Go wild in the country — who doesn’t love a sculpture park?

    The news that Britain was going to get a new sculpture park cheered me up. The world might be turning into a Hieronymus Bosch painting, but who doesn’t love a sculpture park? Wandering, free as a cloud, across a pleasing expanse of landscape while encountering sights that surprise you, combines the hijacking power of art with the simple pleasures of a treasure hunt.

    It hurts me mightily, therefore, to write that the example that has opened at Compton Verney in Warwickshire has managed, somehow, not to be a good sculpture park. Not yet. Not on the day I went.

    One problem was that the location had recently been battered by Storm Kathleen. Various paths and vistas on the trail were closed off with warning signs and danger tape. The new park, in 120 acres of Capability Brown garden, dotted with big trees and swirling lakes, was threatening visitors with broken branches and rushing waters.

    What’s more, one of the main exhibits, Larry Achiampong’s selection of flags, inspired by the red, black and green pan-African flag invented by Marcus Garvey in the 1920s, had to be taken down from their poles to protect visitors from Kathleen’s anger. Imagine turning up in a Capability Brown garden in Warwickshire and having a gaudy pan-African flag wrapped suddenly about your face!

    But the storm was not the reason half the sculptures in the opening selection were underwhelming. That was down to other forces: curators choosing badly; artists not rising to the task; a glaring mismatch between the art and the park.

    The first example you see on the trail, Permindar Kaur’s Overgrown House, is a bleak structure made of blackened steel that looks like the remains of a garden shed that has burnt down. The paperwork for the event advises us that what we have here is the outline of a “fairytale” house that is “showing the potential for growth”. Alas, the sculpture feels like something Putin has destroyed with a drone attack.

    I have seen Kaur’s work before in urban settings, where it has a different mood. In a white cube in London, the skeletal house can indeed feel like a kid’s drawing waiting to be coloured in. None of that happens here. A bad choice by the curators and a weak effort by the artist have resulted in a mismatch between art and location.

    The same is true of the contribution made a couple of hundred yards up the trail by the Lithuanian artist Augustas Serapinas. Compton Verney is an elegant country mansion, built early in the 18th century, improved exquisitely by Robert Adam in the 1760s and surrounded by the luxuriously fake wildness of Capability Brown’s minutely planned “natural” garden. It could hardly feel more English.

    To achieve this fake 18th-century Englishness, Brown had to remove the remains of a medieval village called Compton Murdak that stood on the exact spot where Serapinas has placed a misshapen timber mess. Billed as a tribute to the lost village and as an attempt to question “common cultural heritage”, Serapinas — inspired by “ancient fencing techniques” — has constructed something huge, bulging and wooden. Imagine a stegosaurus, bashed out of pine planking, buried in the ground with only its back showing.

    Strikingly inelegant, painfully new, badly constructed with ill-fitting screws, reeking of hurried visits to B&Q, distinguished by a powerful and immoveable sense of not belonging, Serapinas’s dismal sculpture is an object lesson in mismatching: wrong artist, wrong idea, wrong place.

    So far, the sculpture trail has successfully proved that some artists are so implacably urban they ought never to be allowed near the countryside. Thankfully, things improve as we approach Adam’s elegant house and the vistas grow less rural.

    Standing guard on the lawn is Louise Bourgeois’ famous Spider: a sculpture that makes you want to run the other way. Thirty feet wide, ten feet tall, the giant bronze arachnid is a brilliant evocation of the twin impulses of motherhood: aggression and protectiveness. When you finally pluck up the courage to stand under it, with the spidery legs surrounding you like the bars of a sheriff’s jail, Spider brings both a sense of imprisonment and a feeling of safety.

    Helen Chadwick’s Piss Flowers, arranged sweetly on an adjacent lawn, were made by the artist weeing in the snow in Canada, then making white casts of the indents. The results are deceptively pretty: a new species of pure white flower sprouting in fairy rings on the lawn at Compton Verney. Nature and human biology, you feel, are giving each other a hug.

    Best of all, looming unmissably in the distance, is Sarah Lucas’s Perceval, a giant Clydesdale shire horse pulling a cart on which are loaded two whopping great marrows. Yes, you read all that correctly. Modelled on the porcelain ornaments that used to be found on every living room mantelpiece, enlarged on this occasion to shire-horse size, it’s a comic view of rural Britain that manages to be simultaneously fond and accusatory.

    What works here, what’s intelligent, is the way the horse, the cart, the marrows, interact pointedly with the landscape. Lucas is shedding a tear for a lost rural innocence and its matching way of life; she’s poking fun at men and their giant marrows. But where others on this sculpture trail jar horribly with the surroundings because they’ve been plucked out of one context and dumped in another, Lucas uses the setting to amplify her message.

    In the old days we called it artistry, and we expected all our artists to display it.

    Sculpture in the Park, Compton Verney, Warwickshire