It may seem an unlikely location for one of the country’s newest and most impressive art galleries but the northern town of Wakefield is fast gaining a reputation for high quality art.
Never mind about the fact that for years now the area has played host to the vast open air Yorkshire Sculpture Park which since 1997 has been the home of Henry Moore’s ‘Draped Seated Woman’ a statue which formerly stood near to the Ewhurst Tower in Stepney’s Gifford Estate. Tower Hamlets Council made the news recently with their plans to sell the statue in order to raise cash, seemingly placing not much value on the cultural significance of public art.
Then in 2011 the Hepworth Gallery opened in the city, overlooking the River Calder and nestling amongst old warehouses in what was once a thriving hive of industrial activity. The building itself is a bold statement, designed by renowned architect David Chipperfield, it’s straight grey lines have been described as brutalist but I’m not so sure. Certainly it contrasts with an area which for years has been neglected, it’s lines and grey blocks to me are a statement of intent, of regeneration.
Barbara Hepworth, the artist from whom the gallery takes it’s name was born and educated in the city, attending Wakefield Girls High School and then studying at the Leeds School of Art. She travelled the World prior to basing herself in London and then later in St. Ives. Alongside Henry Moore, a Yorkshireman from the nearby town of Castleford who she met in Leeds, Wakefield and Yorkshire found itself at the heart of contemporary sculpture.
The Gallery is set in manicured grounds accessed via a footbridge over the Calder, it boasts a spacious interior over two floors with giant windows letting in as much natural light as possible. Those windows provide dominant views over the city and the river. Alongside works from Wakefield’s own collection and regular exhibitions from other contemporary artists, it obviously boasts a fine collection from Hepworth gifted from the Hepworth Estate.
That gift includes as it’s centerpiece a set of 44 full size working models in plaster and aluminium from which the artist would prepare prior to creating her works in bronze. It also includes drawings, lithographs, screenprints and tools which give a unique insight into the working methods of a woman who would become one of the World’s most respected sculptors.
As an exhibition space it is impressive and certainly puts Wakefield on the map perhaps confirming it’s place as one of the centers of sculpture in the UK.
The Hepworth Gallery was visited on Sunday 5 October 2014. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday between the hours of 10am and 5pm and closed on Mondays with the exception of school and bank holidays. For more information click here.
The Hepworth Gallery in Pictures