Donum Estate’s sculpture garden of delights

A Sonoma vineyard is also a vast sculpture garden, the vines punctuated by dramatic works from some of the world's most renowned artists

Words by Laurel Bibby

Allan Warburg, the owner of Sonoma’s Donum Estate, has spent the past five years installing a world-class collection of international sculptures throughout the property, marrying art and wine in the rolling vineyards of Sonoma Valley.

Mikado Tree, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Donum Estate
Mikado Tree (2010), Pascale Marthine Tayou
‘We always wanted to create a global collection, and we found Pascale Tayou to be a very exciting artist. This piece fits the vision; mikado is an old Japanese children’s game that is played all over the world – a truly global game.’

Originally from Denmark, Warburg lived in Beijing for almost 30 years, and his collection has been inspired by the Chinese capital’s vibrant art scene. ‘In the late 90s and early 2000s, art in China had been very controlled – then suddenly they were given this freedom. You could feel something being unleashed at that time. It was an explosion of creativity,’ he says.

Composition with Long Verticals (2016), Mark Manders, Donum Estate
Composition with Long Verticals (2016), Mark Manders
‘We have always admired Mark Manders, and went to his studio to discuss the size and colour of this piece. There is a certain dreaming feeling to the lady, which becomes even more profound after a glass of wine.”
Maze (2017), Gao Weigang, Donum Estate
Maze (2017), Gao Weigang
‘We’ve visited Gao Weigang’s studio in Beijing many times, and once he showed us a model of a maze he was hoping to produce in large scale. We thought it would look fantastic as an interactive piece, where visitors can literally get lost in the art.’

The giant works in the vineyards reflect the mix of Warburg’s cultural experiences, the combination of eastern and western sensibilities. Some he has bought – such as Ai Weiwei’s striking Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads and the Louise Bourgeois Crouching Spider – but Warburg and his wife Mei are now concentrating on site-specific commissions.

One Two Three (2017), Jeppe Hein, Donum Estate
One Two Three (2017), Jeppe Hein
‘One Two Three is a very interactive sculpture. When you walk into it, you can no longer determine what is you, what is nature around you, and what is the sculpture. It’s a sensory-provoking experience.’
Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads (2011), Ai Weiwei, Donum Estate
Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads (2011), Ai Weiwei
‘In the wine world, we talk about which vintage a wine is, while in Asia we discuss which zodiac sign a person is. We felt there was a chance to bring East and West together by using the Zodiac Heads on our wine labels, and contacted Ai Weiwei to purchase them and reinforce the symbolism. He later agreed to redesign our labels to include the signs, and we’re still using his design, with the sign changing every year.’

Warburg has acquired just under 40 sculptures for the estate since 2013, and has acres of land for more. His latest commission is a work from American artist Doug Aitken, whose wind chime is made up of 360 pieces, some 3m tall. He came with a ‘completely blank piece of paper and spent six hours walking around’ before inspiration came to him, Warburg says.

Contemporary Terracotta Warriors (2015), Yue Minjun, Donum Estate
Contemporary Terracotta Warriors (2015), Yue Minjun, Donum Estate
Contemporary Terracotta Warriors (2015), Yue Minjun
‘We are very close to Yue Minjun, one of China’s most famous artists. His 25 Contemporary Terracotta Warriors have been placed in Donum like the ancient warriors in Xian.’

It seems that, to Warburg, the beauty of Donum is this experience of combining landscape, wine, and art.

The Care of Oneself (2017), Elmgreen & Dragset, Donum Estate
The Care of Oneself (2017), Elmgreen & Dragset
‘We commissioned this work of one man carrying another man, who, after a closer look, turns out to be himself. It stands beautifully next to a lake and reminds us that often the heaviest burden we have is ourselves.’
Held by Desire, Marc Quinn, Donum Estate
Held by Desire (The Dimensions of Freedom) (2017–18), Marc Quinn
‘We always wanted a piece from Marc Quinn, who is a fascinating artist. We visited his studio in London to discuss what would fit into Donum, and he showed us a small-scale version of a bonsai tree. The final sculpture is an incredible 5m high.’

‘When you’re in the beautiful Sonoma landscape, and you put in some beautiful art, and you’re having a great glass of wine, those three things are so much more powerful together.’

King and Queen, Keith Haring, Donum Estate
King and Queen, Keith Haring
‘Keith Haring has always inspired us. We’ve spent time with his sister, and feel we’ve got to know the artist through her. When King and Queen came up for sale in Paris, we immediately wanted to buy it. It stands on a hilltop overlooking the whole estate – monarchs surveying their country.’