By Rachel Ang
By Rachel Ang
Walking down Millbank, the Thames on my right, I was awestruck. The Tate Britain is a truly beautiful building. Originally the site of Millbank Penitentiary, the iconic gallery building, with grand public staircase, light-filled gallery spaces and central dome, was designed by architect, Sidney RJ Smith, and opened to the public in 1897. It was (and remains) the home of the national collection of British art. Since opening the building has been altered several times, the most recent of which was in 2013 by London-based architects, Caruso St John, who are responsible for the striking spiral staircase which takes visitors from the atrium, with the dramatic rotunda above, to new education spaces on the ground level.
Barbara Hepworth Photo-collage with Helicoids in Sphere in the entrance hall of flats designed by Alfred and Emil Roth and Marcel Breuer
On exhibit now until 25 October is a major retrospective of the work of Barbara Hepworth, one of Britain’s most successful artists, and one of the greatest sculptors in the world during the mid-twentieth century. The exhibition features more than 100 works, including drawings, carvings, plaster and bronze works, and examines Hepworth’s remarkable career spanning five decades, from the 1920s to her death in 1975.
The exhibition is curated around the different phases in Hepworth’s career. It opens with her earliest carved works, in marble and alabaster, such as Doves and Large and Small Form, together with drawings, collages and photograms. In the 1930s Hepworth travelled throughout Europe with her partner, painter Ben Nicholson. It was during this time Hepworth met Georges Braque and Piet Mondrian, and visited the studios of Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, and Jean Arp. It was an exciting period in her practice, and Hepworth began making more purely abstract works.
In the 1940s, Hepworth and Nicholson moved to St Ives, where they were to live and practice for the next 35 years. Hepworth was heavily inspired by the beauty of the rural landscape. This period is represented in the exhibition by large timber carvings, bronze works, and fascinating photos of the artist at work in her studio. Hepworth’s legacy is still intertwined with the history and culture of St Ives and her studio and sculpture garden remain one of the town’s most popular destinations.
Since its triumphant transformation from former Bankside Power Station into the iconic river-side bastion of modern art, the Tate Modern has attracted more than 40 million visitors and is now one of the top three tourist attractions in the UK.
On now until 11 October is a major retrospective of the work of American artist, Agnes Martin (1912 – 2004), one of the pre-eminent painters of the twentieth century. Usually classed as minimal abstract, Martin described her work as abstract expressionism. The exhibition features paintings, sculptures and assemblages, and a room of her drawings and screen-prints.
Martin’s works are characteristic by their grid structure, their precision and delicacy. Deceptively simple, they depict a world of infinite horizons, transcended well beyond figuration or the specific. However, they also bear the subtle nuances of her hand – the slight wobble of a line, the marks of her brush, the tender washes of colour which pool and create texture; emotional landscapes depicted with great restraint.
Primarily in soft hues of blue, pink and yellow pastels, grey, gold leaf and delicate graphite lines, and with titles like The Islands, Friendship and Happy Holiday, Martin’s work references the beauty of nature and relationships.
The exhibition brings together many lesser-known works from Martin’s early career, as well as information about her life which I had never read before. She struggled with schizophrenia throughout her adult life. She was a closeted lesbian. She lived alone for almost her entire life. These radiantly calm paintings are the product of intense personal and spiritual struggle – a triumph over her own demons. Although her paintings are incredibly minimal and ordered, I really felt moved by her presence, and the weight of the pain she must have suffered. I was deeply inspired by the beauty and sadness of both her work, and her life.
Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World
24 June – 25 October 2015
Tate Britain, Millbank.
To catch the boat:
From the Millbank entrance, cross the road and turn left, where you will see a sign for the Millbank Pier. The river bus runs every 40 minutes via Embankment, during gallery opening hours. The trip down river only takes about ten minutes and goes past the London Eye, Westminster and London Bridge, so it’s well worth the £7.50 fare if you’re new to London.
3 June – 11 October
Tate Modern, Bankside.