First ever Hepworth Prize for Sculpture winner shocks nominees by vowing to share £30,000 prize

Various work by Helen Marten, winner of the first ever Hepworth Prize for Sculpture. From left Guild of Pharmacists, 2014; Part offering (ghost alias), 2014; Bluebutter Idles, 2014.
Various work by Helen Marten, winner of the first ever Hepworth Prize for Sculpture. From left Guild of Pharmacists, 2014; Part offering (ghost alias), 2014; Bluebutter Idles, 2014.
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Some award winners thank their parents. Others pay a nod to God. In an unexpectedly altruistic move, when Helen Marten was announced as the winner of the first Hepworth Prize for Sculpture she vowed to share the £30,000 award with the three other shortlisted artists.

At the award ceremony at the Wakefield gallery, the 31 year old from Macclesfield, who has also been nominated for this year’s Turner Prize, said: “In the light of the world’s ever lengthening political shadow, the art world has a responsibility to show how democracy should work. I’m was flattered to be on the shortlist and even more so if my fellow nominees would share the Prize with me.”

David Medalla Cloud Canyons, 1964-2016.

David Medalla Cloud Canyons, 1964-2016.

Ms Marten trained at the Ruskin School of Fine Art and Central Saint Martins and her work, which has previously been exhibited in New York, Paris and Italy, makes use of ordinary domestic objects.

In one of her works a bat hangs off the tail of giant cat, while below two drinks cartons have been turned into ashtrays. In another, coffee beans, clay pipes, and dog chews take centre stage. Halifax-born fashion designer and head of Burberry Christopher Bailey presented the award at a special ceremony at the Wakefield gallery which was hosted by the BBC’s arts editor Will Gompertz.

Mr Bailey said: “I am so excited for not only Helen on winning the first ever Hepworth Prize for Sculpture, but also for the rest of the incredibly talented nominees. Their work is a shining example of their outstanding contribution to the development of contemporary sculpture in the UK.”

Supported by The Yorkshire Post, the prize was launched to mark the fifth anniversary of The Hepworth and was designed to recognise the best of contemporary sculpture. The shortlist also featured fellow British-based artists Steve Claydon, David Medalla and Phyllida Barlow.

Phyllida Barlow, Screenstage 2013.

Phyllida Barlow, Screenstage 2013.

Work by all four sculptors is currently on display at the gallery and it is nothing if not eclectic. Steve Claydon’s various works include a pair of yellow curtains, which double as a giant fly trap and the Redextinction Table on which he attempts to bring various things back to life, including the bust of what may or may not be textile designer William Morris and two gold-plated dinosaur ventricles.

Alongside his bubble machine sculpture, David Medalla is also inviting people to sew personal items onto a series of fabrics. One visitor has added a bus ticket from their honeymoon to Vienna. Other donations included an acorn, a leaf and a Kentucky Fried Chicken receipt.

Meanwhile Phyllida Barlow has used coils of industrial tubing and rolls of black masking tape to create one of her imposing works.

Simon Wallis, director of The Hepworth Wakefield and chair of the judging panel, said: “Helen Marten is one of the strongest and most singular voices working in British art today.

Steve Claydon, Redextinction Table, 2016.

Steve Claydon, Redextinction Table, 2016.

“Her refined craft and intellectual precision address our relationship to objects and materials in a digital age. We believe that she is a fitting winner of the inaugural Prize which celebrates the legacy of one of Britain’s finest sculptors.

“Sculpture is the art form of the moment and we now really want to encourage people to experience, debate and judge the work for themselves.”

The exhibition runs until February next year when the winner of the People’s Prize will be announced.

Sophie Bowness, art historian and granddaughter of Barbara Hepworth after whom the gallery is named said: “This really is a fitting legacy for one of Britain’s greatest sculptors, whose career was enhanced through a variety of awards from early in her professional life.”