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Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Hepworth Wakefield

I read today that having been open for just five weeks the new contemporary gallery in Wakefield has welcomed 100,000 visitors. Admittedly, that's not a bad figure. I went for a nosey round on Thursday and thought I'd document my experience.

Firstly, a little background. The building has been a touchy subject in Wakefield since the first designs began to surface. People thought it would be a blight on the landscape. I'll freely admit I was one of them. Particular concern was raised because it was across the road from the Chantry Chapel, one of Wakefield's most beautiful buildings of heritage. Nevertheless, unlike my family who were content to criticise without seeing, I thought it best to take a look around before judging. Hence the trip.

I still held a certain distaste for the outside of the building. This was reinforced by the gaudy bridge used to cross the river: the gallery doesn't seem to nestle in its environment at all - but I'm guessing that's what the architects were going for. No doubt it looks impressive to someone visiting Wakefield for the first time but for a majority of permanent residents I'd imagine it's still regarded as a bit of eyesore.

The donwstairs consists of a shop, cafe, auditorium, offices and a learning centre for school parties. It's very bright and airy and I was greeted by a guide within ten seconds. The galleries are upstairs (with lift access, of course) and are well lit naturally by the huge windows that cut into the building. I did rather go around the rooms backwards but I was being modern, wasn't I? The first thing I'd say is that I'm not a massive Barbara Hepworth fan, something of a pitfall when visiting a gallery bearing her name. However, I found some of her work to be interesting enough. I may as well put it plainly: while I respect the artists for crafting these complex and intriuging works, I despair of the snob who stands in the corner tapping his chin and pretending to read a thousand things into it. Art is meant to be enjoyed, yes, but I'm expecting The Hepworth Wakefield to foster more elitism than it battles against. Modern art tends to do that to people.

I did enjoy the guest exhibition by Eva Rothschild. It felt more relevant than Hepworth - for me, at least - and as a big kid I appreciated the use of colour. One particular piece had me scratching my head about how it was suspended from the ceiling. Exceptionally fine wires which were practically invisible really added to the illusion of that piece.

By far the best room from my perspective was the Yorkshire room. By coincidence, it was also the fullest. Many of the paintings and sketches in there are of the Chantry Chapel and there is a window with a beautiful alcove for sitting in so you can gaze across the road to the chapel with the river rushing underneath you. That was quite an experience.

Downstairs, the shop was well stocked with books and a table aimed particularly at children. I bought a tote bag which is a little flimsy but will come in useful nevertheless - and for £2.95 I wasn't going to say no. The cafe next door was as bright as the rest of the building and on a par with your normal upmarket coffee shops in price. They do prepare hot food but I settled for a pot of tea (lovely) and a slice of blueberry cake (absolutely divine). The atmosphere in there was very relaxed and the staff, as around the entire building, were helpful and all-smiles.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience but I wouldn't go again just to see the permanent Hepworth works. I'm much more of a paintings kind of girl and I am interested to see how they rotate the works of the old Wakefield art gallery which they inherited. I'd go back just for the blueberry cake to be honest but I have a couple of other reservations; primarily that the parking facilities just aren't adequate. Although I walked in I noticed that the car park was far too small for the expected number of visitors. Equally, Wakefield Kirkgate Railway Station is a menace and until they rebuild and staff it (which they're hoping to do) it's downright dangerous to visit using that station. You can go to Wakefield Westgate and get the free bus down to that end of town but I'm not sure if that will feel like too much of a trek for some people. One further thing: the part of town which leads down to the gallery is dilapdiated. Kirkgate needs some serious regeneration and, if the council is eager to get people walking between the new shopping complex Trinity Walk and The Hepworth Gallery, something will have to be done about that whole area. I don't know how the gallery will fare in the long term and I'll wait and see before passing judgement. It entices people in with free admission but it remains to be seen whether it will have a complimentary effect on the rest of Wakefield.

Learn about The Hepworth Gallery here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You did miss out the really good kids play area outside and I agree with your comments about the Yorkshire room and the window which looks out onto the bridge, well worth a look and I will be interested to see what they do in the future.