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The Hepworth Wakefield, review

Paul Clarke witnesses greatness in a great land

Published on June 8th 2011.

The Hepworth Wakefield, review

HENRY Moore has an institute to mark his genius and finally Barbara Hepworth is centre stage in a magnificent space that cements her place as one of the great sculptors.

It is a credit to Wakefield Council that they have been a partner in creating a world class gallery to celebrate a hometown girl who went on to achieve great things.

The first thing that strikes you as you walk up to the place is the sheer brutalism of the pigmented concrete blocks that are designed to mimic the form of the existing industrial buildings. It is reminiscent of something you might see in East Germany or 1970s Birmingham, but instead of being ugly, the building becomes a thing of great beauty.

But it is Gallery 5 where her gifts become clear with works from her prolific last 15 years. The centrepiece is a huge working model of Winged Figure that she made for John Lewis to adorn their Oxford Street store, which is simply breathtaking.

Once inside, the cunning design of the galleries becomes clear as the spaces are very different in size and shape. The classic picture windows that seem so de rigueur in modern galleries allow huge amounts of natural light into the big galleries that perfectly complement the works.

hep 5.jpgGallery 1 explores the breadth of Hepworth’s output including the iconic Two Forms with White (Greek) from 1963 that brings two forms into an intimate abstract conversation.

In Gallery 3 there is an intelligent attempt to put Hepworth into context with some of her contemporaries, and is of particular interest to those who aren’t sculptors using her working models to explain step by step how she created her work.

But it is Gallery 5 where her gifts become clear with works from her prolific last 15 years. The centrepiece is a huge working model of Winged Figure that she made for John Lewis to adorn their Oxford Street store, which is simply breathtaking.

But one of the strengths of this vibrant new addition to the county’s cultural life is the commitment to make it more than a love letter to a Wakefield lass and to use three galleries for new work.

It is a stroke of inspiration to stage Eva Rothchild’s Hot Touch as her large scale - but strangely intimate work - is a good fit with Hepworth’s vision. Particularly impressive is the geometrical framework El Fenix hanging from the ceiling, and the simplicity of Resin Rug which does what it says on the tin.

hep 2.jpgThe centre piece of the show is Natural Beauty, which combines Rothchild’s industrial production skills and her vision of how different materials work together.

The gallery spaces are incredibly soothing which is what we needed after a traumatic experience in the café.  Now, you would have thought that the gallery running a park and ride scheme might have tipped off the catering team it was likely to be busy on the second weekend of opening.

But no, we were faced with a cafe totally overrun with not enough seating and out of veggie options/soup by 1.30pm. So no lasagne or tomato soup, and all we were left with were Steak and Ale Pie with mash and peas (£7.95), or overpriced sandwiches.

As we were a veggie/fish eating party we plumped for the tuna mayo (£5.95) and the cheese and spring onion (£5.95) sandwiches with slaw (sic) and salad. To be fair they arrived fairly quickly, but they were very disappointing.

The fillings were mediocre, the bread was stodgy and the salad limp.  This is the sort of overpriced food I had hoped museums that stopped offering long ago. The latte (£2) was small but good and the cranberry juice (£2) was ok, although a clean glass would have been nice.

hep 6.jpg at least our waiter was top drawer offering his apologies for a non-existent wait and asking if he could offer any further help.  It wasn’t us that needed help as this mess could have been easily avoided by simply making more food on what was always going to be a busy weekend.

As we were left there was a wide range of kids’ activities on offer with junior artists beavering away in workshops, which is always the mark of an institution that really understands the importance of getting small children engaged with art.  Parents should also note there is a fantastic adventure playground outside to use when the kids get a bit bored with the galleries.

So assuming the café can only get better, The Hepworth Wakefield is a must visit local destination that puts Barbara Hepworth and her hometown very firmly at the top the local and national cultural map.

Entry to The Hepworth Gallery, Gallery Walk, Wakefield, WF1 5AW is free and they open Tuesday –Sunday 10am - 6pm and Sundays, Bank holiday and school holiday Mondays 11am-5pm.

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