The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture

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The main exhibition taking place at the Hepworth in Wakefield at the moment is devoted to the work of four artists who were nominated for the inaugural Hepworth Prize for SculpturePhyllida Barlow, Steven Claydon, Helen Marten and David Medalla.

The award 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 winner was Helen Marten who then went on to win the 2016 Turner Prize. In both cases she decided to share the prize money with the other nominees.

Personally I actually preferred the works by the other three artists more than Helen Marten’s!. I’m certainly out of step with the judges of both competitions who know a lot more about art than I do. But then art is a matter of personal taste at the end of the day.

My personal “winner” was Philippines born artist David Medalla. His Cloud Canyons certainly attracted a lot of attention from visitors. A series of hollow tubes through which a foam of soap bubbles is extruded as long columns which bend and twist shedding  “snow” until they completely sucumb to the force of gravity, breaking off and falling to the base of the base of the sculpture, only to be replaced by another tendril.

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A continually changing kinetic sculpture.

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The work was accompanied by a poem printed on the gallery wall. This was one of several panels on which it was written.

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The next room was principally occupied by A Stitch in Time.

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The gallery was filled with “hammocks” made of what looked like net curtains. Needles and cotton were provided and visitors were invited to sew anything they liked on to the fabric. The walls were covered with lengths of fabric with stories printed, sewn and painted on to them.

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There were receipts, tickets, sweep wrappers, business cards, scraps of newspaper, drawings and various other bits and pieces, even a couple of dollar bills.

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We contributed by sewing on a receipt, a packet containing a couple of earplugs I happened to have in my pocket left over from a recent factory visit, plus a train ticket with a timetable

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I liked the way the objects attached to the partially transparent fabric cast shadows on the floor below the hammocks.

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There were three works by Phyllida Barlow but the gallery devoted to her work was dominated by the massive construction – Untitled: Scree Stage. Sloping down from one end of the gallery to the other it was covered with roughly painted wooden boards and pillar like structures. It’s difficult to get a feel of the size and bulk of this sculpture without seeing it in-situ.

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Underneath there were more pillars hanging down like oversized stalagmites, many of them touching the floor. I heard one visitor compare it to a coal mine – quite appropriate for the former mining town of Wakefield – but to me it was more like a cavern or the Bronze Age copper mine on the Great Orme we once visited.

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Visitors were permitted to walk into the “cave” and there were a number of children who were, not surprisingly, enjoying themselves walking and crawling inside.

The gallery devoted to the work of Steven Claydon was lit by a series of fluorescent tubes attached to one of the walls creating a harsh, cold light. There were UV curtains over the doors to stop the UV light “leaking” into the adjacent galleries.

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I quite liked these two tall, slim structures

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This sculpture which looks as if it is carved from a tree-trunk  and the “wooden” figures sat on it, are actually made from polystyrene.

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My favourite of Claydon’s works was this wall that looked like a picture of the night sky. It was covered with a magnetic material and the “stars” are actually pennies which stick to it due to the steel content of the copper alloy coins.

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I asked the invigilator if any of the pennies had been stolen. She told me that that hadn’t happened but some had been moved and that some 20 pence pieces had been stuck onto the wall!

The winner of the prize Helen Marten. Her work – examples below and the photograph at the beginning of this post, combines 3D structures, painting and “found objects”

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She is very much the “flavour of the month” attracting a lot of praise from the critics. But her work just didn’t click with me. I found it difficult to make sense of it and it didn’t engage me emotionally. However, I do admire her for her decision to share the prize money with the other three artists. Very egalitarian. Winning the Hepworth prize and the Turner prize shortly after means that she’s not going to be short of a bob or two, so it’s a good, unselfish gesture to share out her winnings.

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2 thoughts on “The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture

  1. I also made it it here to view the gallery. I sewed my crumpled paper bag (earlier used to blow my nose unfortnately) onto the netting. It was suprisingly a fascinating exhibit… I also loved phylissa Barlow sculpture which was open to so many interpretations and filled the room quite oppressively that you had to respond to it. Loved the needle eye shaped forms that protruded upwards on the top layer in contrast to the elephantine caverns below. Very thought and sensory provoking!

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