How an Art Collector Turned a Californian Vineyard into a Sculpture Park

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Zhan Wang - Artificial Rock No126 2007-13 - Robert
Zhan Wang - Artificial Rock No. 126, 2007Photography by Robert Berg

Allan Warburg’s Donum Sculpture Collection sees work by Kaith Haring, Ai Weiwei and Yayoi Kasuma among California’s picturesque wine country

In a world that feels increasingly in need of slow places, where one can disconnect from the relentless white noise of the smartphone era, the Donum Sculpture Collection in Sonoma, California stands apart as a unique meditative experience. The brainchild of fashion mogul Allan Warburg, it places monolithic works by some of the most revered contemporary artists of our times among the twisting pathways of a picturesque vineyard.

Warburg first acquired the Donum vineyard in 2010, in a desire to explore his love of Pinot Noir, and engage in a creative process that, in his own words, “slowed time down” – and it wasn’t long before his passion for collecting contemporary art was employed in the construction of a landscape similarly devoted to quiet internal reflection. In this visually beautiful natural setting, which has recently opened to the public via private booking, you will find the likes of a circle of giant zodiac heads by Ai Weiwei generating chi, alongside site-specific works that more often than not explore notions of peace, such as a life-size grounded war plane stuffed with poppies by Anselm Kiefer and sculptures by the likes of Keith Haring, Yayoi Kusama, Yue Minjun, Marc Quinn, and Jaume Plensa, to name but a few (this month alone welcomes new site-specific pieces by Doug Aitken and Subodh Gupta).

The global nature of the artists featured at Donum Sculpture Collection is no accident – at its core is a celebration of cultural difference, something Warburg is vitally passionate about in what he considers increasingly divided times. Here, he tells AnOther how a modest desire to collect art in China in the early 90s has turned into a space where nature and art conspire in seasonal cultural alchemy.

On changing cultural landscapes....
“The desire to collect started for me in the late 90s in Bejing, which was really an incredible time in China. At that time, things were just opening up and there was this incredible release of creativity. It was a very exciting time for artists. It was a fascinating time. Bejing doesn’t really have quite the same enthusiasm, passion and energy anymore. I think the way the whole world has changed in the last couple of years reflects a closing down and a general moving away from being open to other cultures, and that is something I really feel passionate about. I am quite sad about that way things are going globally.”

On celebrating diversity...
“I wish I could say I had a grand strategy for the sculpture park, but I really didn’t. I was just standing one day with a glass of wine in my hand, looking at the landscape, and I thought to myself, wow, we have to have some sculptures here. I suppose if there is a thread of purpose it was to create a space that celebrates all of the differences we have. I wanted to bring artists from all cultures together here, because I believe we should always open up, respect and love the differences that we have. The essential message in the collection is probably that all cultures are very much the same somehow, and reflecting upon that notion takes me to somewhere else, to a sense of a better world.”

On the art of transcendence…
“I have to be touched by art, and, for me, it is important that this place is something that exists outside of the real world, because it is a place of beauty, peace, love and passion. It’s intended to elevate the senses. I believe that when you can place art in a beautiful environment it is a truly magical experience and I very much hope people will come away from Donum, having had an experience they cannot find elsewhere. The collection is very much concentrated on art that has a positive essence – it is never negative or dark. I fully understand and respect art like that, but it doesn’t fit here.”

On the importance of slowing down…
“There is so much happening with new technology that it is difficult to see what the future is going to bring – the connectivity of social media is going to change the world completely, and to some extent has already done so. I think against that backdrop, the sense of slowing down is very important, and it’s certainly an important part of the park. The lives that we live now are so fast and so dynamic – and that is especially true in the fashion business. That is why I love to come over here and produce wine and kind of slow time down – it really is an incredibly slow process that really calms you down. I find that slowness and seasonality fascinating. When you look at apiece of art here I want you to reflect on yourself and open up to some new thoughts or feelings or ideas. My wife is Buddhist, and that has influenced and permeated me – I love the sense in Buddhism that everything is in motion and is always changing, and I think that the seasonality here is interesting in that regard. It is never the same place twice.”