Barbara Hepworth: In Equilibrium

Until 13 March 2023, ‘Barbara Hepworth: In Equilibrium’ at Heide Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne celebrates the extraordinary life and work of British modernist sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) in this first ever survey exhibition of the artist’s work in Australia.

Barbara Hepworth in Trewyn Studio, October 1949. Photograph: Studio St Ives. © Bowness

‘There is an inside and an outside to every form. When they are in special accord, as for instance a nut in its shell or a child in the womb, or in the structure of shells or crystals, or when one senses the architecture of bones in the human figure, then I am most drawn to the effect of light.

Every shadow cast by the sun from an ever-varying angle reveals the harmony of the inside to outside. Light gives full play to our tactile perceptions through the experience of our eyes, and the vitality of forms is revealed by the interplay between space and volume.– Barbara Hepworth.

Designed by Melbourne-based architects Studio Bright with an elegant and considered nod to the visual and material aesthetics of Hepworth’s brilliant sculpted shapes and forms, Heide Museum presents ‘In Equilibrium’, a stunning selection of works from the treasured collections of national and international art institutions, providing a rare opportunity for the public to explore more than 40 artworks, including a series of drawings and sculpted works carved and shaped in stone, wood, marble and bronze by one of the world’s most significant women sculptors.

Corinthos, 1954-1955, guarea wood and paint on wooden base, 104.1 x 106.7 x 101.6cm. Photograph © Tate. Barbara Hepworth © Bowness

‘In Equilibrium’ charts the development of Hepworth’s artistic practice over five decades from her early figurative sculptures to her more abstract and simplified forms and her ground-breaking method of ‘piercing the form’, an advance in the artist’s practice that drew her towards the concept of the inner and the outer and the fundamental qualities of light, mass and space – an innovative development that continues to be a source of inspiration for sculptors today and in the future.

Works from Tate Britain, The Hepworth Wakefield and the British Council archives as well as those from prominent Australian and New Zealand public collections, including the National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of South Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales and Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand are on view as well as a display of photographs that bring Hepworth’s extraordinary journey as a woman, mother and sculptor to the fore.

Hepworth’s life began in 1903 in Wakefield, Yorkshire where she was born. From the age of 17 through to the mid-1920s she was a student at Leeds School of Art alongside renowned sculptor Henry Moore (1898-1986), and she attended the Royal College of Art London. During this time Hepworth began travelling abroad. In 1925, while in Florence, she married her first husband, painter and sculptor, John Skeaping and while in Italy she learned the art of carving marble under the guidance of master-carver Giovanni Ardini. In 1936, Hepworth exhibited work in the company of works by Mondrian, Kandinsky, Arp, Giacometti, Miró, Calder, Moholy-Nagy, Hélion, Nicholson, Moore and Gabo. In 1931 she fell in love with her second husband, Ben Nicholson, a painter of the abstract, landscape and still life genres. Between her two loves Hepworth had four children – one with Skeaping and triplets with Nicholson.

Drawing for sculpture—Santorin, 1955, pencil and crayon on paper, 38 x 58.4cm. Image courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield. Barbara Hepworth © Bowness

Hepworth passed away in tragic circumstances in May of 1975. Her exceptional works have been widely exhibited in galleries and in public spaces around the world for near on nine decades. Explore more of her fascinating life story on the official artist website here.

In this exhibition, Hepworth’s labour of love – her life’s work – visualises a delicate and harmonious balance between the shapes and contours of the figurative, abstract and pierced forms she created in strikingly beautiful imaginations inspired by nature, the landscape and human to human interaction.

‘A true innovator, Barbara Hepworth’s contribution to the evolution of modern sculpture cannot be underestimated. Hepworth’s combination of reductive form, timeless materials and a humanist vision is compelling and enduring,’ says Heide Museum of Modern Art Head Curator Kendrah Morgan.

Running in parallel with ‘Barbara Hepworth: In Equilibrium’ and drawing inspiration from Hepworth’s interest in masses, voids, piercings and hollows, Heide Museum also presents ‘wHole’, an exhibition of works by Rushdi Anwar, Kushana Bush, Consuelo Cavaniglia, Lucio Fontana, Mira Gojak, Rubaba Haider, Robert Jacks, Anish Kapoor, Titus Kaphar, Lindy Lee, Gordon Matta-Clark, Noriko Nakamura, S.J Norman, Rosslynd Piggott, Norma Redpath, Ricky Swallow and James Tylor, which also draw ‘upon the manifold approaches to ‘the opening’ in art to contemplate the multiple dimensions of space-time, experience and imagination.’

Heide Museum of Modern Art is open Monday to Sunday 10am to 5pm.

Quotation source: Quotations from Barbara Hepworth’s Writings | Barbara Hepworth Extracts from Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, with an introduction by Herbert Read, London, 1952. From Chapter 1: The excitement of discovering the nature of carving, 1903-1930. Images: courtesy Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne