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Exhibition: Barbara Hepworth at Tate Britain

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barbara hepworth, tate britain, London, exhibition, 2015Emphasising Hepworth’s often overlooked prominence in the international art world.

Tate Britain is currently holding the first major London retrospective for almost half a century of the work of Barbara Hepworth.

One of Britain’s greatest artists, Barbara Hepworth (1903-75) was a leading figure of the international modern art movement in the 1930s, and one of the most successful sculptors in the world during the 1950s and 1960s.

This major retrospective emphasises Hepworth’s often overlooked prominence in the international art world.

Several key moments reflect the internationalism of her career.

She showed in New York at the Durlacher Galleries as early as 1949, and in 1950 represented Britain at the Venice Biennale.

In 1955 an exhibition of her work organised by the influential Martha Jackson Gallery – a New York dealer representing the abstract expressionists among others – opened at the Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis, and then toured to diverse public institutions in the United States and Canada, including Nebraska, San Francisco, Buffalo, Toronto, Montreal and Baltimore.

Four years later she won the Grand Priz for sculpture at the São Paulo Biennial, after which her works toured several Latin American countries, including Uruguay, Argentina and Venezuela.

It is significant that her work found an audience in Latin America – a recognition, perhaps, of the beauty and perfection of its forms that spoke to a particular, abstract idea of modernism.

It also highlights the different contexts and spaces in which Hepworth developed and presented her work, from the studio to the landscape.

The exhibition features over 100 works, from Hepworth’s major carvings and bronzes to her less-familiar works.

It opens with Hepworth’s earliest surviving carvings from the 1920s, such as Doves 1927, alongside works by predecessors and peers from Jacob Epstein and Henry Moore to lesser known contemporaries.

Comparisons with works such as Figure of a Woman 1929–30 reveal how Hepworth related to a wider culture of wood and stone carving between the wars.

Living together in Hampstead, London, Hepworth and her second husband Ben Nicholson made works in dialogue, and here major carvings including Kneeling Figure 1932 and Large and Small Form 1934 are shown with paintings, prints and drawings by Nicholson and rarely seen textiles, drawings, collages and photograms by Hepworth.

Photo albums compiled by Hepworth and Nicholson show the two artists with their works, demonstrating a shared idea of life integrated with art.

In the later 1930s, as part of an international avant-garde brought together through exhibitions and magazines, Hepworth made more purely abstract work.

A display of the majority of Hepworth’s surviving carvings of this period includes Discs in Echelon 1935 and Single Form 1937-8 alongside the journals in which they featured among artists such as Alberto Giacometti and Piet Mondrian.

In the mid-1940s in St Ives, Cornwall, Hepworth began making sculptures in wood, for example Pelagos 1946, which expressed her response to her new surroundings.

These are set alongside her two-dimensional work: the abstract works on paper of the early 1940s and her figurative ‘hospital drawings’ of 1947-8, both expressing in different ways utopian ideals.

A selection of photographs and film reveals the different ways in which Hepworth presented or imagined her sculpture – in architecture, in landscape, in a gallery, in the garden and on stage – and the impact such varied stagings have on the work’s interpretation.

Four large carvings in the sumptuous African hardwood guarea (1954-5), arguably the highpoint of Hepworth’s carving career, are reunited for this exhibition.

In the post-war period, Hepworth’s sculpture became a prominent feature on the international art scene.

The exhibition also displays bronzes from her 1965 retrospective at the Kröller-Müller Museum, staged within a partial reconstruction of the pavilion originally designed by Gerrit Rietveld.

‘Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World’ runs until 25 October 2015 at the Tate Britain, Linbury Galleries, and open daily from 10.00-18.00.

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