After living in York for 3 years, I finally made the short journey to the Hepworth in Wakefield after my exams had finished. Ordinarily, sculpture isn’t really my favourite style of work to see, however, as the Hepworth had been voted Art Fund Museum of the year for 2017, I thought I’d visit and open my eyes to sculpture as a medium.
The gallery is named after Barbara Hepworth, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, who was born in the city. As well as exhibitions dedicated to her work, life and design process, it also has regular exhibitions of modern work. Sadly when I visited it was in the exhibition change over period but it looks like they have some really exciting exhibitions happening at the moment, find out more about them on their website here.
The gallery opened in 2011 to celebrate Wakefield’s art historical past and continue the work of the Wakefield Art Gallery, established in the 1930s, which supported artists early in their careers, such as Hepworth and Henry Moore. The new building was designed by David Chipperfield Architects, at its unique waterfront location aside the River Calder. Its unusual design and location allow daylight to flood into the gallery through the floor to ceiling windows and skylight type windows on the ceiling. The gallery is also able to source most of its heat and cooling power from the river’s flow, a great piece of environmentally friendly design. The building has an unusual appearance, constructed in a concrete grey with jutting angles and slopes echoing Hepworth’s work, creating a dramatic architectural sculpture in the landscape, a piece of art in itself
As I explained earlier, sculpture has never been a main interest of mine, especially abstract sculpture, where I struggle to make sense of the design and what it is meant to represent. However, I loved how the Hepworth made her work and design easier to understand through the collection of prototypes and sketches made prior to constructing the final piece. It was a fascinating insight into her thought process and how much architectural skill is needed to manipulate the materials in such an artistic way.
My favourite Hepworth pieces in the gallery were her sculptures combining curved shapes with sharp angular metal rods which cut through the negative space of the piece. I really loved the juxtaposition between the organic natural forms and the harsh straight lines intersecting the piece. Another element of Hepworth’s work that captured my attention was its ability to almost transform when you looked at it from a different angle. At each angle, you could see something new and take in the different shapes and forms created through the intersection of different elements and also its interaction with light and shadows.
One of my favourite pieces not by Hepworth was Serena Korda’s ‘Hold Fast, Stand Sure, I Scream a Revolution’. This piece explored working with clay in an experimental way, using it to reverberate the sounds in the room. In the performance piece, some of the mushrooms are linked to microphones and can be tapped using sticks to create different sounds depending on the area they’re hit. Here’s a youtube video of the installation in action. I love the interactive element and although I didn’t get to see a full performance, one of the staff members did a small demonstration whilst we were there. It also looks amazing in the setting with the different shapes of the mushrooms casting shadows in the light.
I think the only downside of the museum was some of the labelling. Some labels explained the pieces in detail, which is extremely helpful as you can visualise ideas and how they came to fruition in the piece in front of you. Others simply had the basic: artist, title and date format which sometimes made it difficult when trying to understand and appreciate the piece. I think it would really help to have consistent labels to help all visitors fully appreciate the art.
Aside from the actual gallery, I thought the cafe and shop were amazing, especially for a museum and that’s some tough competition! The shop had a great range of themed items and gifts reflecting the gallery, as well as some pieces by local artists. The cafe works with geo-fleur and sells and displays a beautiful range of houseplants, you can find them on the website here. It also sells amazing good quality food at a good price.
Hope you enjoyed the post, have you been to the Hepworth before?