Weiwei. What’s the idea behind this work?
He made that flag for the United Nations in honour of refugees. As you know, in Brandenburg we have a lot of right-wing flags, so we put this one up in our front garden as a little political statement.
Looking around, many of the other artworks are a little concealed, even hidden away. Why is that?
We think it is important not to have every work on a pedestal; we’d rather let them become part of nature and let the grass grow up around them. Kiki Smith’s sculpture puts you in mind of a ritual sacrifice. I put it a bit out of the way, so you can approach it differently.
Are you changing the works, continually adding and finding new ones?
Some leave and go to museums as other new ones come in. We call it a breathing situation. This year, we added seven new works to the park, including Bettina Allamoda’s sculpture ‘Outdoor Wrap’. I loved it when I first saw it; it is very playful, providing a different haptic with semi- translucent sequins that reflect the green of the trees and play with the blue of the Brandenburg sky.
I noticed that you are not labelling the sculptures.
It’s about essential experience here rather than about understanding everything intellectually. If people want to read, we have a little booklet; but there are also a lot of people who are not so into the art scene and do not necessarily want to know what gallery each artist is with. They just want to enjoy the art.
What would you say is the main inspiration for the park?
We love Lynn Chadwick’s home, Lypiatt Park, which is just beautiful. The environment and the artwork there are on the same level. We have his ‘Sitting Figures’ here and see them as benevolent spirits, looking over the whole place.
I can see with the building itself that there is a lot of work still to do.
Yes, and I will be happy when it’s over! The roof was new, but we had to redo the skeleton of the house because the beams were totally rotten. As you can see, we are recreating the historic landscape around the house. It will be great when that is done so we’re no longer walking over mud. Every morning, 12 workers walk in at 7am and leave at 6pm – and it’s been like that for a year and a half.
What plans do you have for the park and farm going forward?
No idea, that’s the beauty of not being an institution. It’s my husband and me, and if we don’t feel like it, we don’t do it. There’s no master plan. We own a herd of cattle nearby and the first cattle will be slaughtered next year. Then we’ll see what happens.
What’s going on at the park this summer?
We have an amazing yoga festival happening in August with Adam Rice, who’s been practising power vinyasa yoga for over 15 years. That’s combined with Arne Christian Pelz, the first cellist of the Deutsche Oper, who’ll be giving outdoor concerts. Also, a friend of mine will be doing philosophical walks, using the artworks as inspiration to spark discussion. We have drawing courses, a programme of guided tours and of course the shop and restaurant will be open. I think if you want to show good art, it’s really important to have good coffee!