Thursday, 19 May 2011

Is West Yorkshire the Centre of the art world?

The opening of The Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield is set to place West Yorkshire as a must see destination for anyone serious about twentieth century art. The new collection will bring some of Barbara Hepworth’s finest works to the former mining town, just a few miles away from another major sculpture gallery at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Add in the David Hockney exhibition at Salts Mill and the Leeds Art Gallery and it makes it a compelling region for modern and abstract art from Francis Bacon to Henry Moore, Stanley Spencer to Anthony Gormley.

The project creates a home for Barbara Hepworth’s work in her home town. Many of the works have been in storage at other museums like the Tate or which could not be displayed at the other Hepworth property in St Ives.

The involvement of David Chipperfield in the project also demonstrates the importance of the facility. One of the world’s leading architects has built a bespoke gallery allowing fine views and buckets of natural light to show off the works to their best.

Having visited the building before the installation of the works, I can safely say the interior is simply stunning for art works and is breathe taking. The exterior is more up for debate. The building does connect with the industrial landscape both on land and the canalised river.

Locally it is seen as a drab concrete building in amongst other drab, concrete buildings. The Hepworth sees it as a sculptural design which changes with the light. I’m somewhere in the middle. The design of the building is an interesting jumble of shapes, however it gets lost in the 1970s concrete flats and industrial buildings. A cream Mediterranean colour would make it otherworldly and improve the environment – but maybe I’m missing the point.

The Hepworth also has the advantage of being a stone’s throw from the mainline from London King’s Cross. It makes it an easy day trip, or even weekend escape, from the capital. Those used to the London galleries will get an opportunity to see a different environment. The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a world away from the Tate Modern in display space and more in harmony with the type of environment Hepworth and Moore’s work were often placed – the civic parks of the British Isles and beyond. Salts Mill is another distinctive gallery.

But what makes Hepworth and Moore special. They brought modernism into sculpture, creating works that were based on natural curves and form. The works increasingly became more abstract but still gave the impression of figures, life and vibrancy. They are appealing to the eye and the touch, using a range of materials from wood to bronze to plaster. There is also a bringing together of classic art and the sort of work Picasso might do, but in three dimensions.

Hopefully the opening will bring a focus on the region’s art and its national importance. With free entry this can only help to inspire the region’s new breed of artists. It will also be interesting to see how it can inspire the young children taken along, with no preconceptions of art. In an area with high youth unemployment and low aspiration, may be it will inspire Wakefield’s children to see what education can do for you.

It will also bring economic benefits to the region. Wakefield is particularly in need of a boost to make it a worthy centre of modern art studies.

The Hepworth Wakefield
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Leeds Art Gallery
Salts Mill

A fascinating video from The Guardian (If a little over edited).

Images: The Hepworth Wakefield, Leeds Art Gallery, The interior of The Hepworth Wakefield and Juame Plensa's work at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

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