Thoughts on The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture: Phyllida Barlow
I’ve seen a lot of art over the summer but, although I’ve written about several of my trips, I don’t really write about pieces specifically. It’s more than 15 years since I studied one term of Art History and even that, though thoroughly enjoyable, didn’t take me far beyond Dutch Masters. I know what I like (many many things, fortunately) and I (usually) know how they make me feel. Do I know what they mean? Oh boy…On Thursday at Hepworth Wakefield, The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture was launched. Admittedly, I am not a particularly outgoing or even overly sociable person. So, there was something about the idea of going to a launch party on my own that made me want to run screaming for a nice cup of tea and my pyjamas. BUT… I love Hepworth Wakefield. Having made my very first visit only this year (pretty shameful when I live so close), I have returned again and again and again. I have found that on those afternoons when I have a couple of hours to kill before work there is nothing that I would rather do than take the train and see that beautiful building that brings a smile to my face and some peace to my heart on every viewing. That’s before I even get inside. So I went and because it is a place that always feels welcoming and vibrant and offers something new on every visit, it was brilliant. In fact, it was so brilliant I decided to return the following day during daylight hours. There were still quite a few people visiting but the atmosphere was quieter and, for me, offered more opportunity for reflection. I realised that choosing just one of the artists to vote for would be rather difficult. There is a lot to think about here and I recommend a visit. Given that it is open until February, I will certainly be returning and I’m looking forward to the upcoming artists’ talks. That said, one artist’s work in particular has really stuck in my mind…
Phyllida Barlow: Scree Stage
First of all, Barlow’s Scree Stage is monumental. It is the biggest sculpture I have walked next to, around, under. It owns the space to such a degree that I felt like I was almost a part of the artwork from the second I stepped into the gallery. Forget the space to stand back and quietly contemplate: you are in its orbit whether you like it or not. I did like it. I liked it very much.There is something conflicting about this work. Its bulk, its hugeness, its ownership of the space could feel threatening and yet there’s something about it that feels welcoming, calming, almost protective. At its highest parts, it’s tall enough to comfortably shelter you. At its lowest, it’s near enough to the ground that you could stamp all over it. There’s a strange sort of trust required. Its massive bulk will shelter and protect rather than crush you and by the same token, you will look over its lowest parts and not damage or trample. It feels precarious: it could so easily break you, you could so easily break it. It feels a bit like life to me.
“Come on in, you are welcome,” Scree Stage says to me. I don’t know what it means but I know that it makes me feel part of something. That sense of precarious belonging feels more powerful than I can articulate.
About The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture
Sculpture is the art form of the moment – and this new Prize aims to demystify contemporary sculpture. Visitors to the exhibition will be encouraged to experience, debate and judge the Prize for themselves. The shortlist is multi-generational and covers the widest range of work in the medium.
The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture recognises a British or UK-based artist of any age, at any stage in their career, who has made a significant contribution to the development of contemporary sculpture. The shortlist reflects the wide range of sculptural practice taking place in the UK today.
The Prize was created to celebrate the gallery’s 5th anniversary during 2016. Significantly, it is named after Barbara Hepworth, one of Britain’s greatest sculptors and arguably its most celebrated female artist, who was born and brought up in Wakefield. The Hepworth Wakefield has the largest number of works by the artist on permanent display anywhere in the UK.
~ Hepworth Wakefield
Final note: I’d also like to give a massive shout out to the cafe at Hepworth Wakefield. The food is always lovely and at the launch party it was wonderful. Also, Andrew Hickford did a fab job DJing the event. He really set the tone well with a choice of music that added to the energy of the launch!