More than any other art form, sculpture engages and confronts us directly. We are obliged, in a way we are not with wall-based 2D work, to share our own space with it; we have to move around it, look over, through or into it. And since we negotiate an object-based physical world every day, we are already primed for the bodily experience of sculpture.
Simon Wallis, 22/10/2016
I never tire of the interactive nature of sculpture. I love the opportunity artists take to use any materials to create their pieces, from everyday objects to marble, and I love seeing how sculptures correspond with their surrounding environment. There is something so serene in discovering a work in the landscape around you. To me, it gives a new understanding of the space containing the work. And, in truth, many a sculpture would be at a loss without its surroundings.
Wallis sums up far better than I one of the pleasures of sculpture, and the reason for my enjoyment of this art form. Combine this with the fact that I’ve been a Yorkshire resident for over four years, and you can guess that I’ve been planning to visit the Hepworth Wakefield for quite some time. In the past, I’ve spent a day wandering through the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, so the Hepworth felt like a logical next step for exploring art in the North.
The gallery was opened in 2011 and showcases work from a number of upcoming artists. Built as part of a regeneration project for Wakefield, the gallery received significant investment and, in my experience, has been consistently cited by friends and colleagues as a trip worth making from my home in Sheffield. Finally, in December 2016, I decided to make the journey.
Even when approaching the gallery, the architecture of the building commands your attention. In a rather poetic way, the building seems to look over her surroundings in Wakefield, and the approach, across a bridge, reminded me of stepping into a castle. Then, once inside,I was delighted to discover the windows when walking through the exhibitions. Though there aren’t many, they offer a new way of looking at the outside landscape and intertwine the artwork with the city.
Within the permanent collection there were works by the St Ives group, including Alfred Wallis and Ben Nicholson. While I have to admit that I had made the trip mainly for the sculptures, I also enjoyed the numerous paintings across the gallery. If you have an interest in the work of this particular group, Wallis’ work is positioned in such a way as to provide a wonderful contrasting perspective of St Ives to that of Ben Nicholson; both artists were based in the town for a period of time.
Hepworth’s sculptures were dotted across several rooms and never failed to bring a feeling of calm. The curves and intricacies of her smaller sculptures remind me of musical instruments, as of they might play is you were to touch them. In one room were the tools and videos from her studio in St Ives, along with photos from her childhood in Yorkshire and demonstrations of the sculpting process. Unlike the rest of the exhibition, this room celebrated the efforts and plans behind some of the most beautiful carvings, so that as I moved through the exhibition I felt a new appreciation for the work ahead. I remained fascinated with the videos of her hands, and the unrelenting small details each sculpture required.
As we moved our way along, the artists on display included the nominees for the Hepworth Prize for Sculpture. Phyllida Barlow, Steven Claydon, David Medalla and, winner of both this prize and the Turner Prize, Helen Marten. My favourite moment of the day involved seeing an interactive piece, consisting of net hammocks that were filled with memorabilia from other visitors. Around the room were stations with needle and thread, with the offer to add your own items. At that moment, there was almost a bit of pressure, as we hadn’t prepared for such an instant, and I scoured through my belongings to find something. I ended up sewing a train ticket on there.
This addition turned out to be quite cliché. My companion and I noticed how many train tickets had been sewn onto the work, but I couldn’t fail but enjoy seeing so many people had travelled from all counties to visit the gallery. In fact, I loved the piece so much that I forgot to check who did it, and only realised my error on the train home.
It was the moment that summed up the Hepworth. Being an interactive gallery, the Hepworth Wakefield encircles and celebrates your responses at a level I’ve never experienced in any other gallery. To truly enjoy the work, you have to walk in and amongst the pieces, including works of breathtaking size by Lloyd and a sculpture composed of foam by Medalla.
This is also a gallery, though, for people who like finding a new way to appreciate a city, Wakefield. Halfway through our visit, my companion and I took the opportunity to sit and stare out of a window for quite some time. Viewing the city as a moving artwork made me appreciate the mixture of sights, even down to the traffic outside, and I will certainly be visiting again.
Thinking of a visit?
OPENING HOURS, FREE ADMISSION
Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays, except local school holidays and bank holiday Mondays
To get to the Hepworth Gallery there are frequent trains from London to Wakefield and the museum is 0.3 miles from Wakefield Kirkgate train station (approximately 8 minutes walk) and 1 mile from Westgate train station (approximately 20 minutes walk). There is also a free city bus that will take you from the train station.