Four artists shortlisted for Wakefield’s answer to the Turner Prize

Large scale sculpture by Phyllida Barlow.
Large scale sculpture by Phyllida Barlow.
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Billed as sculpture’s answer to the Turner Prize, Sarah Freeman reveals the four artists in the running for the £30,000 art prize being launched by Hepworth Wakefield.

A little while ago Simon Wallis had a hunch. The director of The Hepworth Wakefield reckoned that the time was right to launch a major art prize celebrating the work of contemporary sculptors. Having sought the opinion of a number of leading lights in the art world, Wallis triggered the green light and towards the end of last year The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture was officially launched.

David Medalla is one of four artists shortlisted for The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture.

David Medalla is one of four artists shortlisted for The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture.

“We approached a number of artists and curators and asked them to name the major art prize for sculpture and each time they looked blank,” says Wallis, who has been with the gallery since 2008, three full years before it welcomed its first visitor. “The fact that one had never existed is both surprising and disappointing.

“It’s a strange anomaly, but here at the Hepworth sculpture is in our DNA, it’s right there in the name of our gallery which honours Barbara Hepworth and it seemed right that if anyone was going to redress the balance it should be us.”

It also seemed fitting that the award should be launched as part of the gallery’s fifth birthday celebrations. It was back in May 2011 that the imposing David Chipperfield designed building first opened its doors to the public and it has been one of Yorkshire’s real cultural success stories.

While the visitor numbers may have been set deliberately low, the pull of The Hepworth has been impressive. The aim for the first year - 150,000 - was met within five weeks and since then, more than 1.6m have passed through the various galleries.

Herbicide Stuff (half musical bones) by Helen Marten.

Herbicide Stuff (half musical bones) by Helen Marten.

Wallis and the rest of the team at The Hepworth are confident the prize will further cement the gallery’s reputation. Since announcing the biennial £30,00 award, the nomination panel, chaired by Wallis, has been deliberating the very first shortlist and with the successful artists announced today, he admits that they were spoilt for choice.

“There is a real breath and depth of talent and this prize is a chance to celebrate that talent,” he says. “We have based the selection of the four shortlisted artists on the significance of their contribution to sculpture in its broadest definition.”

The finalists will present their work in an exhibition at The Hepworth Wakefield, which opens in October. The judging panel, which includes Chipperfield and the art critic and broadcaster Alastair Sooke, will announce the prize’s first winner in November and the exhibition will run until the New Year.

“We are very much looking forward to working with these artists to develop their exhibitions at the gallery. “

The shortlist:

Phyllida Barlow

Who? Born in Newcastle in 1944, Barlow began teaching at the Slade School of Fine Art in the 1960s. She stayed there for almost half a century, teaching the likes of Turner Prize winners Rachel Whiteread and Martin Creed, but in 2009 she retired from teaching in order to focus on her own work.

Trained at: Chelsea College of Art (1960-63); Slade School of Fine Art (1963-66)

The work: Barlow creates large-scale works that are often made from inexpensive material, like cardboard, plywood and polystyrene, crudely painted in industrial or synthetic colours.

In her own words: “Just because you go to art school doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be famous overnight, and what about all the other qualities which help people to keep going – putting up with disappointment, for instance? If all you’ve ever had in your life is praise, praise, praise, you’re probably not a particularly healthy individual.”

Helen Marten

Who? At 30, the Macclesfield born artist is the youngest of all the sculptors on the shortlist, but Marten already has an impressive CV which has seen her work exhibited in New York, Paris and Italy.

Trained at: Ruskin School of Fine Art, University of Oxford (2005-2008); Central Saint Martins (2004).

The work: Like all four artists vying for the inaugural Hepworth Prize, Marten’s work is impossible to pigeonhole. In between exhibitions she has what she calls ‘hibernation periods’ where she goes through hundreds of notebooks of scribbles and writing in search of inspiration. To date, her creative output includes sculptures that mix original and found objects, videos, text, and screen-printed paintings in a superflat cartoon style.

In her own words: “In a world collapsing under the pressure of a billions of personal interfaces, it is exciting to celebrate our relationship to physical touch.”

Steven Claydon

Who? Born in 1969, the London-based sculptor and musician has performed and shown work internationally in exhibitions, including at Tate Modern and Switzerland’s Art Basel. He perhaps has the best claim to fame of any of the shortlisted artists having had a cameo appearance in the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as a member of the band The Weird Sisters.

Trained at: Chelsea School of Art and Design and Central Saint Martins, London.

The work: Claydon’s work is proof, if any were needed, that opposites attract. Often playful, always thought-provoking, his pieces are fusions of old and new and raw and man-made.

In his own words: “I always try to make something that then gets up and walks off. Once that collaboration has taken place, between the material and the idea, then it just kind of charges off. Sometimes I don’t even recognise the things that I’ve made.”

David Medalla

Who? Born in the Philippines in 1942, at the age of 12 Medalla enrolled at Columbia University in New York upon the recommendation of American poet Mark van Doren. In the late 1950s he returned to Manila and met the Catalan poet Jaime Gil de Biedma and the painter Fernando Zóbel de Ayala, who became the earliest patrons of his art. He now lives and works in London, New York and Paris.

Trained at: School of life.

The work: His work ranges from sculpture and kinetic art to painting, installation and performance art and he draws inspiration from his various travels and the people he meets along the way.

In his own words: “My mobility is partly out of choice because I like travelling, meeting different people, knowing different cultures. It’s also out of necessity, I still carry a Philippines passport and that means, being a so-called Third World citizen, you’re not given very long periods of stay in most countries.

“I think artists are really constructors of images and metaphors, and rarely could one be so arrogant as to say, ‘Look I’m going to change the world and discover DNA’.”