When it comes to Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos’s spectacular oversize sculptural work, this one really takes the cake. The celebrated artist has spent the past five years cooking up an almost 40-foot-high, three-tiered woodland gâteau in the English countryside.
Nestled in a grove of trees is a massive, fully immersive whimsical pâtisserie that is shimmering with a glazed, icinglike finish and clad in 25,000 ornamental ceramic tiles. Part sculpture, part architectural folly, the delectable work is adorned with pastel-colored cherubs playfully balancing on pedestals, ceramic mermaids, and enchanting dolphins that spurt water from their mouths. It’s a preposterous slice of unadulterated joy that Vasconcelos unveiled to the public this week (it will be on display through October 26).
Wedding Cake was commissioned by collector and arts philanthropist Lord Jacob Rothschild for the Waddesdon estate in Buckinghamshire, England, and stands alongside the 19th-century dairy, built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild to entertain guests at his famous house parties. “The vision, imagination, and ambition exemplified in the Wedding Cake is a perfect match for the passion which drove Baron Ferdinand to build the manor and the dairy, where he intended that his many friends would be surprised and delighted at every turn,” Lord Rothschild said in a press release.
The materials used reflect the varying international influences on her native Portuguese culture over centuries, from carnival-inspired motifs to Chinese and Japanese ceramics from the Viúva Lamego factory, which has been operating in Vasconcelos’s native Sintra, Portugal, for over 170 years. On a deeper level, this piece—officially titled Wedding Cake but lovingly dubbed by Vasconcelos as the “impossible project”—is a culmination of the artist’s long-held fascination with love and femininity and the tension between private and public realms. “I have been addressing the subject of love through my career for almost 30 years now, but this is my biggest challenge so far,” she said in a press release. “Many artists have the ‘impossible project’ and this is mine.”
As for how it’s enjoyed today, Vasconcelos encourages people to take three different approaches to the installation: “Looking from the outside, enjoying the surroundings from the different levels or balconies, and rising to the top, finally completing the artwork with their presence,” she says.
While Vasconcelos has mastered many artistic mediums, she’s best known for her monumental, large-scale sculptures that elevate everyday objects. Last fall, she took over the space at the Jardin des Tuileries with a sprawling woven art installation that formed the backdrop of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s show for Dior during Paris Fashion Week. A year prior, she brought an enormous octopus—a patchwork of velvet, crochet, sequins, beads, silk, and LED lights—into the central plaza of Macau’s MGM hotel. And who can forget her glittering, 16-foot chandelier made of 14,000 tampons for the Venice Biennale? But when one considers the kind of legacy Vasconcelos has left behind as an artist, her latest confectionary is simply the icing on top.
Assistant Digital Editor
Rachel Silva, the Assistant Digital Editor at ELLE DECOR, covers design, architecture, trends, and anything to do with haute couture. She has previously written for Time, The Wall Street Journal, and Citywire.