The new Hepworth gallery in Wakefield has been variously described as resembling a coal bunker (appropriate for a mining district?), an abattoir, a Soviet-style secret stores depot and a fortified Northern Irish police station, but at least people are discussing it.
Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Modern, said it is one of the most exciting and beautiful galleries in the UK. It does have a certain austere beauty, which probably grows on you. It is purpose-built, not what you’d get if you let developers build it, as we have with so much housing.
The interior is roomy and airy with landscape windows opening to the vista of an interesting and historical area of Wakefield, the Chantry Chapel.
Warehouses and the willow trees overlooking the weir of the Calder, the riverscape with ever-changing light/weather conditions and seasonal change.
I worked there as a volunteer on the opening Saturday and it was interesting to over hear the remarks – mostly positive, from the hundreds of people who passed through.
One elderly lady asked: “where is the Grimshaw?” (Atkinson Grimshaw, 19th century painter of nocturnal scenes). I must admit, I expected more from the permanent collection. I understand that the idea behind The Hepworth was to enable more of the old city gallery collection to be shown. Previously, for space reasons, only about 15 per cent of works could be shown.
In Wakefield I’ve heard comments ranging from ‘The Emperor’s new clothes’ to ‘fantastic.’ I’d urge anyone to reserve judgement and see it for yourself. It will put Wakefield firmly on the map as a place of historical and cultural interest, which it has always possessed. Let’s wish it success. Even the most Yorkshire person will probably be secretly quite proud of it.
St John’s Court