The Hepworth Wakefield celebrates modern sculpture with a human soul
’I, the sculptor, am the landscape. I am the form and I am the hollow. The thrust and the contour.’ This 1961 quote by Barbara Hepworth, written on a wall in one of the ten gallery spaces at the Hepworth Wakefield, reflects an understanding of the sculptor’s own influences and attempts to avert any one-sided readings of her work.
Hepworth’s fondness for the Yorkshire and Cornwall landscapes was doubtless formative in the development of her sculpture, but there was far more to her work than that, Penelope Curtis explained in her talk last Friday. Curtis was speaking at the Hepworth Wakefield, where two exhibitions form a prelude to this summer’s Hepworth retrospective at Tate Britain, where Curtis currently presides as director.
Spread over the upper floor of the David Chipperfield Architects-designed building in West Yorkshire, ’A Greater Freedom: Hepworth 1965-1975’ focuses on the last ten years of Hepworth’s life, in which she explored new ideas and materials. The second exhibition, ’Hepworth in Yorkshire’, offers a glimpse into her early life, displaying a selection of Hepworth’s early artworks alongside archive photographs and a some of her own studio tools.
In her talk, Curtis also pointed out the importance of Hepworth’s relationship to architecture and her belief in a unity of purpose within art, reflecting the wider context in which she worked. She wanted to do ’something bigger’ than simply produce sculpture that would be treated as of secondary importance by architects. She endeavoured to reintroduce the human aspect of making and a sense of spontaneity in her work. By purposefully presenting her exhibitions as a bit of a jumble, as she often did by dotting potted plants between works placed on breeze blocks, Hepworth prefigured a more modern form of museum display.
Another exhibition at the gallery, titled ’Plasters: Casts and Copies’ runs concurrently. Inspired by Hepworth’s plaster prototypes, it surveys the modeling process from antiquity until the modern period. Standout pieces include ’Single Form’, an abstract shape in blue painted plaster, which traveled to Paris during the war years, and Hepworth’s prints from ’The Aegean Suite’, which show a typically Sixties preoccupation with space travel. The exploratory show stands as a perfect complement to the duet of Hepworth exhibitions, forming additional proof of the sculptor’s relationship with international artists and her striving to satisfy both the visual and social needs of society.