Words and pictures: Diva Harris
A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited on a guided tour of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle. There are four arts spaces which make up the group: Yorkshire Sculpture Park, The Hepworth Wakefield, The Henry Moore Institute, and Leeds Art Gallery (these last two are next door to one another, so yes, a triangle, for those of you poised to pounce on my mathematical shortcomings). As their collective name suggests, these places are united by their celebration of sculpture. Although there is an undoubted focus on the works of Yorkshire-born Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, these spaces are all packed to the rafters — or, in the case of the Sculpture Park, skies — with works by hundreds of artists from all around the world, from the prolific, right down to the just-starting-out. Most wonderfully of all, all four of the venues are free to visit.
My first stop was Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which celebrates its 40th birthday this year. It’s not often, I have to admit, that my arrival at a gallery is greeted by wandering sheep — nor, for that matter, highland cattle. The animals which roam the site are charged with the dual purpose of keeping the grass manageable through grazing, and providing scale to the works on show — a special request, apparently, from Moore, during his lifetime. At 500 acres, plus additional indoor exhibition spaces, this is a gallery where the art is given space to breathe. Both permanent and temporarily exhibited works are distributed and re-distributed around the site, meaning that there is no definitive site map; the best and only way to find what you want is by following your nose. It is with childlike delight that you may chance upon a Gormley or an Ai Weiwei tucked around a corner or behind a tree. This space demands that you interact with the landscape in a way that is simply not possible in the sterile white boxes of London galleries; in fact, it is the perfect antidote to the sterile white box experience of art. And of course, such interaction with this particular landscape is especially important, given that it is the driving inspiration behind the works of both Hepworth and Moore.
Next up, the Hepworth Wakefield. A serene building nestled on the south side of the River Calder, it is a relatively young museum, having only opened its doors to the public in 2011. Whilst obviously more enclosed than the Sculpture Park, it too has a unique quality of light and space which feels a million miles away from the bustling crowds familiar to frequenters of London museums. This is not to say that it isn’t popular, however — especially in the wake of its spectacular and soon-to-end exhibition Disobedient Bodies. A collaboration between the museum and JW Anderson, it sees the designer exploring the human form through art, fashion and design.
Now, it is at this point that I have to try very hard to keep my enthusiasm under control. As I have written before, if I fall for something, I fall hard, and it’s all I can do not to tell every single person I’ve ever met about it. At the moment, I’m telling everyone — EVERYONE — to go and visit Disobedient Bodies before it closes on 18 June. Items of clothing designed by the likes of Rei Kawakubo, Helmut Lang, Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier and Issey Miyake, as well as Anderson himself, sit alongside sculpture by artists including Jean Arp, Louise Bourgeois, Naum Gabo, Sarah Lucas, and, of course, Hepworth and Moore, as well as snippets from the worlds of dance, theatre, and furniture design. Neither wholly a fashion exhibition nor an exhibition of sculpture, Disobedient Bodies is a blurring of lines and an opening of dialogues between these mediums, which riffs on Yorkshire’s existing relationship with sculpture and repurposes it for the modern age. A celebration of the old, a championing the new, and an undeniable thing of beauty, it’s no wonder that the gallery has been named as a finalist for this year’s Art Fund Museum of the Year prize.
Although the Sculpture Park and Hepworth Wakefield were where I spent most of my time on this trip, the Henry Moore Institute, a visit to which was squeezed in at the end of the day, also deserves a mention. This small gallery forms part of The Henry Moore Foundation, set up by the sculptor in 1977 to encourage appreciation of the visual arts, especially sculpture. With a high turnover of relatively short-run exhibitions, the Institute also plays an important role in the study and research of sculpture. Its crowning glory is its extensive library, which contains a fantastic breadth of books, videos, DVDs and cuttings spanning sculptors the world around – a valuable resource which is also free to visit and utilise.
At a time when the arts sector has been repeatedly battered and bruised by government cuts, it’s heartening to see how much innovation and creativity still survives; not to mention the fact that so much of it comes free of charge. It’s all I can do now to encourage you to support these fantastic institutions — by visiting them, by spreading the word about them, and by spending a couple of quid in the shop. Let this serve as your reminder that whilst, yes, London is and always will be rich with galleries, museums and exhibitions, there’s a lot going on outside of the bubble too.
The Hepworth Wakefield is asking visitors to the gallery why they think it should be named Art Fund Museum of the Year. Visitors can share their stories, reviews, photos, memories and moments on social media using @artfund #museumoftheyear.