monumental sculpture meets an exquisite architectural intervention

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amidst the breathtaking landscapes and breathtaking scenes that sonoma, california has to offer, one can find significant history, natural escapes and good wine. Still, there is a cultural gem to be discovered in this Northern California country – a monumental open-air sculpture collection and an exquisite architectural intervention. owns the 200 acre property donum, a producer of California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The website is home to over 50 major works by artists from around the world that make up the Donum collection. Works by artists including ai white, doug aitken, jaume plensa, Elm green & dragset, and then vo – to name just a few – shape the extraordinary landscape, with each piece playing with scale, nature and imagination. “The works are set in the landscape to complement and enrich the experience and the legacy”, Mei and Allan Warburg, owners of the Donum estate, tell designboom in an interview. “We don’t just want to be seen as a sculpture park within a winery, it’s more about putting together great things and watching how they grow and interweave.”

subodh gupta, People tree, 2017 | Image by Robert Berg
(Main picture) elm green & dragset, worrying about yourself, 2017 | Image by Gregory Gorman

on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, donum tapped Danish architect David Thulstrup reconfigure and transform Donum home – a space for wine tasting, dining, entertainment and art viewing. originally built and designed by in 2017 MH Architects, donum home draws on the Californian landscape and Thulstrup’s own heritage. “As a Scandinavian, I appreciate simple and reduced rooms that create a feeling of calm”, thulstrup says design boom. “For the reinterpretation of Donum Home, it was particularly important to reinforce and support its essence through honest materials such as Californian granite and American walnut. In combination with the play of light, it was crucial to create an unpretentious but unforgettable atmosphere. ‘ With simple and clear architectural gestures and the use of local materials, Thulstrup pays homage to Californian authenticity. Overall, in addition to the architectural transformation, a number of custom-made pieces of furniture were made to create a refined yet relaxed atmosphere. The construction also gave the property the opportunity to reflect and relocate part of the Donum collection and even introduce new works …

designboom spoke to mei and allan warburg, the owners of the donum estate, and the architect david thulstrup, to learn more about working with a global artistic community, falling in love with light and celebrating art, sustainable agriculture and architecture.

Donum estate
ai weiwei, Circle of animals zodiac heads, 2011 | Image by Robert Berg

designboom (DB): What motivated the donum Estate to collect monumental sculptures and why was it important to create an art experience for visitors and guests?

mei warburg and allan warburg (MW + AW): We have been collecting for many years. it started with getting to know the artists, which of course led to them owning their work and building a collection. Collecting evolved into contracting and with our ownership of Donum in 2011 it felt like a natural amalgamation of passions. It may seem unusual to have an art collection on a winery, but it makes perfect sense to us. A winery is something special – it is not only a place for wine production, but also a landscape with its own personality and terroir. The works are set in the landscape to complement and enrich the experience and the legacy. We don’t just want to be seen as a sculpture park within a winery, it’s more about putting together great things and watching how they grow and interweave.

Donum estate
yes minjun, contemporary terracotta warriors, 2005 | Image by Robert Berg

DB: With a list of artists spanning generations and regions, is there a common thread that underpins the collection as a whole?

MW + AW: The Donum Collection is not an institutional encyclopedic collection, but a personal work of love that we hope will be relatable, accessible and inspiring to our visitors. The works of art are located in the landscape and react to every element and every season. There is no humidity or temperature control. As soon as the works are placed, they are independent and coexist with and in nature. We are an evolving collection of global artists, including works by leading practitioners from 18 nations.

Donum estate
Pascale Martine Tayou, Mikado tree, 2010 | Image by Robert Berg

DB: For those unfamiliar with the Sonoma County area, can you briefly describe the scenic qualities of the local landscape and how the works of art interact with the location?

MW + AW: placing art on donum requires a lot of thought and land preparation. our projects are long-term; We are dedicated patrons and have an evolving vision for our property. Every year we produce 8,000 boxes of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from our own cultivation, everything we do has to complement each other, from harvest to sustainable cultivation.

Donum estate
Pascale Martine Tayou, Mikado tree, 2010 | Image by Robert Berg

MW + AW (continued): since we are based in hong kong and have not been able to visit for over a year due to travel restrictions, we indulge in days on donum. in the late afternoon, when the sun goes down on the hilly sonoma vineyards, we like to take a seat at the lake house. from there you can see some works from the art collection with a view of the sonoma mountains and the bay of san francisco as a backdrop. It is a moment to be aware of the “gift of the land” (the Latin meaning of donum) and the gift of working with all of our artists. while the Carneros terroir blows through the eucalyptus grove, we hear doug [aitken’s] Schallberg, a huge wind chimes, sound its characteristic chords. With a glass of Pinot Noir, of course. This is the most magical hour – when all these elements come together on Donum.


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