Sculptor Sean Scully at Houghton Hall

Sean Scully, Crate of Air, 2018, Corten steel, 3.6 x 19.2 x 7.2 m © Sean Scully. Photo: courtesy the artist

This spring one of the world’s most celebrated artists, Sean Scully, will take over the grounds and historic interiors of Houghton Hall in Norfolk for an exhibition that will showcase the full range of the artist’s sculpture. In the Hall and Contemporary Gallery, the artist will also show a significant group of paintings and works on paper. Sean Scully at Houghton Hall – Smaller Than The Sky will open on 23rd April 2023 and run until 29th October.

In the lead up to the opening of Sean Scully’s exhibition at Houghton Hall, the permanent installation of the artist’s monumental sculpture Landline London 2022 will be unveiled in Hanover Square, London, on 18th April 2023. Standing at over five metres tall and formed from five layers of polished marble in different colours, the single compressed tower reflects the stratified sediments of history and the lived experiences of the diverse people that the city represents.

Houghton Hall was built in the 1720s for Britain’s first Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole, and the 2023 exhibition will showcase Sean Scully sculptures in a wide range of materials sited in the Palladian house and around the extensive formal gardens.

Portrait of Sean Scully © Andrew Quinn

Several new works will be included in the exhibition including stacks made of sandstone, wood, glass and marble. The sculptures range in scale from small maquettes to monumental open structures in steel, such as Crate of Air, and a new Wall of Light sculpture, constructed from locally sourced limestone. The exhibition will be a showcase of Scully’s outdoor sculptures in dialogue with works in other media.


The exhibition will also include a selection of paintings and works on paper made over the past few years but with key reference to works from earlier in Scully’s career. These will be displayed in the grand rooms of the house and in the North Colonnade and in the Contemporary Gallery. Smaller Than The Sky is the latest edition of Houghton Hall’s celebrated series of contemporary exhibitions that have featured James Turrell (2015), Richard Long (2017), Damien Hirst (2018), Henry Moore (2019), Anish Kapoor (2020), Tony Cragg (2021), and Chris Levine (2021).

Sean Scully’s concern for the environment and his focus on nature is reflected in the title of the exhibition. An important component is his book, Endangered Sky, a collaboration with the poet Kelly Grovier, focusing on the plight of bird life, memorializing those already extinct and those which are close to it, which will be launched at Houghton and will be shown in vitrines as part of the exhibition.

The exhibition is curated by the art historian and museum director, Sean Rainbird, formerly Director of the National Gallery of Ireland (2012-2022) and a Senior Curator at Tate.

Sean Scully said: “England, as we’ve seen from the fabulous paintings by Constable, is a country very informed by sky. People talk about the sky all the time. They talk about the weather, or the clouds, the wet. So, it’s a source of inspiration. When you put sculptures outside, you are aware that the sky is illuminating them, and conditioning how they look. Whatever you put out there is always humbled by the bigness of the sky.”

Lord Cholmondeley, owner of Houghton Hall, said: ” As a long-time admirer of Sean Scully’s work, I feel extremely proud to be able to bring this major exhibition to Houghton. Scully’s paintings and sculptures often evoke landscape and architecture, and will look sensational against the backdrop of the house.”

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The Artist

Born in Dublin, Sean Scully came to prominence primarily as a painter in the early 1970s, evolving a distinctive form of abstraction in the course of the decade. This led him away from the geometric purity of minimalism to an expressive, multi-layered abstract painting. The works with which he gained international recognition comprise coloured bars and horizontal beams, some with inset or relief elements.

Scully established himself in New York, where he moved in the mid-1970s. The artist currently lives and works in New York and between several European cities, including London. He is widely celebrated for his watercolours, drawings, pastels and prints, as well as for his photography. Increasingly over the past two decades, he has made critically praised sculptures, including the monumental Opulent Ascension installed at San Giorgio Maggiore for the 2019 Venice Biennale, which drew over 360,000 visitors. More recently, Oak Stacks was created from historic local Danish timber to stand in Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Square, Copenhagen for the start of that city’s 2023 designation as the World Capital of Architecture. Scully exhibits internationally, and his work is held by many major museums and galleries across the world.

Designed by prominent Georgian architects Colen Campbell and James Gibbs, Houghton Hall is one of the UK’s finest examples of Palladian architecture. Houghton Hall and its estate passed to the Cholmondeley family at the end of the 18th Century and remains a family home. The house and award-winning gardens are open to the public from spring until autumn, along with the Soldier Museum, which houses the world’s largest private collection of model soldiers, the superbly constructed 18th Century stables and an expansive deer park.

The Houghton Arts Foundation continues to build a collection of contemporary art at Houghton Hall, including a number of site-specific commissions. With links to colleges and public institutions across the region, the Foundation’s aim is for Houghton Hall to become a focus for those who wish to see great art of our time in a historic setting.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with a text by Sean Rainbird.

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