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Installation view: A Living Collection, September 2023. The Hepworth Wakefield
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A Living Collection

14 January 2023 - 4 February 2024

Since Wakefield’s art collection was established in 1923, it has had an aim of nurturing an understanding of contemporary art and its relation to modern life. The Hepworth Wakefield continues to develop the collection with this aim, showing how art can help us understand and explore current lived experiences.  The new works on display address contemporary issues, shift historic imbalances in the collection or enrich narratives explored by artists in shifting contexts.

Artists on display include Sarah Ball, Alvaro Barrington, Jake Grewal, Caragh Thuring, Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, Jimmy Robert, Veronica Ryan, Dana Schutz and Hannah Starkey alongside works of British Surrealism from The Sherwin Family Collection and sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. Read about some of the highlights below.

Jake Grewal, The Sentimentality of Nature, 2022

Grewal is an artist of South-Asian and Welsh heritage who lives and works in London. Working in the medium of painting and drawing, Grewal depicts nude figures situated within dream-like natural settings such as woodlands and forests. His figures are often based on the artist’s own body. He describes his art as expressing ‘autobiographical experiences within the language of Romanticism. The work is situated within a dream-like reality that refers to the male nude through a queer gaze. Figures are exposed to the natural world which is often used allegorically.’

Made in 2022, The Sentimentality of Nature has made a valuable contribution to diversifying Wakefield’s collection of contemporary art by queer artists engaging with the landscape, the body and sexuality.

Jake Grewal, The Sentimentality of Nature, 2022. Wakefield Council Permanent Art Collection. Acquired through the JW Anderson Collections Fund. Photo: George Baggaley

Caragh Thuring, Massacre of the Innocents (After Bruegel), 2010

Thuring grew up in Scotland near to Holy Loch, the site of the Cold War US nuclear submarine base and next to the construction site for the first concrete North Sea oil rigs.This clash of nature and industry is often reflected in her art, for example the use of a recurrent brick motif, which for her perfectly represents the natural and the manufactured in a single object.

Brick walls obstruct the scenes and untreated or woven canvas draws attention to the surface of the painting and what might lie beyond. In this work, the brick motif is combined with the art historical reference to the 16th century painting of the same name by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder. Abstracted figures can be read into the black brushstrokes, interspersed around the architectural elements.

The artist has said: ‘I’m not interested in constructing readable vignettes within painting, but rather in how little traces of things might trigger interpretation.’

Massacre of the Innocents (After Bruegel), 2010. Gift offered by a private collector via Thomas Dane Gallery. Photo: George Baggaley

Veronica Ryan, Sweet Dreams are Made of These, 2021

Veronica Ryan, who won the Turner Prize in 2022, is well-known for her sculptural assemblages and engagement with history and identity. She is a central figure in contemporary sculpture and one with close connections to Barbara Hepworth’s legacy.

Between 1998 and 2000 Ryan was the first artist to undertake a residency at Hepworth’s Palais de Dance studio in St Ives. At the time, Hepworth’s full scale plaster prototypes, that are now permanently displayed at The Hepworth Wakefield, were still housed there. In 2017, Ryan undertook a residency in Wakefield and was co-commissioned by The Art House and The Hepworth Wakefield to create a new work – Particles – for Wakefield’s collection.

In 2021, Ryan was commissioned to create work for The Hepworth Wakefield’s 10th birthday exhibition, Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life. One of these works, Cluster, was acquired this year alongside Sweet Dreams are Made of These.

Veronica Ryan, Sweet Dreams are Made of These, 2021, on display at The Hepworth Wakefield, September 2023. Photos: George Baggaley.

Hannah Starkey, Kirkgate Towers, 2022

The large scale photograph was purchased through the Freelands Art Fund Acquisition grant, alongside three other Starkey photographs: Wakey Tavern (2022), Beauty Shop (2022) and Bus Stop (2022) which were all shot in Wakefield. The four large-scale photographs were commissioned by The Hepworth Wakefield for the Hannah Starkey: In Real Life exhibition last year.

For the commission, Starkey worked in collaboration with female students from Wakefield’s Capa College to capture a series of photographs of them in the places they frequent, reflecting the lives of these young women in Wakefield. The commission explores ideas of beauty, community and belonging.

Although Starkey’s photographs can appear at first glance to be traditional observational documentary, they are in fact meticulously created stilled moments that are both truthful and artfully constructed. The Wakefield commission captures the small gestures and glances of everyday experience, while subverting traditional notions of documentary and street photography.

Image: Hannah Starkey, Kirkgate Towers, 2022, on display at The Hepworth Wakefield, Sept 2023. Presented by Art Fund and Freelands Foundation to The Hepworth Wakefield. Commissioned by The Hepworth Wakefield as part of the Freelands Award 2019. C-type photographic print mounted on aluminium. Courtesy of the artist, Maureen Paley, London and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles. Photo: George Baggaley