The Hepworth Wakefield is the success story that keeps on growing – literally. Arts correspondent Nick Ahad finds out why.
The Hepworth Wakefield is not doing what it was supposed to do.
It wasn’t supposed to smash through its target visitor numbers for the first year – in the space of three months. It wasn’t supposed to start to turn around the fortunes of the city in which it firmly stands in the river – in less than two years.
And now, it certainly wasn’t supposed to be taking over even more building space around the main gallery in a global economy that continues to take a battering.
Yet, next week, The Hepworth will once again confound expectations and add another piece to its empire and feather in its cap.
While The Hepworth, designed by the internationally renowned architect David Chipperfield is, arguably, something of a beautiful object (although not without controversy and some may disagree), much of the land in which The Hepworth sits is occupied by buildings which are significantly less grandiose.
They’re like the neighbours who take little care of their homes and bring the whole area down. The issue is, most of the buildings are listed and will take significant investment to be reinstated to former glories.
Some of those buildings are former mills, including the red brick former Caddies Wainwright Mill, a 19th century former textiles mill which will be given new life next week when it is opened as The Hepworth Wakefield’s new contemporary art space.
The new gallery space, which will be known as The Calder – named after the river on the banks of which it sits – has been funded by Wakefield Council, which currently owns the building, and which is fully aware of the benefits The Hepworth has brought to Wakefield since it opened just over two years ago.
Frances Guy, head of collections and exhibitions at The Hepworth is particularly pleased that the gallery will be opened with a new work by Roger Hiorns – recently celebrated at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which played host to his work Seizure.
“We’re launching the gallery with his Youth series, a new work that has a performance element. It features naked young men sitting on found objects – a jet engine, a park bench – they light a fire and watch the flame until it goes out,” she says.
“It’s not the sort of thing we’d be able to do in the main gallery.”
It is clear The Calder will represent a different side to The Hepworth. Even though it is barely two years old itself, the main gallery is established and elegant; The Calder sounds like the punk younger brother of the family.
“It is definitely a place where we will be able to hold more challenging exhibitions,” says Guy. The Hepworth, which expected to welcome 350,000 visitors each year, is now close to reaching a million. It has quickly established itself as one of the top three galleries, in terms of visitor numbers, in the UK and it is estimated that it has brought £10m of income into the local economy through those visitors.
By adding The Calder to its portfolio, it is hoped that those impressive numbers will continue to swell.
There is another benefit to having The Calder – outside of giving The Hepworth a space where it can let its alternative side hang out. Given the current economic climate, few commercial businesses are looking to put money into property. Rather than let the mill buildings around The Hepworth go to rack and ruin, the council has handed over a space to its most successful art venue.
“We have taken over the ground floor of the mill – it’s quite a spectacular space,” says Guy.
“There was a bit of work to do – flaking paint on the walls and that sort of thing. But with beautiful stone flooring, and exposed brickwork, it’s a great place for us to stage the kinds of exhibitions that wouldn’t sit in The Hepworth.”
Former mill turned gallery
On Friday, August 30, The Calder will open to the public.
Located on the ground floor of the Caddies Wainwright Mill, it is a 19th century former textiles mill.
The Calder adds 600 square metres of exhibition and event space to the existing 10 gallery spaces within The Hepworth Wakefield.
The exhibitions will be funded by Wakefield Council, the Arts Council and Catalyst.
The opening hours will extend the opening hours at the main gallery. For the inaugural exhibition these will be: Tues to Weds 12- 6pm; Thurs to Fri, 12-9pm; Sat-Sun, 12-6pm.