Phyllida Barlow on shortlist for Hepworth sculpture prize

New award named after Barbara Hepworth recognises UK-based artist at any stage of career – not just those under 50 like Turner prize

The artists Phyllida Barlow, Steven Claydon, Helen Marten and David Medalla have been shortlisted for a new £30,000 prize rewarding contemporary British sculpture.

The Hepworth prize, named after one of the 20th century’s greatest sculptors, Barbara Hepworth, launches this year with a mission to recognise artists who have made a significant contribution to the development of contemporary sculpture.

It will be awarded every two years and the judging panel will consider UK-based artists at any stage of their career – a deliberate policy to differentiate it from the Turner prize which rewards those under 50.

The prize is organised by the Hepworth Wakefield in west Yorkshire where all four artists will exhibit work in October. The prize also marks the gallery’s fifth anniversary.

Wakefield-born Barbara Hepworth shows her work Sphere and the Inner Form at her studio at St Ives, in 1963.
Wakefield-born Barbara Hepworth shows her work Sphere and the Inner Form at her studio at St Ives, in 1963. Photograph: Associated Press

The nomination of Barlow comes hot on the heels of her being chosen as Britain’s representative at next year’s Venice Biennale. She was also, in January, named as the first artist to be shown in an Artist Rooms gallery in Tate Modern’s extension, which opens in June.

Barlow, who taught at Slade for more than 30 years, said it was “a surprise and a huge honour” to have been nominated for the inaugural Hepworth prize.

“Without doubt, it will be a thrilling experience to exhibit at the Hepworth Wakefield and to take into consideration its dynamic architecture which has sculpture very much in mind,” she added.

David Medalla pictured with one of his bubble machines sculpture in 2012.
David Medalla pictured with one of his bubble machines sculpture in 2012. Photograph: The Hepworth Wakefield

Philippines-born Medalla is known as a pioneer of kinetic and participatory art. Marcel Duchamp was so inspired by Medalla’s signature bubble machines that, in 1968, he created his Medallic Sculpture.

Medalla said he was honoured to be shortlisted. “I think the Hepworth prize for sculpture is a palpable expression of the greatness of Barbara Hepworth as a sculptor. I love her enduring and inspiring art.”

Both Barlow and Medalla are in their 70s. At the other end of the age scale is rising star Marten, in her early 30s, whose work has been praised by the Guardian art critic Adrian Searle.

Artist Helen Marten mid-installation in 2010.
Artist Helen Marten mid-installation in 2010. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

He wrote of her 2012 show at the Chisenhale gallery: “Marten makes you want to look very closely at the things she makes and the traces she leaves. Her way of thinking, with its word salads and trap-door metaphors, is dangerously infectious ... Rarely have I been so struck.”

Martens said of her inclusion in the shortlist: “In a world collapsing under the pressure of billions of personal interfaces, it is exciting to celebrate our relationship to physical touch and the material substance of our daily lives.”

The fourth artist, Claydon, is in his 40s. As well as his sculptural work, he is known for his involvement in experimental electronic music.

Steven Claydon
Steven Claydon. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

He said he was very pleased to be selected. “Although multifaceted, my work derives primarily from interaction with the world of objects: they are the conduits, the vehicles that provide access to the intangible realms of the emotional, digital, poetic and theoretical. In that way, sculpture always endures.”

Simon Wallis, the director of Hepworth Wakefield and chair of the selection panel, said it was “a strong and diverse shortlist”.

The gallery also named the inaugural judging panel for the prize: the architect David Chipperfield; the president of the Sharjah Art Foundation, Sheikha Hoor al-Qasimi; the curator and gallery director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev; art collector and patron Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo; and critic and broadcaster Alastair Sooke.

• The Hepworth prize for sculpture exhibition at Hepworth Wakefield runs from 21 October to 22 January.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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