It has been almost half a century since the last major Barbara Hepworth exhibition in London – a lapse that dishonours one of our leading modernist sculptor, according to the organisers of Tate Britain’s new retrospective.
Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World has opened on the 24th June and is on until the 25th October 2015, featuring more than 100 works, from early carvings to the later works in bronze and wood. It also displays the personal photograph albums compiled with her second husband Ben Nicholson.
To stand in front of a Barbara Hepworth’s work is to understand sculpture's capacity to communicate living, restless energy. Her pieces have a life of their own. No-one could have described this quality better than the artist herself, when she wrote, in 1937: "When we say that a great sculpture has vision, power, vitality, scale, poise, form or beauty, we are not speaking of physical attributes... it is a spiritual inner life."
Hepworth's lines, hollows, creases and dimples are chosen with such sensitivity, that each sculpture has its own individual spirit. What's more, it is her abstract works, rather than her human or animal forms, that have the most personality: a testament to her artistic skill.
From the first room we see Hepworth’s curiosity towards, and indeed love of, stone and wood, and her innate sense of the purity of sculptural form. These early works, from the Twenties, are shown alongside those of her peers who were similarly engaged in what was called “direct carving” — then regarded as a distinctly modern practice, as most artists relied on modelling in clay and then either relied on specialist carvers or bronze foundries to make the final sculpture.
In the final room of the exhibition, the Tate has recreated a 1965 Dutch Modernist pavilion in which Hepworth's works were shown, in order to illustrate her relationship with architecture. The resulting dialogue between the sculptures and their environment is fascinating; as you walk around the pavilion, her bronzes dominate, surprising you from around corners, taking over with their magnificent postures and struts.
The exhibition also encompass rarely seen woks, including textiles, drawing, collages and photograms.