The Hepworth Wakefield’s fascinating Yorkshire Sculpture International exhibition is the gallery’s most expansive yet. Yvette Huddleston reports.
It’s been a fantastic summer for sculpture around these parts thanks to the wonderful Yorkshire Sculpture International, the UK’s largest dedicated sculpture festival, which draws to a close at the end of this month.
As well as major shows in the partner venues of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle – Leeds Art Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Hepworth Wakefield and the Henry Moore Institute – there were also some delightful surprises, with sculpture popping up unexpectedly in public spaces around Leeds and Wakefield.
It all started with a typically wise and apposite provocation from acclaimed sculptor Phyllida Barlow – “Sculpture is the most anthropological of the art forms.” It was a broad, open brief which allowed for a range of interpretations and this is reflected beautifully in the Hepworth Wakefield’s YSI exhibition, the gallery’s most expansive to date.
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“In creating the show we were thinking of that human compulsion to make and of contemporary artists telling very different stories,” says chief curator Andrew Bonacina. “We also focussed on the idea of ‘truth to materials’. Each of the artists we have featured tend to use organic materials to tell these narratives.”
The four international artists in the exhibition – Jimmie Durham (b. 1940, USA), Nairy Baghramian (b. 1971, Iran), Wolfgang Laib (b. 1950, Germany) and Tau Lewis (b. 1993, Canada) – represent a range of ages and experiences and are at varying stages of their careers.
“We really wanted Hepworth and Moore to be front and centre of the show, highlighting their own interest in ‘truth to materials’,” says Bonacina. “In the 1920s the abstract forms they were making came out of the particularity of the materials they were working with. That theme goes through the exhibition and is present in the work of the contemporary artists.”
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In the first gallery space, the work of Durham is elegantly placed in dialogue with pieces by Hepworth and Moore. “Jimmie says he’s never been considered a sculptor so he was delighted to be part of the exhibition,” says Bonacina. “He loved the conversation set up between his work and theirs, exploring their influence on him and thinking about the materials they used.”
A major new installation by Wolfgang Laib takes up another gallery space. Made up of small, evenly spaced piles of basmati rice, granite and ashes, there is something quite serene about it – and the delicate fragrance of the rice adds to the immersive experience.
“His work has a real spiritual element to it,” says Bonacina. “There is this sense of mindfulness, meditation and escaping from the chaos of the world.” Nairy Baghramian’s thoughtful work, meanwhile, explores the intersection between art and other disciplines such as design and manufacture.
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"The curatorial team were drawn to the work of Tau Lewis, a Canadian artist of Jamaican heritage, partly because of her particular use of materials.“She uses found textiles and garments to tell stories from black history that have been lost or forgotten. It has been amazing to see people’s reaction to her work, it is really very powerful.”
It’s a rich, varied exhibition which also showcases work by associate artist Rosanne Robertson and the diverse range of artists the Hepworth has brought to Yorkshire over the past few years. Long may they continue to do so.
At the Hepworth Wakefield until September 29.