The Hepworth Wakefield gallery airs artistic content like fresh laundry.
Located in the heart of a thriving arts scene, with Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Henry Moore Institute nearby, the Hepworth Wakefield promises a thought-provoking, cultural experience. Spacious and modern, the site houses a range of contemporary artwork, covering mediums from watercolour to sculpting, and sketching to photography. Each exhibition is curated to display not just the completed artworks, but the creative processes which gave rise to them.
The gallery currently hosts a number of exhibitions which explore diverse areas of creative investigation. Henry Moore’s Reclining Figures demonstrates the great interest the artist had in the reclining pose; a third of his life’s work is based around this concept. The exhibition is a display of artistic exploration and experimentation; it combines wooden sculptures from Wakefield’s own collection with some of Moore’s preliminary sketches, as well as an impressive bronze work currently on loan from The Henry Moore Foundation. The scale of his work is reflective of the issues he encountered when working with his primary medium, elmwood. He is quoted as claiming that the material is ‘not a happy choice for small sculptures, but in a large reclining figure the horizontal grain emphasises the horizontal pose’. Evidently, Moore was right: the striking nature of the sculptures demonstrates his resolution to work with his materials to create bold and interesting artwork.
The ‘Hepworth at Work’ exhibition featured an amalgamation of sketches, prototypes, and experiments from Hepworth’s workshop. The collection is fascinating; working models, many in plaster, offer insights into her creative process, and the gallery is set up to emulate a studio environment. The exhibition is intellectually stimulating, as well as pleasing to the eye. Quotes from the artist are printed on the walls; enigmatic phrases like ‘I, the sculptor, am the landscape’ assert the imaginative power which the all-consuming artist revelled in. The collection of models for her complex piece, Maquette, Theme and Variations was particularly captivating. It displays individual shapes from her final piece, as well as a completed plaster mock-up; a quote nearby explains the process as being like ‘building a boat’, while plastering the skeleton of the piece as ‘covering the bones with skin and muscles’. The space possesses an inexplicable, creative energy which is harnessed by the emotive works in its midst.
‘In Focus: Albert Wainwright’ gave detailed insight into the mind of this lesser-known artist and friend of Henry Moore. Wainwright’s attention to line and form complements his works – intuitive and creative responses to the wide range of influences he was exposed to throughout his life. The Hepworth Wakefield displays a selection of his sketchbooks – intriguing insights into the social, political and economic changes taking place between 1927 and 1938 – as well as a collection of letters, postcards and miscellaneous workings. The exhibition is distinctive in providing visitors with an insight into the mind of the artist, much like with ‘Hepworth at Work’. Having had no previous knowledge of Wainwright’s work, I found the exhibition enlightening in its way of opening viewers’ eyes to the work of lesser-known, ‘neglected’ artists who draw from a huge range of influences to create truly brilliant work.
By far my favourite exhibition of the gallery, however, was a compilation of Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s photography. It is uncommon to see such a varied sample of photographic art in a museum; it is not difficult, however, to understand why diCorcia’s work is currently on display. The gallery has a number of the artist’s projects on show, spanning a period of four decades. The earliest, ‘A Storybook Life’, invites visitors to enter a world of imaginary narratives in which the models are drawn from his own life. This concept of crossing the boundary between “fiction” and reality is explored further in his most recent and ongoing work, ‘East of Eden’. His documentary-style photographs in this series portray everyday images with fictitious connotations, particularly in relation to Genesis and the fall of Adam and Eve. Two more series, ‘Streetwork’ and ‘Lucky 13’, depict scenes from the lives of individual people; in the former, citizens are poignantly captured in their day-to-day activities, whilst the latter consists of almost life-sized, purposely unedited portraits of pole dancers in mid-performance. In a similar vein, ‘Hustlers’ depicts male prostitutes in theatrical settings, with their names, age, and hometown. The various prices diCorcia paid for each one to agree to pose for the photo add an extra twist as the titles. The striking thing about diCorcia’s work is its ability to portray the realistic and the dramatic in one single, captivating photograph.
The Hepworth Wakefield is open from 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday, and is free to visit. It is worth taking time to explore the entire site, making sure to look outside at the surroundings too – you might find some unexpected sights on looking out of a window. The way in which the gallery allows visitors to venture into the minds of great artists and experience the dynamism involved in producing contemporary artwork is truly unique.