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July 26 2012

Anyone for a night in the Royston Vasey room?

Hotel plans are submitted at last for Bretton Hall in the middle of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. In its rooms, The League of Gentleman was hatched. Would guests ever leave?

It's been a long and sometimes nervous wait, but the hole in the middle of the excellent Yorkshire Sculpture Park looks set to be filled at last.

Never as stark a contrast as its notorious counterpart in central Bradford, the empty space of Bretton Hall has nonetheless detracted from the glories of its park, as visitors stare at the unused 18th century grandeur and mutter about recession.

Now a long-awaited planning application has been submitted to Wakefield council by Rushbond PLC for the large and posh hotel which has been talked about ever since Leeds University's famous extension campus moved out in 2007. The document proposes an initial 77 bedrooms in the grade II* listed Georgian house, with 120 in due course. Alongside it would be 39,000 sq ft of offices, rising to 100,000 if all goes well.

The jigsaw still needs a hotelier or spa operator, or investment company, to make the concept a reality, which will be the acid test of whether economic recovery is sufficient to bring the building back to life. Rushbond's managing director Jonathan Maud is optimistic; the scheme comes fully-detailed and costed by architects, down to the restoration of period features; and the catchment is exceptional: visitor numbers at the Sculpture Park top 350,000 a year and the nearby Hepworth Wakefield has beaten its own first-year target five times, with over 500,000.

Maud reckons that 400 lasting jobs will be created by the business park, looking out over fields dotted with Henry Moores and other sculpture in rolling green countryside less than two miles from the M1. For all the travails since the banking crash, his firm has maintained a track record of delivery over its 25 years, most recently the conversion into shops of restaurants of Leeds' Majestic cinema, famously the home of the longest run of the Sound of Music in history.

Bretton Hall was started by the fabulously wealthy Wentworth family whose palaces Wentworth Castle and Wentworth Woodhouse are behemoth landmarks of South Yorkshire, and completed by the Beaumonts who were also never troubled for cash. But its real glory days came under the legendary reign of Sir Alec Clegg as chief education officer of the West Riding, which turned it into a college. The tradition continued when Leeds University took over in 2001.

Alumni are many and various, with much potential for the naming of suites. All three main protagonists in The League of Gentlemen, Steve Pemberton (1989), Mark Gatiss (1989) and Reece Shearsmith (1990), are among them. A night in the Royston Vazey Room would be unforgettable.


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June 22 2012

Second nature: Richard Long at Hepworth Wakefield – in pictures

Legendary land artist Richard Long arrives at Hepworth Wakefield as part of the Artist Rooms UK tour. Watch him hard at work on an all-new cascading commission



June 21 2012

Hepworth Wakefield scores with Luke Fowler

Northern archives from the Workers' Educational Association strike a chord in the Turner Prize shortlister's guest show. Alan Sykes is impressed

Although no doubt disappointed that they lost out to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter in this year's £100,000 Art Fund Prize for Museums, staff at , the Hepworth in Wakefield will console itself with the fact that they have already attracted well over 500,000 visitors in only just over 12 months since the gallery first opened. Many more will certainly stream through its beautiful doors for its two compelling, and highly different, summer exhibitions.

If Luke Fowler wins this year's Turner Prize he will be the fourth artist in a row from Glasgow to win. His exhibition at the Hepworth Wakefield will give the public a chance to evaluate his work before he joins the others on this year's Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain in October.


He has previously won the inaugural Jarman Award for artist film-makers, a Paul Hamlyn Award in 2010, and, aged only 25 in 2004, a £25,000 Donald Dewar Arts award, named in honour of the first Scottish First Minister. The new work he is showing at the Hepworth, The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcote is the result of his winning the Contemporary Art Society's "Commission to Collect" award, which the Hepworth won jointly with the Wolverhampton Art Gallery. It will be the first moving image work to be acquired by the Wakefield permanent art collection, which is held by the Hepworth.

The title is a quotation from E.P.Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class, in which the historian and long-time extramural lecturer at Leeds University tried "to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the "obsolete" hand-loom weaver, the "utopian" artisan and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity". Joanna Southcott was a messianic prophet who attracted a huge following in the early nineteenth century, and who still has believers who think she will return to earth in glory (and, more specifically, in Bedford).


In the past Fowler has used archive film footage to make works about, amongst others, the LSD-admiring psychiatrist RD Laing and the avant garde composer and founder of the Scratch Orchestra Cornelius Cardew, whose members included Brian Eno and Michael Nyman.

In The Poor Stockinger Fowler uses the writings (possibly more quoted from that read) of EP Thompson and his friends Raymond Williams, who wrote Culture and Society, and Richard Hoggart, author of The Uses of Literacy. All three were active in the Workers' Education Association in particular and adult education causes in general as important post war engines for the democratisation of culture. Alongside these the artist juxtaposes research material taken from northern archives and new film footage taken in the West Riding.


Simon Wallis, director of the Hepworth, was quoted in Aesthetica magazine saying of Luke Fowler:

Moving image work is always going to be an important part of any contemporary programme. Our interest in Fowler's work arose from his engagement with experimental film-making and documentary. Wakefield has a historical connection to avant garde film through the work of Lindsay Anderson, who directed several films locally, including Wakefield Express (1952) and This Sporting Life 1963). Anderson's engagement with our immediate geographic environment and the blurring of boundaries between fact and fiction presented a synergy with Fowler, who has always expressed his indebtedness to Anderson's Free Cinema movement.



Luke Fowler's new work can be seen at the Hepworth, Wakefield, from 23 June until 14 October. It is on alongside Artists' Rooms: Richard Long


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June 20 2012

RIBA announces 50 best buildings on longlist for Stirling prize

Olympic stadium, Belfast suburban home and Kevin McCloud design in competition for 2012 top architectural award

The 80,000-seat Olympic stadium in east London will vie against a rear extension to a suburban Belfast home for a place on the shortlist for the Stirling prize, the annual building of the year award.

In a sign of the tough business climate gripping British architecture, the longlist of the 50 best buildings in the UK features the modest domestic project as well as the centrepiece for the Olympics.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) said the list of the award-winning buildings "revealed a trend which could be coined austerity chic".

The arena that will stage the Olympic opening ceremony on 27 July has received a lukewarm reception in some quarters but is considered a contender for the £20,000 prize as the only truly large British building aiming at the Riba award this year.

It is likely to face competition from other award winners, including the Hepworth art gallery, in Wakefield, designed by Sir David Chipperfield, and the new Lyric Theatre, in Belfast, designed by O'Donnell and Tuomey.

There is evidence that there is still some money around, albeit in predictable quarters: the award winners include a lavish London headquarters for the merchant bank NM Rothschild finished in travertine, oak, aluminium and glass to designs by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

Kevin McCloud, the Grand Designs presenter who used to front the Stirling prize award live on Channel 4, could this year appear on the shortlist after a housing scheme he developed in Swindon was granted a Riba award. The project known as The Triangle, and designed by the Birmingham architect Glenn Howells, features 42 homes in an updated terrace format and cost £4.2m.

Beside the seaside there were awards for the Turner Contemporary art gallery in Margate, Kent, also designed by Chipperfield, and the Festival House on Blackpool's Golden Mile, a wedding venue commissioned by the council to allow tourists and others to tie the knot in front of a precisely framed view of the Blackpool Tower.

The list also reflects the continuing programme of Maggie's Centres for cancer patients, established in the memory of Maggie Jencks, wife of the architecture critic Charles Jencks. At an earlier date Frank Gehry, Richard Rogers and Zaha Hadid designed some of the centre's buildings; the latest award-winning additions are in Swansea, designed by the firm of the late Japanese star architect Kisho Kurokawa, and in Glasgow, designed by Rem Koolhaas.

In Scotland there were awards for reworkings of the National Museum of Scotland, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, both in Edinburgh.

But Hadid, granted a damehood in the Queen's birthday honours, was overlooked for her Riverside Transport Museum, in Glasgow, with the building failing even to make it on to the list of the 23 best buildings in Scotland for the last year.

"There was a bit of a stooshie [fuss] because it was by Dame Zaha, but the argument was it doesn't matter about the name of the architect, what is important is the quality of the building," said Neil Baxter, secretary of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland.

International awards went to the reinvention of a Barcelona bullring as the Las Arenas shopping and leisure complex by Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, and a new Centre Pompidou, in Metz, by Shigeru Ban Architects, Jean de Gastines Architects and Gumuchdjian Architects.

The winner of the Stirling prize will be announced on 13 October in Manchester.


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