Through a playful and provocative display The Lie of the Land charts how British landscape was radically transformed by changes in free time and leisure activities since hunting and shooting, the recreations of the aristocracy, were enjoyed on the rolling hills of their private estates. In part, tracing a line between Capability Brown’s aristocratic gardens at Stowe and the social, urban experiment at neighbouring Milton Keynes, the exhibition teases out the aspirations that underpin our built environments. 

The Lie of the Land examines the modernisation of leisure propelled by industrialisation, a theme developed from Canaletto’s painting of the fashionable public entertainment venue, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. The Victorian era, with its social reforms aiming to improve urban living conditions, is represented by the Parks Movement. Alongside works by early science fiction writer Jane Loudon and the founder of the Garden City Movement Ebenezer Howard, the exhibition also includes the first-ever lawnmower, John Ruskin’s rock collection and influential horticulturalist Gertrude Jekyll’s gardening boots. 

From the late-18th century, large-scale public spectacles became hugely popular as a result of technical advances. Hot air ballooning, horse racing and concerts heralded the commodification of leisure. By contrast, grassroots-initiated activity such as raves, carnivals and urban sports are traced in the work of, for example, Jeremy Deller and Errol Lloyd and use of public spaces for protest are explored, including the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp occupation.   

As the 20th century progressed, in Milton Keynes, chief architect Derek Walker proposed a city greener than the surrounding countryside where cars, electronic communication and nature reinvented the idea of the town-country for the 1970s. Radical urban theory was to be combined with the LA lifestyle and the thrill of pop culture – also reflected in the art of Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi.

The Lie of the Land highlights campaigns to democratise space, from the 17th century egalitarian Levellers to the 1930s Ramblers. We look at how people use public space, and the communities that have been excluded through structures of race, gender, disability and class, explored in works by artists including Jo Spence, Rose Finn-Kelcey and Ingrid Pollard. 

Overall, the exhibition aims to capture a visionary spirit of grand designs tempered by the realities of political expediency. Public resources are under increasing pressure and ‘placemaking’ and ‘regeneration’ remain central to urban development. The Lie of the Land looks reflexively at the role of culture in this process, drawing inspiration and seeking lessons from the past.

Artists and designers:
Edward Alcock, David Alesworth, Archigram, Edwin Beard Budding, John Berger, James Boswell, Boyd & Evans, Thalia Campbell, Canaletto, Philip Castle, Ithell Colquhoun, John Csaky, Jeremy Deller, Sarah Ann Drake, Malcolm Drummond, Susanna Duncombe, Peter Dunn, Tracey Emin, Rose English, Rose Finn-Kelcey, Norman Foster, Elizabeth Frink, William Powell Frith, Buckminster Fuller, Thomas Gainsborough, Walter Goodall, Walter Greaves, Richard Hamilton, Emma Hart, Ebenezer Howard, Julius Caesar Ibbetson, Evelyn Grace Ince, Helmut Jacoby, Bob Jardine, Gertrude Jekyll, Gareth Jones, Michael Kirkham, Laura Knight, Mabel Francis Layng, Ann Lee, Loraine Leeson, Lawrence Lek, Linder, Joan Littlewood, Errol Lloyd, Jane Loudon, John Loudon, Laurence Stephen Lowry,  Edwin Lutyens, Andrew Mahaddie, Robert Medley, Brian Milne, Henry Moore, William Morris, Marlow Moss, Joseph Nash, Paul Nash, Balthazar Nebot, Nils Norman, Marianne North, Eduardo Paolozzi, Joseph Paxton, Olivia Plender, Ingrid Pollard, Cedric Price, Project Art Works, Jacques Rigaud, Bridget Riley, John Robertson Reid, William Patrick Roberts, John Ruskin, Benton Seeley, Yinka Shonibare MBE, David Shrigley, Alison and Peter Smithson, Jo Spence, Thomas Struth, Superstudio, James Tissot, James Walker Tucker, Joseph Mallord William Turner, John A. Walker, Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, Ed Webb-Ingall, Carel Weight, Stuart Whipps, Rachel Whiteread, Althea Willoughby, Audrey Weber, Stephen Willats, Harold Williamson, John Wootton, James Wyld, John Yeadon

Curatorial team:

Fay Blanchard, Tom Emerson, Niall Hobhouse, Sam Jacob, Gareth Jones, Anthony Spira, and Claire Louise Staunton. 


This exhibition was made possible with support from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and a Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Research Grant from Art Fund.