Hepworth Wakefield boosts Yorkshire's sculpture collection

£35m gallery devoted to Barbara Hepworth joins Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Henry Moore Institute to make county a centre for sculpture

A £35m gallery that will help turn Yorkshire into one of the most significant destinations for sculpture was unveiled today, sidestepping the national trend of cuts to the arts and libraries.

The Hepworth Wakefield will open to the public on 21 May and become the largest purpose-built gallery to open in the UK since Tate St Ives nearly 20 years ago.

The gallery is named in honour of Wakefield-born sculptor Barbara Hepworth. It is a rare good news story for arts funding, much of which is currently centred on closures and cutbacks.

In truth, the project was probably too far advanced to rein back. "To simply pull the plug now was not really a viable option," said Peter Box, leader of Wakefield council, which is making cuts of £67m over four years. "If the question is, would we go ahead now, in this financial climate, then the truth is, I don't know.

"But I do know this. This is an important investment in the future of Wakefield and I passionately believe it will help regeneration and the local economy. It will be an inspiration to young people."

There certainly promise to be some stellar exhibits. A group of more than 40 prototypes and models donated by the Hepworth family via the Art Fund will give an insight into the artist's working practices. Exhibits will include the full-size prototype for Hepworth's sculpture Winged Figure, which watches over visitors to John Lewis on Oxford Street, London.

There will also be loans from the Arts Council and the British Council, as well as works from Wakefield's own 6,000-strong collection. The first temporary exhibition will be a show by Eva Rothschild, who two years ago filled the Duveen galleries at Tate Britain with her enormous zig-zagging sculpture, Cold Corners.

Together with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, the new gallery helps make Yorkshire a world centre for sculpture.

The building itself, designed by David Chipperfield and made up of 10 irregularly shaped box structures on the banks of the river Calder, has divided local opinion. "Some people say it's too angular or too grey, too dark or in the wrong place," said Box. "But I'm fine with that because there'll always be a difference of opinion about architecture, or indeed art and that's a good thing. People who might have had a negative view will change their mind once they see what's inside."

Alan Davey, chief executive of Arts Council England, one of the many partners involved in the project, called it "ambitious and rather breathtaking". "The next four years are going to be tough for all of us involved in funding the arts but it is not a time for us to shut up shop, or pull the bedclothes over our heads. It is a time when ambition has to flourish."

Hepworth's granddaughter Sophie Bowness said: "We felt that Wakefield was the most appropriate permanent home for the plaster to be seen amongst the works of Barbara's contemporaries and in the city where she was born and grew up. The Hepworth Wakefield promises to be one of the country's great galleries."


Mark Brown, arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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