Hepworth’s abstracts still look modern

Art exhibitions in London this summer seem to have gone beyond the mere two dimensional plane and need to be experienced rather than simply seen. Standing in front of Barbara Hepworth’s monumental hardwood carvings, peering through the hollows of the inside painted white surfaces which catch the light, one understands why this much-loved sculptor so enjoyed the challenges of carving into wood. Best known for the huge bronze which stands outside the United Nations Plaza in New York, Tate Britain‘s Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World (until 25 Oct) is the first London museum retrospective on her since 1968.

Although her early figurative works show the parallels with fellow Yorkshireman Henry Moore, she soon moves away from that into the pure abstract and the juxtaposition of solid mass and empty space. Her strong profile features in many of her lover Ben Nicholson’s works and this artistic dialogue is shown in one of the early rooms, while the final room recreates an outdoor pavilion in Holland which she felt was an ideal showcase for her sinuous bronzes. Watching her confident hands as she chisels a block of wood in footage from the Fifties, you see an artist at the height of her powers. It is this direct experience of working in wood that resulted in her most inspiring creations, which over half a century later still do look modern.

 

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