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in Margate, Kent, designed by David Chipperfield Architects. The museum, which opens this month, is a striking addition to the seascape often visited by J.M.W. Turner (1785–1851) Photo: Richard Bryant P H OTO
1 The exterior of Turner Contemporary
Celebrating British talent This month and in May we see the openings of two new museums – Turner Contemporary and the Hepworth Wakefield, respectively – designed by the architect David Chipperfield. Chipperfield narrowly missed out on the Tate Modern commission a decade ago, and these buildings are his first major projects in his home country.
Together with Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Henry Moore Institute, the Hepworth Wakefield – at 5,000 square metres, the largest purpose-built gallery to open in Britain since Tate St Ives in 1993 – will make Yorkshire a major national centre for sculpture. Barbara Hepworth was born in Wakefield, and perhaps the highlight of this museum will be the 40-plus works gifted by her family, including the full-size prototype for Winged Figure ( 1963 ) . This and other models in plaster, aluminium and wood will describe and reveal Hepworth’s work in a way previously only possible through large-scale retrospectives.
Turner Contemporary, meanwhile, finds its home in Margate, on the very site where J.M.W. Turner stayed during his frequent trips to the dramatic Kentish seaside. Surely no location could be more appropriate for a museum named after the artist who perhaps best described the sea and its changeable moods. Its inaugural exhibition, ‘Revealed: Turner Contemporary Opens’, is built around Turner’s painting, The Eruption of the Souffrier Mountains, in the island of St Vincent, at Midnight, on the 30th April, 1812, from a Sketch Taken at the Time by Hugh P. Keane, Esqre ( 1815 ) , on loan from the University of Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery and Museum, and includes contemporary work by artists such as Daniel Buren and Douglas Gordon.
To see two museums of such importance opening now, in what may otherwise prove to be an age of cultural austerity, is heartening indeed. In each instance their creation saw disparate funding bodies – charities, local and national government bodies and other arts institutions – unite behind a project of largely uncontroversial worth, both aesthetically and economically. The excitement generated by these initiatives and the potential they have to transform their local communities demonstrate the vital importance of ambitious public arts projects.
What is most interesting about both museums is that visitors will get to see great British art, by either Turner or Hepworth, meet contemporary art, thus bringing new generations to the old and giving context and gravitas to the work of those younger artists included in the curated shows within these museums. The Hepworth Wakefield will open with an Eva Rothschild exhibition – the first survey show in the UK for this most promising Dublin-born, London-based artist.
We have had to wait many years for one of the UK’s most talented architects to win a commission for a significant public structure in his own country. Happily, he now has two to his name. The Hepworth Wakefield and Turner Contemporary will reveal to anyone who has yet to see Chipperfield’s work at Berlin’s Neues Museum the environmental sensitivity and classicist serenity of this extraordinary architect. o Oscar Humphries, Editor
April 2011 apollo 15