Interview with Andrew Bonacina, New Chief Curator at the Hepworth Wakefield

This Autumn The Hepworth Wakefield has welcomed a new Chief Curator, Andrew Bonacina. He will play a key role in the programming of the main gallery and The Calder, the new contemporary art space. He will also contribute to the development of The Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, which plays a major part in the region’s ambition to become a new world capital for sculpture. Aesthetica speaks to Bonacina about his interest in Barbara Hepworth’s practice and his plans for the gallery.

A: What made you want to work so closely with Barbara Hepworth’s work?
AB: Barbara Hepworth is a key presence within our displays at the gallery and for me what’s really exciting is to discover the unexpected relationships and narratives that emerge when her work is seen alongside our exhibitions with contemporary artists. As a young child I was always fascinated by Hepworth’s alien-likeWinged Figure perched on the side of the John Lewis store in Oxford Street, London. Being able to get up so close to the full-size plaster of the work in our displays at the gallery re-kindles those early memories and it’s a privilege to have such an intimate relationship with her work.

A: What do you think makes Hepworth’s practice so special?
AB: Today, Hepworth is seen by many as a somewhat traditional figure, but in fact she was a radical from early on in her career, producing some of the world’s very first examples of purely abstract sculpture. The way in which Hepworth made her work is also fascinating. She often worked on full-scale plasters for her sculptures rather than scaling up smaller models, resulting in a much more direct relationship with the material surfaces of her work, and a more fluid relationship between the spaces of the studio and the gallery or public sphere. The Hepworth permanent displays along with our changing collection displays provide a really rich context within which to think about art that is being made right now.

A: What made you want to get involved with The Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle?
AB: When The Hepworth Wakefield opened over two years ago it became part of an already-impressive cultural offer in West Yorkshire with organisations such as the Henry Moore Institute, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Leeds Art Gallery among many others on our doorstep. While each organisation has its own remit, our collective interest in sculpture and contemporary art creates a fertile meeting point that will enable Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle partners to develop ambitious collaborative projects across the region. It’s great to see organisations working together to create new partnerships like the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle and to seek new ways to encourage an even wider audience to discover and enjoy art and sculpture.

A: The Calder has just opened, are there any artists in particular you would like to see in that space?
AB: The Calder is a really exciting development for The Hepworth Wakefield, occupying a 600sqm industrial space next to the Chipperfield-designed building. It has been left quite raw and offers an exciting counterpoint to the original pristine gallery. I’m particularly interested in artists working with performance and live situations that challenge the usual gestures and behaviours of the gallery space. The Calder is a perfect environment within which to experiment with this kind of work. I’m also keen to open up the programme to other fields such as music and dance. As well as a space for presenting younger artists I hope The Calder might also be space in which we can re-examine key historical works that have become touchstones for subsequent generations of artists.

A: What sort of characteristics do you look out for in emerging artists’ works that are signs of success in the future?
AB: I’m drawn to works that pose more questions than they answer. It might sound obvious, but I’m looking for artists who are presenting something I haven’t seen before with a unique voice. I’m also drawn to work that demonstrates knowledge of art historical precedents while being able to find a language derived from contemporary visual culture.

A: Are there any artists in your mind that you have worked with so far that really stand out?
AB: I’ve been lucky to have worked with artists at very different stages in their careers, from the emerging to the very established. In all cases it’s been about working with them to develop new aspects of their practices. At International Project Space, for example, I worked with artist Cally Spooner, who ended up writing a novella and producing a series of performances over a two-year period. It was unconventional working relationship, but she became an ongoing conversational partner and informed a lot of my thinking about how the parameters of the gallery space can be challenged. At the other end of the spectrum I worked on a project with the great artist and filmmaker Charles Atlas. He is hugely established having collaborated with artists and choreographers such as Merce Cunningham, Yvonne Rainer and Michael Clark in the past, but the project offered him an opportunity to develop his use of film and performance in completely new ways.

A: What do you have planned for the future?
AB: It’s exciting to join a young institution such as The Hepworth Wakefield as it’s still growing and establishing its identity. Alongside the main exhibitions programme and the projects in The Calder, we’re talking about several new strands of programming which will activate the whole site around the gallery and beyond so right now it really does feel as if the possibilities are endless.

The Hepworth Wakefield is currently exhibiting American contemporary artist Dana Schutz and Matthew Darbyshire until 26 January.

1. Matthew Darbyshire: The W.A. Ismay Collection, image courtesy of Bob Collier/PA Wire.