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May 22 2012

Magic sisters realise Chelsea Flower Show golden dream

The all-powerful Brontes sweep rivals aside as Yorkshire gets its long-for top medal at last

They tried ever so hard once, and got silver. Then they tried ever so hard again, and got silver again. But this year the Yorkshire garden at Chelsea has finally achieved its ambition, and been awarded a Royal Horticultural Society gold medal.

That's what the biggest and brashest of England's counties naturally expects; (actually – interesting fact - historic Yorkshire also contains England's second-biggest county: the West Riding on its own beats Devon, Lincolnshire and other such rivals). But the organisers made the mistake of not enlisting the magical powers of the Mighty Sisters until now.

In 2010, the garden was themed on rhubarb and custard, picking up the lore and legend of the 'rhubarb-growing triangle' between Wakefield, Pontefract and Leeds. Last year, a rather architectural construction of drystone walls and the like drew on Yorkshire Artists, with references to David Hockney, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

But at last, this year, Charlotte, Emily and Bronte appeared in a dream to Gary Verity, the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire which organises the garden, and said: "Daft ha'porth. It's us you need."

So it has proved. The massive metropolitan cliché mill grinds out unswerving descriptions of the sisters and their moors as wuthering and howling, but we who live here know better. Charlotte herself wrote of Emily after her death and how:

There is not a knoll of heather, not a branch of fern, not a young bilberry leaf, not a fluttering lark or linnet, but reminds me of her

And Emily carolled in one of her perhaps less original poems:

May flowers are opening
And leaves unfolding free
There are bees in every blossom
And birds in every tree.

Anyway, Verity arose and his staff carried out the ghostly instructions, recreating the 'Bronte bridge' which crosses the Bronte beck by the Bronte waterfalls on the way to Top Withens (aka Wuthering Heights) above the sisters' home village of Haworth. They also crammed in a goodly stock of plants, making the composition more garden than artificial construction. Although the Brontes were not actually very good gardeners themselves, as the Guardian Northerner recently described, they would surely have approved.

Verity says:

The garden has had a non-stop stream of admirers since The Chelsea Flower Show opened but this was the ultimate goal, taking gold back to Yorkshire. This is the third time we've entered and we're delighted to be going home with a gold medal for the first time. We hope to convert thousands of well-wishers into tourists over the course of the week.


 
Tracy Foster, the garden's designer from Leeds, worked closely with the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth throughout the project, describes how the garden tried to source materials from nearby, including boulders from Dove Stones moor:

The stone is beautiful. We have deliberately not cleaned it so it has aged naturally and it is of the period when the girls would have been walking around the Yorkshire Moors and writing their novels. The stone still has its original lichens and mosses attached which look just perfect in the garden and really give a sense of the beauty and bleakness that epitomise the wonderful moorland landscape.


She is properly over the moon, deservedly:

My first Chelsea and I get gold, it doesn't get much better than this! I'm so proud of what we have achieved. I hope the high profile medal inspires more people to come to Yorkshire to see for themselves the landscape that brought gold to the garden.


 
Always good at linking things, Welcome to Yorkshire has just unveiled a gardens campaign which highlights some of the best gardens to visit in Yorkshire. You can also see three films here which the Guardian Northerner team made last year of the progress of the Art of Yorkshire entry.
 


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February 27 2012

Abstract pioneer gets overdue retrospective

John Cecil Stephenson's work, overlooked in part because of poor self-promotion, celebrated in Durham exhibition

He is one of the earliest and most accomplished of all British abstract artists, but also one of the least known and most overlooked.

Until last weekend, John Cecil Stephenson had been largely neglected with no public gallery or museum staging any exhibition of his work in almost 40 years – an injustice finally righted by Durham Art Gallery, 47 years after his death.

More than 50 works have now been gathered for a show given the title Pioneer of Modernism, which opened to the public on Saturday. Curator Conor Mullan said Stephenson worked in undeserved obscurity for most of his life. There were two reasons, his background and his personality.

"He just didn't play the game enough," Mullan said. "He didn't compromise and he just was not in to the politics of art, he couldn't deal with it."

The exhibition celebrates probably the most important 20th-century artist to come from County Durham. Born in Bishop Auckland in 1889, Stephenson had a tough working-class background that, Mullan argues, had a profound effect.

"He felt unsure of himself. He wasn't very good in highbrow, intellectual, bohemian circles. They were the people you had to deal with to climb up the ladder in London and he just wasn't very good at it. He did not do the networking.

"Much like today, if you're not in to marketing yourself as much as the art then it's a hard life."

Stephenson, however, did manage to make a living from his work. He was also head of art at the Northern Polytechnic in north London, now London Metropolitan University, but never achieved the fame of his friends and peers such as Ben Nicholson and Piet Mondrian, whose friendship is explored by a show running at the Courtauld Institute, London.

Stephenson was one of Mondrian's closest friends in London. They were a similar age and had a lot in common. Mullan said: "Stephenson was a very reserved man and very precise. Everything had to be perfect and Mondrian was very much the same. They were interested in work and pushing forward in art."

Stephenson was part of what the poet and critic Herbert Read called "a nest of gentle artists".

Encouraged by the painter Walter Sickert, he took on a studio in north London in 1914 and lived there for the rest of his life. His near neighbours over the years included Read, Nicholson and the sculptors Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Naum Gabo.

The Durham exhibition focuses on Stephenson's progression through the 1930s at the forefront of modernist and constructivist art.

By the late 1930s a lot of British artists were looking at abstraction, but Stephenson was already there. Some of his work has an optical element that pre-dates op art and the work of artists such as Bridget Riley by around 30 years.

But for all his talent and his friends, Stephenson was always something of an outsider. A natural reserve probably held him back. "He was an important guy, he just didn't know it," said Mullan. He was acutely conscious of his working-class roots, but distant from them.

During the first world war he was assigned back to County Durham where he worked in the production of munitions.

Stephenson was treated badly by locals who saw him as a dandified student. "All his life he felt a distance from the working class, he felt a distance from the middle class and he felt a distance from the upper class," Mullan said.

"He basically kept himself to himself. He was a silent man, he did not say a lot."

Stephenson was overlooked during his life as well as after it and he did not have a solo show until he was 71. The next year, he had the first of a series of strokes and never worked again.

Loans for the Durham show have included works lent by the British Museum, the V&A, the National Galleries of Scotland and the Government Art Collection.

But there have been works that the exhibition has been unable to show, not least Stephenson's most famous work Painting 1937 which is owned by Tate.

Mullan hopes this show will help bring him to a wider audience and encourage others to think about mounting a proper retrospective – perhaps in 2015, 50 years after his death.

John Cecil Stephenson, Pioneer of Modernism is at Durham Art Gallery until 29 April


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February 03 2012

A journey along parallel lines

When Ben Nicholson invited his Dutch mentor to live in London, it kicked off an intense artistic dialogue. Now a new exhibition explores their shared concerns and the way their paths diverged

Where were the paparazzi in September 1938? They should have been thick on the ground outside 60 Parkhill Road in Hampstead, for that month one of the 20th century's most audacious painters, Piet Mondrian, moved in. His arrival in England followed that of other leading avant garde artists, designers and architects, many of them having fled fascist or Soviet autocracies. For a brief period in the second half of the 1930s, London, or more accurately Hampstead and Belsize Park, became the focus for international modernism. Mondrian's presence in London, with hindsight, crowned this development. But, at the time, this 66-year-old man, though at a peak of his creativity, was neglected by collectors and very impoverished. Hampstead, too, was quieter, less wealthy and not yet at the mercy of property developers. 60 Parkhill Road was then a boarding house with a communal bathroom on the first floor. Ben Nicholson, the artist who arranged for Mondrian to take a room on the ground floor, had been guided by the need to obtain a cheap rent.

It was a dreary room, by all accounts. The sole redeeming feature was a three-pane, double-height sash window. It overlooked a garden which might also be thought advantageous. Mondrian grumbled: "Too many trees." Self-parody, perhaps, because of his renowned hatred of the colour green. For many years he had banned it from his palette and deliberately limited himself to white, grey and black and the three primary colours, in keeping with the laws of neoplasticism that he and Theo van Doesburg had first explored in the Netherlands.

Mondrian had taken these ideas further in Paris, during the interwar years, while occupying two studios, one after another. These he had decorated with pieces of board and plain furniture, all painted with the colours of his restricted palette, so that the room and his pictures formed a unity. Everything was carefully positioned; Nelly van Doesburg recollected of the first studio that you could not move an ashtray without destroying the room's harmony. Placed on a table in the hallway was a vase containing a single plastic tulip, its leaves and stem painted white. After seeing this, friends knew never to bring Mondrian flowers.

White was his colour. Ben Nicholson claimed: "No one could make white more white than Mondrian." Very quickly, with the help of white paint, his room in Hampstead began to resemble his studios in Paris. Miriam Gabo, the wife of the Russian constructivist Naum Gabo whom Mondrian had known in Paris, helped him to shop in Camden Town for cheap kitchen furniture, which he made pristine with several layers of white paint. Orange boxes, similarly treated, also helped to furnish this room. Soon it was transformed into a sanctuary for work. As before, everything visible would have upheld his aesthetic, while anything personal would have been hidden or destroyed. This erasure of individuality links Mondrian with the bare, anonymous surfaces of architecture's international style and Le Corbusier's promotion of an impersonal "machine" aesthetic. But it also connects with his ambition to arrive through his art at a universal language and what he called "pure reality".

Nicholson never entirely shared Mondrian's utopian vision, not even during the Dutchman's two years in England, when Nicholson was his closest ally. Yet, even before their first meeting in 1934, Nicholson had been travelling in a similar direction to Mondrian, clarifying and purifying his abstract language through a series of white reliefs, today regarded as the high point of modernism in this country. The association between these two artists lasted seven years. It is the subject of a small, intense, beautifully curated exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery, which acts as a reminder that abstract art, at its best, can be powerfully visceral. Witness the dynamic tension in Mondrian's Composition B (No II), with Red, between the explosion of red in the top left rectangle and the black horizontals and verticals holding it in position. Nicholson's paintings and reliefs also have depth and authority, as, for example, when he balances the lift of a circle against the weight of a nearby hanging square or rectangle. Both artists achieved in their art a serene equilibrium. But in Mondrian's case there is a fierce rigour and refusal to opt for tastefulness that Nicholson never matched. Thus while exploring the dialogue between these two artists, the exhibition brings out what Nicholson himself observed – the astonishing differences in their developments, despite shared ambitions and concerns.

They were 22 years apart in age. Nicholson was 40 in the year they first met. His interest in Mondrian appears to have begun the year before, and Christopher Green, co-curator of this exhibition with Barnaby Wright, believes that the greater discipline suddenly visible in Nicholson's handling of materials, lines and forms around 1933-34 may be a response to Mondrian's example. But it was not until after Nicholson visited the artist's Paris studio on 5 April 1934 that he began to regard Mondrian as a mentor.

Many people visited this studio at 26 rue du Départ, which acted as a Mecca for modernists. Situated in a nondescript street near the Gare Montparnasse, it was reached via an entrance beside a printer's shop that led into a courtyard. On the left through a doorway was a dank communal staircase, up which the visitor climbed three storeys. Once through the front door of the apartment, he passed through a dark corridor and vestibule, probably unaware that this was where the artist slept, and then reached another door that opened on to the all-white studio decorated with coloured rectangles and squares. For Michel Seuphor, this transition caused the onset of "an incredible feeling of beauty, of peace, of quiet and harmony". Another of Mondrian's friends compared it to the entrance to paradise.

Nicholson, too, was taken aback; he later claimed that he did not, on his first visit to the studio, understand Mondrian's art, but he was profoundly affected by the feeling that the room generated. He took away "an astonishing feeling of quiet and repose", which stayed with him, even while he sat at a cafe table on the edge of the pavement almost touching the traffic going in and out of the Gare Montparnasse. The studio seemed to him like a hermit's cave, "where lions used to go to have thorns taken out of their paws".

He was at this time inseparable from the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, and their constant interchange of ideas was another influence on his art. He also made several visits to Paris in the mid-1930s because his estranged wife Winifred Nicholson and their three children were living there. The Courtauld exhibition would certainly have been less neat and less focused if the curators had opened up the conversation to include Hepworth and Winifred Nicholson, the latter seeing Mondrian frequently during his last two years in Paris. But their absence is in some ways regrettable. It's boys'-club art-history again, aside from the catalogue essay by Nicholson's granddaughter, Sophie Bowness, who reminds us that Mondrian valued Winifred's opinion on his work and writings, and noted the way she saw "into the essence of things and beauty at its purest".

In London, Mondrian referred to Nicholson and Hepworth as his "best friends". For a man who did not make close friends, this still meant a lot. The fact that they lived nearby, in the Mall Studios, and Mondrian could see Nicholson's studio from his window made communication easy. Mondrian even took tea on occasion with Nicholson and Hepworth's four-year-old triplets. Although the infants behaved beautifully, Mondrian afterward proffered Nicholson the opinion that all children are barbarians.

"It's good to work with you," Mondrian wrote to Nicholson. "You are so precise (I find that precision is one of the most important things for anybody)." The two men regularly exchanged photographs of their work, and Mondrian took a sincere interest not only in Nicholson's work but also Hepworth's. It was therefore a blow to him when, for the safety of their children at the onset of war, Nicholson and Hepworth moved to St Ives at the invitation of Adrian Stokes. They begged him to go with them, but he declined. He had found London conducive to work and liberating, though he had remained an outsider. Yet, even before leaving France, he had resolved that America would be his final destination. It was not the war that decided him on this next move, but the fall of France. He stopped painting and once again felt an inner pressure to leave. The main reason was the need to protect his paintings. Come to Cumberland, Winifred Nicholson wrote, offering him the safety of her home, Banks Head. In her recollections, he replied: "It is too green." She had not forgotten the 1938 journey they made together, from Paris to London. The train sped through the Somme landscape amid early evening sunlight, past lush grass and green and soft poplars. Mondrian had not been anywhere outside Paris for almost 20 years. "Isn't it wonderful," he murmured. At first startled by his pleasure in the scene, Winifred quickly realised that the cause of his exhilaration was the beat of the telegraph poles, their repeated verticals offset by the flat horizon.


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December 26 2011

The Tracey Emin effect: where art overcomes austerity

Turner, Hepworth, FirstSite – the success of new galleries is making the case for culture-led regeneration

Across the UK, 2012 will be the year where art meets sport in hundreds of towns and villages. Such is the yearning for new cultural experiences outside the capital that the Cultural Olympiad has the power to regenerate ailing parts of the country, if the events are of a high enough quality. My experience in a corner of Kent has taught me that.

As chair of the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate, one of the south-east's most deprived towns, I have witnessed one of the cultural success stories of 2011 at first hand. More than a third of a million visitors have come through its doors since it opened in April, more than twice the predicted number in half the time. Some are locals, including thousands who have never been to a gallery before; others have come from much further afield, including foreign tourists who have added it to their must-see destinations in Britain. According to research, more than 15,000 of the visitors so far say they have never been to an art gallery or museum in their lives.

Margate might be blazing a trail, but it is far from unique. Galleries have blossomed across the regions over the past decade. One or two may have struggled to make their mark, but the vast majority have received critical and community acclaim. The Baltic in Gateshead is thriving again, as its hosting of the Turner prize attests; Nottingham Contemporary opened to great plaudits in 2009; the FirstSite art gallery in Colchester is a welcome addition; and the arrival of the Hepworth Wakefield last May – the second of David Chipperfield's fantastic constructions after Turner Contemporary – creates an artistic hub in south Yorkshire, with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Henry Moore Institute nearby.

The Ikon has great expansion plans for a new museum quarter in the centre of Birmingham, comprising a museum of photography and a new museum of international art dating from 2000 – all linked to the arrival of high speed rail. Modern Art Oxford too has grand ambitions. Throw in the Arnolfini, resplendent on Bristol's waterfront, the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (Mima) and others, and art-goers will surely need no convincing that life does not begin and end in London – a lesson the Spanish and Germans learned a long time ago, and the French are catching up with too (think Lille and Metz).

Artistic institutions outside the capital – from the visual arts to theatre, music and beyond – have traditionally been overlooked by governments and private funders, so they must shout louder in order to be heard through a combination of excellence and strong local engagement. These two are not contradictory. Indeed, they enhance each other.

At Margate, where many local people were either sceptical or hostile to the idea of a new gallery, the scale of the success has transformed opinion. A new spirit of entrepreneurship is taking hold, even amid the economic gloom. The Old Town, a warren of lanes just behind the seafront, is packed with boutiques, pubs and cafes. With flair and business savvy, other parts of the town will follow suit.

It is still early to gauge the full extent of the gallery's economic and social impact, but initial research shows more than 35 new businesses have opened in the Old Town, with dozens of new jobs either created by Turner Contemporary or directly resulting from it. It was the regenerative effect, as much as the art and architecture, which led to the Queen's visit last month. Southeastern trains have registered a 30% increase in passengers on the route even before the opening of Turner and the Elements, the gallery's first major show of the painter's work. This will be followed by the first show of Tracey Emin's new works in her home town, and Margate will feature on the Today programme on Wednesday morning, which Emin is guest-editing.

So what are the broader lessons to be learned here? Clearly, in the new world of austerity, cultural institutions have to fight hard just to survive. But in some ways the chill is salutary. Artistic and other third-sector bodies should not rely on being "helped" or "saved" by the state just because they are, or think they are, "doing good". In broad terms, Darwinian rules should apply. The best will survive and thrive, if they have the right combination of excellence, inclusiveness, education and a strong business model. Those mired in an old-fashioned sense of entitlement are much more likely to fail. A mix of private and public funding should not be beyond the reach of institutions with ambition, wherever they are based and whether large or small.

Many more dynamic regional arts organisations are collaborating. Joint programming – in which galleries share the same or similar shows in consecutive seasons – is increasingly common. Sharing back office services is useful but its merits can be overstated; far more important is informal collaboration between directors, curators, finance managers and boards, now happening as a matter of course – some under the umbrella of a network called Plus Tate, some under the Arts Council, and some ad hoc. Galleries regularly cross-market: there is no competition for visitors between institutions in, say, the north-east and south-west. The biggest challenge, given the London-centric media, is to make sure potential tourists know of these galleries' existence – and success.

Hard-headed planning for long-term investment and benefit is one thing; short-term and short-sighted monetising is quite another. A key to bringing people into galleries, particularly new audiences, is free admission. It is, as Nick Serota, the director of the Tate, puts it, one of the signs of a civilised culture. British galleries and museums are, he adds, "uniquely egalitarian spaces" – unlike in many equivalent countries.

So are Turner, the Hepworth and FirstSite the last in a generation? The real problem is going to be the funding for capital projects in the future. With local authority budgets being slashed, and the Arts Council having to operate on lower budgets, the prospect for investment in new-build is slim. Yet the social and economic case for ambitious, culture-led regeneration has surely been made. To abandon the approach now, in its prime, would be a tragedy, particularly for those parts of the UK that many decision-makers struggle to reach.


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December 21 2011

Does the stolen Barbara Hepworth sculpture show that caring makes us weak? | Zoe Williams

The stolen sculpture raises the fear that 1,000 people who want a good society are no match for one person who doesn't care

It's hard to lose a statue from a park and not think this marks a new direction for society, one in which we're headed somewhere considerably worse. Trevor Moore, from Dulwich Park Friends, said losing Barbara Hepworth's Two Forms (Divided Circle) was like "losing a finger". I liked the understatement of his sorrow – it sounds like a small thing, but actually you'd miss it for the rest of your life.

In 2005, Henry Moore's Reclining Figure was stolen from the estate of the Henry Moore Foundation in Perry Green, Hertfordshire. Funnily enough, it was almost exactly the same time of year (19 December), which might suggest that looming festivity sharpens your appetite and dulls your sense of public duty. But these are only two data points, so let's not get carried away.

On the plus side, that first theft did not mark a hideous breach in the fabric of society through which could be glimpsed the dystopic future: frightened hordes scurrying home through denuded streets and parks, nothing sacred, not even benches. It's interesting how carefree everything was then: the headline covering the theft in the Guardian was "Oi! Who lifted that two-tonne Henry Moore?" Compare, for its sobriety, "Barbara Hepworth sculpture stolen from London park".

On the downside, police by 2009 were satisfied that they knew what had happened to Reclining Figure. It had been dismembered shortly after the theft and sold for scrap. It is philistinism on a gruesome scale, but it's also a striking, two-tonne example of what the economist Thomas Shelling calls "one of the lamentable principles in human productivity; that it is easier to destroy than to create … The power to hurt – to destroy things that somebody treasures – is a kind of bargaining power."

That bargaining power wasn't even leveraged in the Moore case: they didn't hold it for ransom. The foundation offered a £10,000 reward which the thieves eschewed, choosing instead to flog it for a grand and a half. The fear is that the same will happen to the Hepworth. While I can, from a cultural perspective, see the teeth of the chainsaw going into the work as the big travesty, from a socioeconomic perspective this is an act of vandalism against that founding principle of the market – that transactions are undertaken voluntarily – and everybody wins. When you throw someone into the mix who doesn't care that a statue's true value is £500,000, and cares still less about its emotional value to the community, and will trash all that for £1,500, that person has a lot of power. It's caring that makes you weak.

The reason this is such a blow at this peculiar time is that the free market – the fundamental understanding of society where we exchange time for money and money for stuff and everybody wins – isn't working out. There is a full spectrum of explanations for the failure. On the right, it's because governments interfered, over-regulated, overdid the handouts and overspent. On the left, it's because government privatised, outsourced, didn't regulate, and created a corporate plutocracy by failing to protect wages, grouting the gaps with benefits and ultimately subsidising super-profits. There are centrist arguments that blame the legerdemain of financial instruments – just one giant, apolitical "oops".

Yet underneath each narrative is the same antihero, this person who doesn't care. Whether that's the feral underclass or the head of HMRC, the scrap-metal merchant or the boss of Goldman Sachs, the underlying fear is the same: that 1,000 people who care desperately about a stable society are no match for one person who doesn't care at all. So while the right bandies about tales of nihilistic rioters and philistine thieves, the left indulges in its orgy of judgment at the phenomenal greed of rich people.

The American journalist Max Abelson put together a billionaire's riposte, where a group of chief executives answer the charge that they're paid too much by calling everyone an imbecile. What's extraordinary is the highhanded carelessness, the sincerity of their belief that they're doing the world a favour with their nugatory commitment to taxation, and it's the people who don't earn enough to pay tax who are the problem ("You have to have skin in the game," said Stephen Schwarzman, chief executive of Blackstone). It's thrilling and nauseating in equal parts: they're so powerful and yet so irredeemable – but at least it makes you feel you understand. If some people don't care, no wonder we are where we are. It only takes a few.

But I think this is a comforting fallacy. Money doesn't really denature people, and nor does poverty. If people behave like nihilists, it's because something has gone awry with their peer norms: they've got in with the wrong crowd. We end this year looking at a lot of wrong crowds – a corporate crowd that avoids tax like crazy, a criminal crowd with new impunity, a banking crowd that thinks of itself as a Calvinist elect, without the self-denial. It's a huge task of regulating and prosecuting and working to remake the norms, but the alternative – to choose a villain and simply hate them with a passion (mine is Philip Green, thank you for asking) – is just a pantomime: enjoyable, but not very enlightening.


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Public art: is there any way to beat the thieves?

The theft of a £500,000 Barbara Hepworth sculpture from Dulwich Park shows how vulnerable public art works are to determined thieves

How do we stop thieves from making off with our public art works? The question arises from this week's disappearance of a Barbara Hepworth sculpture, Two Forms (Divided Circle), from its plinth in south London's Dulwich Park. The sculpture, which had resided safely in the park since 1970, is believed to have been stolen by scrap-metal thieves, who will only manage to realise a tiny fraction of its value (around £500,000).

There are thousands of public works like Hepworth's in parks, gardens and town squares all round the country. Many curators are understandably reluctant to discuss the security measures they currently have in place. But Stephen Feeke, a curator at the New Art Centre, a gallery and sculpture park in Wiltshire, says flood-lighting is a good way to deter thieves and vandals. "You've also got to look at securely gating and fencing the perimeter of a park," he adds. "The important thing is to block access for vehicles: a bronze sculpture is far too heavy to carry off without a car."

Paul Ekblom, of the Design Against Crime Research Centre at London's Central Saint Martins, warns against the kneejerk imposition of fortifications. "We need to look at introducing security measures to new sculptures – for instance, using forensic coding that might allow the metal to be traced. It's also important to make it clear that these thefts are totally unacceptable: our artists and culture ministers need to stand up and say: 'Shame on you.'"


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May 28 2011

Eva Rothschild at Hepworth Wakefield

Hepworth Wakefield; Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield

On the banks of the Calder stands our newest museum, its foundations deep in the river. Its patinated surfaces shift from lead to purple to silver-grey according to the altering light. From a certain angle – and it has many – the building looks like an islanded keep, fortified against the enemy and ringed by water. There seems to be no back or front. Even the means of entry appears, initially, secret.

The Hepworth Wakefield (as opposed to the Hepworth St Ives) is not just Britain's newest art museum. That wouldn't be much of a claim given that we have had so many in recent years, from Gateshead's Baltic to the New Art Gallery Walsall to the Turner Contemporary in Margate, also designed by David Chipperfield Architects, which opened only last month.

Nor is it necessarily much of a boast that this is the largest purpose-built gallery since the Hayward, with 5,000 square metres of space, for it looks as if you could put the whole thing into the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, more or less. What really matters is this building's sense of purpose. The Hepworth could be the smallest of our museums and still count as one of Britain's greatest, for the simple reason that it is so well designed for the presentation of art.

Outside, the building is an agglomeration of irregular boxes. The roofs slope, the walls are high and compellingly stark. The windows are of different sizes and so intriguingly distributed they might make you think of a medieval castle. But of course the aesthetic is essentially modernist, all cubist stacking and flattening, with nuances of Picasso's houses at Horta and those geometric cities dreamed up by Paul Klee.

The colour of the exterior is irreconcilably controversial. Nobody has quite found a term for the peculiar mix of grey, brown and bluish-purple (the architects are calling it, simply, "Hepworth brown") with which the concrete is pigmented. But there are plenty of derogatory words in the air: dour, depressing, industrial, dirty. Some of the local people I met genuinely believed that the walls had not yet been painted.

But Hepworth brown changes all the time (and the concrete will presumably mellow). In any case it gives the museum far more gravitas than the glassy sheen of Chipperfield's Turner Contemporary, which suits its different status as a museum with a permanent collection. For the entire contents of the original Wakefield Art Gallery – including works by Giacometti, Brancusi and Gaudier-Brzeska, as well as Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore and the eponymous Barbara Hepworth – are here, along with a large group of Hepworth's plaster models, all amplified by additional loans from Tate and the British Council.

In Wakefield it is now possible to see Hepworth and her British peers in the context of European modernist sculpture as almost nowhere else outside Tate Modern – and in better viewing conditions. With its chasmic galleries and high-rise escalators, Tate Modern is all drama and onward thrust. Everything about its design, and very often its orchestration, runs against quiet and steady viewing. It is not always possible even to see the sculptures in the round, given the pressing throng of visitors.

The 10 galleries of the Hepworth are gracious, calm and scaled to human proportions. They rise up for a prototype of Hepworth's enormous Winged Figure, with its clattering anatomy of metal feathers, looking far better here than the original nailed to John Lewis on Oxford Street, and they subside to an intimate size for her more tactile works.

The opening gallery sets the tone with its spacious array of marble ovoids, totems and quasi-human forms. Waist-height, on low pedestals, they seem altogether more approachable in this setting, especially the polished white works, which can appear depilated and sterile.

At a distance, for instance, a hollowed egg such as Spring reveals very little other than Hepworth's signature pierced hole and strings. But up close, with nature through the window beyond, it lives up to its promise of bright new music and when you look inside there is an intimation of fresh blue skies.

Hepworth as carver and caster, working these forms by hand, is the subject of a gallery of tools and prototypes. This is complicated, since she did not regard them as art and there are too few finished works on show by comparison. But anyone who prefers her drawings, as I do, will be delighted to see several of her sensitive and super-fluent images of bodies in motion and at rest.

They express more naturally than the sculptures a characteristic tension between figuration and abstraction, between wings, strings and apertures suggestive of sight and speech, and those strenuous and elliptical solids that block interpretation. But all the works get strength from their proximity, here, to Brancusi's Danaide, for instance, an exquisite golden egg of a head. Or Naum Gabo's marvellous Stone with a Collar that brings together the stone, some cellulose acetate and a whiplash tail in an assemblage that somehow suggests a shoreline of waves, sea creatures, shells and helter-skelters shifting in perpetual motion.

Four galleries of the Hepworth are devoted to contemporary art, so that the museum looks forwards as well as backwards. The inaugural one-woman show is apt, since Eva Rothschild is always taking sidelong glances at modernist sculpture with her own cool and quirky works. Here she shows some humorously apposite pieces – a little Wakefield cloud, scribbled in white wire; a gleaming black doughnut echoing the museum's ring of galleries; and a whole string of works that take Hepworth's art to a contemporary conclusion, involving pebbles, nuts, moons and surfaces of black and gold that bring a nightclub glamour to these comically helpless and eccentric works.

At the gateway between old and new, Rothschild has one of her levitating hoops – a giant circle from which scarlet ribbons descend, apparently held up by nothing whatsoever. It is beautifully conceived, and titled: Sunrise. The gradually sloping angles of each gallery appear as suited to contemporary art as to the balanced geometry of Mondrian or Ben Nicholson's pale reliefs. Partly this is to do with keeping the eye moving, but also because of the superlative use of daylight, which waterfalls down from the edges of suspended ceilings, bathing rather than striking the works of art.

And here and there the windows of the Hepworth show you real water, damming and cascading outside. This is one of the museum's most striking virtues. Rather than hermetically sealed, like so many galleries, it frames occasional images of the world beyond: 19th-century warehouses, the spire of the Chantry Chapel, the magnificent willow that weeps by the river. And each view brings you back to the art once more, to see what it makes of life.

Not 15 minutes away by car, Yorkshire Sculpture Park is showing monumental works by the Catalan sculptor Jaume Plensa: a loosely connected family of what he calls his "souls". Large bronze figures, each clutching a cherry tree that rises like a thought, or a prayer; enormous heads, some in translucent resin, lit from within and lettered with anxious ideas, others formed of open lattices spelling out half-caught phrases. A beautiful curtain of capital letters, when gently strung, articulates music out of broken poems.

But best of all is a gallery of vast haunting heads, carved from white alabaster, that seem to be struggling from the rock like Michelangelo's Slaves. Each face is elongated, almost anamorphic and yet at the same time conjuring holograms and computer distortions. Conflating ancient and modern, they are unforgettably strange: new beings half-alive, it seems, in the world.

It is not so far from here to the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, or to his open gardens and studio. Indeed, anyone wishing to steep themselves in European sculpture of the 20th and 21st centuries should go to see it at its most condensed, outdoors and in, in a few square miles of Yorkshire.


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May 20 2011

'A fearless reputation for collecting modern art'

Yorkshire's new Hepworth Wakefield gallery, which celebrates the work of sculptor Barbara Hepworth, also contains a remarkable archive of correspondence. Martin Wainwright pays a visit



May 19 2011

Inside The Hepworth Wakefield

The Hepworth Wakefield gallery in Yorkshire opens to the public on 21 May. Take a peek inside



May 02 2011

Barbara Hepworth: Queen of the stone age

After dominating early 20th-century sculpture, Barbara Hepworth fell out of fashion. Why is she now being resurrected? Jonathan Jones looks for clues in Yorkshire and Cornwall

There are holes everywhere I look. I'm in St Ives in Cornwall, strolling around the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden, a thickly growing, almost tropical space where tree, plant, shrub and sculpture live in perfect harmony. A circular opening in a bronze oval pulls my eye through it to a second sculpture hovering amid wet green leaves. Another bronze shape is big enough for me to enter. Inside, I look up at the sky through a gaping hole, into the drizzle that's spattering down on to the bronze floor. Every vista seems framed by these holes, like eyes, like caves.

From 1949 until her death in 1975, Hepworth lived and worked at this place, which now serves as a museum. Her studio stands in the garden: peer in and you can see the tools she loved to use, all her chisels, saws and hammers, as well as her white work apron and a set of unfinished works, geometric stone spheres as pure as they are precise.

The feeling you get, though, is of melancholy, perhaps because the story of Hepworth's studio is so horrible: this sculptor, born in Wakefield in 1903 and recognised as one of the outstanding British artists of the 20th century, died in a fire here. It is wonderful to meander around this garden, to see her work emerging from and disappearing into the wildlife – yet the sadness and violence of her last moments keep crowding in.

Other things, too, are sad about Hepworth's last years. She was not exactly forgotten when she died; in fact, she was widely honoured. But art had changed. Young artists in the 1970s were questioning the very idea of "sculpture" that Hepworth and Henry Moore, her friend and contemporary, stood for. Gilbert and George performed The Singing Sculpture, posing as surreal living statues singing Underneath the Arches, while Richard Long went for walks, arranged a few pebbles along the way, and declared it sculpture. The idea of sculpture as an intensely carved and crafted object was fading, leaving this veteran artist adrift in St Ives.

Today, however, she is being reclaimed as a hero of British art. The Hepworth Wakefield, an art gallery designed by David Chipperfield to house a permanent collection of her works, opens this month. The Hepworths on view here will be plaster sculptures, rarely seen before; but perhaps just as important is the fact that they will be seen next to exhibitions of contemporary art.

Hepworth's qualities are being recognised elsewhere, too. Bicentric Form, a monolith with a humanoid head and a hole that resembles a shoulder wound, currently takes pride of place at Tate Britain. Among other Hepworths on show is Sculpture With Profiles, a curvaceously hewn piece of white alabaster on which eyes and noses have been etched.

Hepworth, clearly, is back. But what's behind this rediscovery? Is her significance being exaggerated at a time when the wheel of art-world fashion happens to have turned back towards early 20th-century Britain? Perhaps the answer can be found in the places where Hepworth lived and worked, and among the landscapes that shaped her. So I set off to find out.

In Wakefield, I stumbled across Castrop Rauxel Square. It was late afternoon, and the sun had turned the houses golden. In the centre stand two public sculptures. One is a statue of Queen Victoria, the other a family of abstract personages by Hepworth, taken from her larger work The Family of Man and placed here as a monument after her death. There is no better place to see what Hepworth achieved than here, with its colliding worlds: abstract art versus the Victorian age. In 1903, Victoria was very recently dead. Wakefield was at the centre of a coal-mining district whose own demise was to come in the 1980s. Hepworth's father was an engineer, who took her on his work trips through the West Riding by car. In those days, the town, as well as being surrounded by pits, had brick terraces, smoggy factories and tall chimneys billowing smoke.

It was, above all, a landscape of work. Hepworth said the Yorkshire countryside that she saw with her father influenced her deeply. At the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, not far from Wakefield, you can fully understand the rolling, dipping character of this landscape – and see The Family of Man. Its vertical figures, formed of squares and ovals perforated with holes and slits, are as silent and brooding as the stone heads on Easter Island.

Now that the mines, slag heaps and pit workings have given way to sculpture parks, it's worth remembering that the town and countryside that formed Hepworth were industrial and sombre. Everyone worked – relentlessly. That is the key to understanding Hepworth: both she and Moore rediscovered sculpture as work, as manual labour.

Hepworth's carved stones in Tate Britain seem tended, nurtured, you might almost say parented. It was daring for a young woman to study sculpture just after the first world war. It was still more extraordinary for a woman to be one of a group of artists who revived the art of direct, physical carving. The grand artists of the Edwardian age had moulded their figures and then paid stonemasons to do the dusty hard graft: Hepworth, Moore and the brilliant Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (killed in the first world war) did their own carving and learned the secrets of stone, the way it can break and open and release magic forms.

The sea cave and the sand dune

That is the lasting appeal of Hepworth's art. Her stone sculptures make you want to hold them (you cannot). Their exteriors are smooth yet never cold: the round, irregular, pierced shapes she releases from stone seem infused with life. Her abstract forms have a perfection and a beauty that echo nature, the human body, and all that is curving and can be pierced. There is something of the sea cave and the sand dune about them.

In the 1920s, this brilliant young artist moved towards a completely abstract style. A decade later, she and her husband, the abstract painter Ben Nicholson, worked in a community of radical artists in Hampstead, London, and exhibited with the great Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. The two then moved to St Ives with their three children, and Hepworth started to carve wood as well as stone, adding taut strings, as if the world were a musical instrument to be played. Her rotund, elegant wooden creations suggest waves curling over rocks perforated by the sea. St Ives, after all, is like a natural sculpture. Minute by minute, you can see rock being carved by the elements, out on that headland that divides the town in two.

Back at the Hepworth museum, a beautifully reconstructed living room showcases fine examples of Hepworth's art. Holes open each piece out. There's a carved prototype for Single Form, her memorial to Nobel peace prize winner Dag Hammarskjöld; the full-size version can be seen at the UN in New York, a deep, round dimple in it rather than a hole. Here, too, is the carved wooden version of her sculpture Epidauros, a rotund, bulging form with holes tunnelled through it sideways and from above. Above the sea near St Ives railway station sits a bronze version of Epidauros, its cave-mouth framing a view over the sea. Epidauros (the title refers to an ancient Greek theatre) is a work of aspiration and longing, an expression of the human desire for meaning common to Greek tragedy and abstract art.

Hepworth worked right up to the end of her life, and her studio is a shrine to hard work. It's what made her tick. That she died here seems meaningful after all: not just a grotesque tragedy but the death of a worker-artist, a craftswoman whose vision was in her hands. Wood was easier to work than stone, and allowed her to keep working even as her health failed.

What are the secrets of artistic lives? We love to imagine them as dramas of sex, drugs and politics, but Hepworth's drama was physical: the daily tending of materials to produce beautiful forms. Her work resounds with sensual beauty and pure contemplative labour. Harmonies, dreams, the British landscape and its very geology – if you could pluck the silent strings of her sculptures, all these things would ring out.

• The Hepworth Wakefield opens on 21 May. Details: hepworthwakefield.org


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February 03 2011

Yorkshire: centre for sculpture

£35m gallery devoted to Barbara Hepworth joins Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Henry Moore Institute to make county a centre for sculpture

A £35m gallery that will help turn Yorkshire into one of the most significant destinations for sculpture was unveiled today, sidestepping the national trend of cuts to the arts and libraries.

The Hepworth Wakefield will open to the public on 21 May and become the largest purpose-built gallery to open in the UK since Tate St Ives nearly 20 years ago.

The gallery is named in honour of Wakefield-born sculptor Barbara Hepworth. It is a rare good news story for arts funding, much of which is currently centred on closures and cutbacks.

In truth, the project was probably too far advanced to rein back. "To simply pull the plug now was not really a viable option," said Peter Box, leader of Wakefield council, which is making cuts of £67m over four years. "If the question is, would we go ahead now, in this financial climate, then the truth is, I don't know.

"But I do know this. This is an important investment in the future of Wakefield and I passionately believe it will help regeneration and the local economy. It will be an inspiration to young people."

There certainly promise to be some stellar exhibits. A group of more than 40 prototypes and models donated by the Hepworth family via the Art Fund will give an insight into the artist's working practices. Exhibits will include the full-size prototype for Hepworth's sculpture Winged Figure, which watches over visitors to John Lewis on Oxford Street, London.

There will also be loans from the Arts Council and the British Council, as well as works from Wakefield's own 6,000-strong collection. The first temporary exhibition will be a show by Eva Rothschild, who two years ago filled the Duveen galleries at Tate Britain with her enormous zig-zagging sculpture, Cold Corners.

Together with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, the new gallery helps make Yorkshire a world centre for sculpture.

The building itself, designed by David Chipperfield and made up of 10 irregularly shaped box structures on the banks of the river Calder, has divided local opinion. "Some people say it's too angular or too grey, too dark or in the wrong place," said Box. "But I'm fine with that because there'll always be a difference of opinion about architecture, or indeed art and that's a good thing. People who might have had a negative view will change their mind once they see what's inside."

Alan Davey, chief executive of Arts Council England, one of the many partners involved in the project, called it "ambitious and rather breathtaking". "The next four years are going to be tough for all of us involved in funding the arts but it is not a time for us to shut up shop, or pull the bedclothes over our heads. It is a time when ambition has to flourish."

Hepworth's granddaughter Sophie Bowness said: "We felt that Wakefield was the most appropriate permanent home for the plaster to be seen amongst the works of Barbara's contemporaries and in the city where she was born and grew up. The Hepworth Wakefield promises to be one of the country's great galleries."


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January 23 2011

Modern British Sculpture – review

Royal Academy, London

Anyone who thinks Carl Andre's Equivalent VIII (the bricks) has been more reviled than any other sculpture in this country should think again. Jacob Epstein's statue of Day was regularly assaulted in the 20s. His Rima, in Hyde Park, was once tarred and feathered and you can still see the mutilated remains of his nude figures on the facade of Zimbabwe House in the Strand, noses and genitals hacked off in 1935 "on safety grounds" after years of vicious campaigning.

The bricks, by contrast, only suffered a mild dose of paint and the acid aspersions of the Sunday Times in 1976. But still the attack seems to belong to another era, an age of outrage, violence and censorship before sculpture became such a familiar, not to say popular, art form in this country.

For we are used to seeing sculpture celebrated annually on the Fourth Plinth, in the Turbine Hall, at the Turner prize. Our countryside is full of fixed Gorms. We know the art of Mark Wallinger, Cornelia Parker, Helen Chadwick, Marc Quinn, the venerable Richards Deacon and Wilson. Thousands travel to see the ghostly casts of Rachel Whiteread, the poetry of Ian Hamilton Finlay, the radiant illusions of Anish Kapoor. It is no stretch to claim, as Anthony Caro recently has, that sculpture has become our language.

So this feels like the perfect moment for an all-together-now survey of modern British sculpture. How could it possibly fail? Let me count the unexpected ways. To start with, not a single one of these British artists (bar Caro) is included. Perhaps they were not invited, perhaps they refused, but in any case the omissions weaken and distort the story.

You would not learn from this show (curated by the sculptor Keith Wilson and Penelope Curtis, director of Tate Britain) anything about the Geometry of Fear or the rise of installation art. There's no pop and not much advanced conceptualism. And if that suggests a bias away from Martin Creed, say, towards carving, casting or traditional craftsmanship, then bear in mind that all sorts of relevant candidates, from GF Watts to William Tucker to the Chapman Brothers, are also excluded.

Or, rather, Tucker is represented only in the catalogue, by his 1969 essay on modern sculpture in Studio International, just as all of Gustav Metzger's fiery creations and destructions are bypassed for a boring wall of his Page 3 girls. Half a gallery is devoted to ceramics or, rather, to demonstrating the influence of Chinese stoneware on potters like Bernard Leach, when Japan was surely as crucial.

Wonderful as it is to see the films of Len Lye screening in the Royal Academy, it is not clear why they count as sculpture, even when the definition is so elastic as to include anything (such as a happening, a performance or a Richard Long walk) that exists, or once existed, in three dimensions. And if Andre's Equivalent VIII can make the cut, though the American's minimalism never took root here, then why not Marcel Duchamp, whose influence is infinitely greater? Surely yesterday's headlines were not a factor?

In short, this show is either unintentionally patchy, perverse or a combination of the two. It spurns comprehensiveness in favour of "conversations" between exhibits. But its own tendentiousness gets in the way.

You walk into a gallery containing four flagrantly miscellaneous figures. Alfred Gilbert's neo-baroque Victoria, in which the old queen resembles nothing so much as Gilbert, or is it George, on a throne crowned with gilded lilies; Lord Leighton's classical athlete; Philip King's semi-abstract Genghis Khan and Charles Wheeler's bronze Adam, in which the pierced head admits light in most unfortunate ways, making the eyes come alive in Hammer Horror fashion.

What is the connection – leaders, empires, robes, on the one hand; heroic nudity on the other? The juxtapositions force the issue, but the bathetic answer is that these artists were all Royal Academicians (three former presidents, we're told, as if that matters).

The opening gallery is bent on displaying what every schoolgirl knows, namely the influence of ancient cultures on early 20th-century art. Tremendous loans from the British Museum alternate with modern sculptures so that one sees, definitively, the lessons of Indian carving for Eric Gill, the effect of Aztec figures upon Henry Moore, what Epstein took from Egyptian art.

It is an exemplary exercise, to be sure, but also a knockout for modern art. Every piece here is lessened by comparison. Gill looks like an art deco stylist, Gaudier-Brzeska appears silly, and next to the stupendous Assyrian reliefs he revered, Sargeant Jagger's first world war frieze looks about as sophisticated as sculpted icing.

Too often, the art is presented to make a point, or even two. Moore and Hepworth: figurative v abstract, horizontal v vertical. Gilbert's Victoria: commemoration v propaganda. The approach is vigorous and should keep visitors moving briskly – assuming they are not intent on the sculptures as art.

One hundred and twenty artists to choose from, yet so many poor or unrepresentative works. Why not borrow Gaudier-Brzeska's marvellous Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound instead of his dog? How about Damien Hirst's elegiac Away From the Flock, not another case full of flies. Sarah Lucas, Rebecca Warren, Richard Wentworth: none is well represented. Wilson even asks in his catalogue essay, as if to acknowledge the fact, whether weak works say more than strong ones.

There are brilliant moments in this show, it's true. To open with a replica of Edwin Lutyens's Cenotaph, that soaring monument that seems like the bright, solid opposite of a grave (and what associations with absent Whiteread) is to strike at the whole definition of sculpture right away. To see Epstein breaking free of the British Museum is to understand his thunderous impact on British sculpture.

And Anthony Caro's Early One Morning, with its dazzling array of steel girders, tubes and backboards, shifted and tilted until the forms seem to react to one another, signalling or springing flirtatiously apart, remains forever young. Open, free, airily articulate, its scarlet feet barely touching the ground, it feels perennially new after 50 years.

From Caro to Kapoor, there are so many different strains of abstraction in British sculpture; so many, and perhaps more, of figuration. You could tell a tale of primitive idols, hyper-real effigies and eerie tableaux, of philosophy, memory and the landscape transformed, of ideas made visible and dramatic illusions, of humour and politics and strange beauty: of immense creative richness.

But none of this is touched upon at the Royal Academy, with its joyless chronology and lack of focus, shape or story. In fact, by the time you reach the final room, where the objects are displayed like Hoovers in a shop, you may have lost heart, and no wonder. It would be hard to imagine a major exhibition that showed modern British sculpture to less advantage.


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January 03 2011

Architecture 2011

Jonathan Glancey looks ahead to a celebration of the architect James Stirling at Tate Britain, as well as the year's other architecture highlights

James Stirling was a man of large appetites. Not for nothing was this bravura architect, born in Glasgow in 1924, known as Big Jim: before his death in 1992, he designed some of the most charismatic British buildings of the second half of the 20th century.

Tate Britain will this year host James Stirling: Notes From the Archive. Don't let the dry title put you off. There will be more than 300 drawings, models and photographs, as eye-opening today as they were when he made them. In sketches on the back of boarding passes, in photos of old buildings, in crammed notebooks, you will witness the mind of a true original.

Stirling was incapable of designing anything bland. My favourite is the Engineering Building at Leicester University (above). It opened in 1963, but remains a shock to the system, a radical design that went against the grain of the genteel modernism that had seeped into these islands like a white mist from the 1930s. Sadly, many of Stirling's early buildings – including Leicester, the History Library at Cambridge, and the Florey Building for Queen's College, Oxford – were shoddily built. They proved too much of a challenge for British contractors, and have all needed major renovation.

It was only when Big Jim got to work in Germany that form, function and construction coalesced: his Neue Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart is a masterpiece. This unpretentious man brought passion, adventure and energy into an otherwise dull architectural scene.

At Tate Britain, London SW1 (020-7887 8888), 5 April to 21 August.

The year's architecture highlights

The Hepworth Wakefield, Yorkshire

Yorkshire gets a brand new art gallery – or, to be more precise, a cleverly intersecting set of 10 new concrete gallery spaces, designed by David Chipperfield Architects. Set on the banks of the River Calder, this will be home to 40 sculptures by the Wakefield-born sculptor Barbara Hepworth, along with works by her contemporaries, including Ben Nicholson, Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland – and by Brâncusi, Giacometti and Mondrian. Chipperfield is good at knowing how to let art and artists take pride of place, while shaping thoughtful and effective buildings.

Opening in the spring. More details: hepworthwakefield.org.

Turner Contemporary, Margate

This is shaping up to be Chipperfield's year. Here, the architect's tall and striking galleries, clad in opaque white glass, rise between Margate's Marine Parade and the sea that Turner returned to, time and time again, to paint. The impressive £17.5m gallery replaces an original design, even closer to the sea, by Snøhetta and Spence that was more dramatic, but would have cost a whopping £50m.

Opening in the spring. Details: turnercontemporary.org.

Guangzhou Opera House, China

In the 1990s, Zaha Hadid's stirring designs for an opera house on Cardiff Bay were rejected. But now she's seized the chance to build a grand, 1,800-seat opera house overlooking the Pearl River in southern China. It was meant to open in 2009, but was delayed by a fire at the construction site in May that same year.

Opening in February. Details: zaha-hadid.com.

Topping out ceremony at the One World Trade Center, New York

One decade after 9/11, the last steel beam in the 1,776ft "Freedom Tower" designed by David Childs of SOM architects, is due to be levered into place just before next Christmas. Although the steel and glass construction won't be ready for occupation until 2013, the topping out ceremony will mark the very visible, and doubtless very emotional, architectural revival of this 16-acre site at the southern tip of Manhattan.

December. Details: wtc.com.


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December 23 2010

Winter wonderland

Works by artists such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, David Nash and Sophie Ryder are scattered around the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield



September 08 2010

Made in Britain

Works by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore feature in exhibition questioning what is modern, British and sculpture

The Royal Academy has announced details of the first exhibition for 30 years to examine 20th-century British sculpture.

It also revealed plans for a final room that may raise eyebrows –pinning up a Sun page three for every day the three-month long show is open.

The piece is by the veteran artist Gustav Metzger and the exhibition's co-curator Penelope Curtis explained the thinking behind it.

"We chose this piece because it reflects quite well on the literary, journalistic day by day quality of the way we perceive British culture now. How, for most people, the way they understand what British culture is, is through the press, through imagery, through magazines so it comes to you pre-digested."

It may of course prompt a few "Call that art?" splutters, but probably not as many as another work in a show did back in 1976. Carl Andre's Bricks – 120 bricks arranged in a rectangle – had some commentators barely able to speak with fury when it was revealed that the work had been bought by the Tate.

The new exhibition is called Modern British Sculpture. Curtis, now director of Tate Britain, said that she and her colleagues would have done their job if the public left the show questioning what is modern, British and sculpture.

Curtis and her co-curator, Keith Wilson, a practising sculptor, said the aim was not to have a traditional survey but to have a series of visual arguments or dialogues.

One of those will be between the two titans of British sculpture, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, and the exhibition will place two of their most famous works in the same room: Moore's Reclining Figure, commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain, and Hepworth's Single Form, commissioned for the United Nations plaza in New York.

Other works will include Alfred Gilbert's Queen Victoria, Leon Underwood's Totem to the Artist, Anthony Caro's Early One Morning and Richard Long's Chalk Line.

More recent sculpture will include Damien Hirst's Let's Eat Outdoors Today, which has the remains of a barbecue and buzzing flies in a large vitrine, and a piece that influenced Hirst and his fellow YBAs, Jeff Koons's Basketball.

There will be no works from the two dominant forces in British sculpture today, Antony Gormley or Anish Kapoor, but Curtis said nothing should be read into that: "The show is not a roll call of who's important. It's absolutely not that."

Modern British Sculpture is on at the Royal Academy of Arts, London from 22 January to 10 April 2011


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