Old man walking through the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Garden with his back to the camera
Sir Alan Bowness in the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden
Still from film, 2015

Helena Bonett is a curator, writer and lecturer undertaking an AHRC-funded collaborative doctorate at the Royal College of Art and Tate on the sculptural legacy of Barbara Hepworth. Her research focuses on the sites, sculptures and objects through which Hepworth is known and the connections that individuals make with these things and places, questioning what role Hepworth plays in people’s lived experiences and why. The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden is a key site for Helena’s research, as it plays such a significant role in understandings of Hepworth and engagements with her work within a particular context.

The Hepworth Museum first opened to the public in 1976, a year after Hepworth’s death in a fire there on 20 May 1975. Hepworth had planned for Trewyn Studio to become a museum, which included reacquiring early work previously sold as well as giving details of how the museum might be laid out. Her son-in-law, biographer and executor of the estate, Sir Alan Bowness, led the project of establishing the museum, curating the different spaces – archive room, gallery, studios, garden and greenhouse – that still exist today. Unlike some studio-museums, such as Francis Bacon’s, Hepworth’s museum was in part curated by her, and her outside studios have been left more or less untouched over the last forty years.

Through her film, produced with collaborator Jonathan Law, Helena asks the museum’s founder Sir Alan Bowness to reflect on Trewyn Studio when Hepworth was alive, how he made it into a museum, and what he thinks of it now. The film seeks to question:

  • What changes were made to the site when it became a museum and to what extent has the museum display remained static over the last forty years and why? 
  • What is the legacy of the museum for how Hepworth has been received and understood?
  • In what ways does the materiality of the place created textured connections and experiences for those who encounter it?
  • How can the medium of film capture the temporal layerings and materiality at play within the museum?