Few settings are more idyllic than the grounds at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. The contemporary gallery on the 18th-century Durslade Farm in the heart of verdant Somerset makes the most of its countryside location, with a garden by the man who designed The High Line in New York, Piet Oudolf, and a restaurant serving food from its own farm. The farm buildings that house the exhibitions have been renovated, with modern buildings connected to the original ones for a smooth transition between past and present.
For Alice Workman, the senior director of Hauser & Wirth Somerset, the surrounding environment is one of the things she loves about the place. “I’m a country girl, so I like the landscape and love how there are layers and layers of history here, with the links to the legend of King Arthur. But Hauser & Wirth Somerset isn’t far from the city; you can be in Bath in 45 minutes and Bristol in an hour – although you don’t need to leave as there’s so much happening here!”
The gallery opened in 2014 and was a labour of love for Iwan and Manuela Wirth, the husband-and-wife team who own Hauser & Wirth and have lived in nearby Bruton for years. It was important to them that the new gallery was approved by local residents. “Before it opened, we had an office on the high street in Bruton that was a central point for the project while it was in development. We talked to community groups and shared what we would do, and anyone who wanted to could come in and chat about it with us,” Workman explains. Iwan Wirth has said that “If the Brutonians didn’t want to have our gallery, then we wouldn’t have done it – it’s as simple as that.” The gallery was approved and has become a popular art destination, contributing to Bruton’s cultural revival. “Bruton has a young community and has become a place where creative people gather, with a collaborative spirit and good local organisations. It’s a mix of landscape, culture, food, garden and community,” Workman explains.
Major art galleries outside cities are not a new phenomenon in the UK, with Tate St Ives and Margate’s Turner Contemporary already leading cultural generation away from the capital. At Hauser & Wirth Somerset there’s an education programme and a community events programme, and its restaurant, Roth Bar & Grill, draws in both local people and those visiting the area.“On Friday nights we have DJs and bands here, and every Thursday throughout the summer it hosts our From the Fire Feasts, when we cook outdoors over a fire. People come here for brunch or cocktails, and I see plenty of locals using it as a place to meet up with friends and family,” Workman says.
An urge to work more with the community led Hauser & Wirth to open a second gallery in Bruton, called Make, in September 2018. “It’s in the shopfront space on the high street that used to be our office,” Workman explains. “The gallery, which is curated by Jacqueline Moore, focusses on makers and crafts, with a new exhibition every six to eight weeks.” Make mainly shows international craftspeople, with an emphasis on works created especially for the gallery, though it sometimes also celebrates makers with a connection to the South West. Across the road from Make is another of Workman’s favourites, interior design store Caro. “It’s run by interior designer Natalie Jones and has really nice interior products, homeware and clothes,” Workman says.
For those who want to eat in the town and get an insight into life in Bruton at the same time, there’s Matt’s Kitchen. “Matt [Watson] is the chef and uses his own kitchen – he has turned his living room into the dining room and it becomes a restaurant every Wednesday ’til Friday evening! It’s BYOB, has been going for six to seven years now and is one of my favourite places to eat,” Workman says. She also vouches for the amusingly named Sexey’s Hospital. “You have to know it’s there, but it’s well worth seeing – go to admire the courtyard, the architecture and the little almshouse chapel.”
The artist residency programme at Hauser & Wirth Somerset functions as a catalyst between international artists and the local area. Two early artists-in-residence, Pipilotti Rist and Guillermo Kuitca, have left an especially big mark on Durslade Farm as they created installations for the farmhouse, which anyone can book. “You can rent the whole house, which has six rooms designed by interior designer Luis Laplace. It’s a very special place to come and stay in,” Workman says. And if you’re walking from Hauser & Wirth to Bruton, don’t miss the Godminster Cheese Shop en route. “Bruton and Somerset is known for its cheeses, and Godminster is a really good cheese shop with its own cheddar.” Also close to the gallery is Dovecote: “This ancient monument on a hill has the most wonderful views of the Somerset landscape,” according to Workman.
Hauser & Wirth Somerset is free to visit but encourages donations to local charities, and currently supports the Carymoor Environmental Trust. An exhibition titled Unconscious Landscape. Works From the Ursula Hauser Collection is showing until 8 September 2019.