Cover image of the review
Barbara Hepworth, Eidos, 1947, stone, synthetic polymer paint. Photo courtesy of National Gallery of Victoria.

Barbara Hepworth: In Equilibrium

11 Feb 2023
Barbara Hepworth: In Equilibrium, Heide Museum of Modern Art wHole, Heide Museum of Modern Art

Barbara Hepworth: In Equilibrium seems to repel criticism. Putting aside the fanfare of it being the artist’s first major survey exhibition in Australia, the sculptures are above all affirmative rather than critical: harmonious, organic forms of stone, wood, plaster, and bronze. While the concurrent contemporary exhibition wHole, at Heide Modern, offers a few glimpses of the influence of Hepworth’s formal vocabulary, the selection of works reflects a contemporary view of art-as-critique that stands in contrast to Hepworth’s modernism.

So, are we to appreciate Hepworth’s sculptures as relics of a moment in Western art history that’s long since run its course? Having made my way through both exhibitions I was left wondering what place, if any, the artist’s craft-based formalism and affirmative ethos might have in art practice today. While her figure-inspired works reflect an idealism typical of many mid-century sculptors, her more voluminous, “closed” and “pierced” forms bring to light what made her work radical to begin with. The best of them compel us not just to look at visual compositions of shape but into tensile interplays of surface and depth, mass and emptiness, here and now.

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