Sculpture for a Modern World: Barbara Hepworth

Wave, 1943

The current exhibition at Tate Britain, Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World has received mixed reviews, much like many of the gallery’s recent exhibitions under the directorship of Penelope Curtis. Critics have called it “cramped, frustrating, weirdly selected and badly displayed” and “bereft of natural light and undermined by rivals.”  Actually, I struggled to find a positive review.

I must admit that the exhibition really frustrated me. By displaying Hepworth’s sculptures in glass cases, the fluidity of her work could not fully be appreciated. Moreover, placing her work beside that of her ex-husbands had the effect of overshadowing her own artistic achievements.

Undoubtedly, Barbara Hepworth was an exceptionally talented and innovate sculptor and despite the curatorial issues of this exhibition, her work does not fail to impress.  The gorgeously sensual workings of guarea wood in Corinthos and the well-known wood and string sculpture of Pelagos were my favourite pieces of the show.  

What I did not know before visiting this exhibition was Hepworth’s talent as a draughtsperson. When her daughter was hospitalised in 1944, she became friends with the surgeon, Norman Capener. He subsequently invited her to draw surgical procedures in the Princess Elizabeth Orthopaedic Hospital and the resulting sketches illustrate the extent to which Hepworth was concerned with the study and exploration of form.

“Carving is interrelated masses conveying an emotion; a perfect relationship between the mind and the colour, light and weight which is the stone, made by the hand which feels. It must be so essentially sculpture that it can exist in no other way, something completely the right size but which has growth, something still and yet having movement, so very quiet and yet with a real vitality.” – Barbara Hepworth

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