Artistic Legacy and Patrimonial Knowledge: A Case Study of Barbara Hepworth at Tate
This thesis argues that artists’ legacies are not fixed entities with circumscribed arenas of knowledge but are in constant flux and in continual contact with diverse epistemologies and ontologies. The legacy of the British modernist sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975) at Tate serves as the case study for this research in its exploration of questions of value formation and knowledge production in relation to artistic legacy and its interpretation and mediation within a museological context.
This research explores these questions by means of investigating the specificities of Hepworth’s legacy – both her ‘cultural legacy’ in terms of how she is commonly understood and her ‘patrimonial legacy’ in terms of the objects and rights she bequeathed. In identifying the ways in which the authoritative construction and mediation of the patrimonial legacy impacts upon the received understanding of Hepworth’s cultural legacy, the thesis argues that this patrimonial legacy also contains within it the ambiguity, alterity and complexity that point towards alternative ways of knowing and valuing.
As this research argues, Hepworth’s legacy is framed by an authoritative and dominant narrative that has led to it becoming naturalised and unquestioned. As an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership held with Tate and the Royal College of Art and taking place at a pivotal moment in Tate’s role in the shaping of Hepworth’s legacy, the need for a new methodological approach was particularly pressing. The method used in this research is designed to provoke and instigate change within understandings of Hepworth’s legacy. More specifically, it is formulated through a practice-led, curatorial research enquiry into an object of her patrimony – a stone-carving chisel from the preserved studios at the Tate-managed Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in St Ives, Cornwall. Bringing this tool out of this static framing, the research reframes the tool to become the focus of discursive discussion and object-handling at displays and events at Tate St Ives and Tate Britain. In so doing, the research asks: How can a curatorial research methodology serve to disrupt the established narrative of Hepworth’s legacy and what new knowledge and value is subsequently revealed? How is value formed and how can it be reformed differently?
As the thesis demonstrates, Hepworth’s legacy contains within it both a formalised, authoritative, historical motivation and mediation (constructed and naturalised through art-historical and museological methods), as well as a tacit, discursive and changeable approach, as found most pressingly in the irregularities and ambiguities of her material practice and the presence of this within the museum context. The former contributes towards the key problem of Hepworth’s legacy – its appearance as being fixed, unambiguous and naturalised – while the latter provides the opportunity for re-evaluation and, ultimately, for change.
In the situated institutional context of Tate, therefore, this project’s expansive, practice-led curatorial research method breaks up the homogeneity of the museum’s traditional and conventional systems of inherited knowledge and, in so doing, both recognises the way in which its ‘patrimonial knowledge’ has shaped the dominant reality of Hepworth’s legacy, while also opening out that legacy to the multiple worlds it actually functions in and connects with.
School of Arts & Humanities
Curating Contemporary Art, 2013–2018
Helena Bonett is a curator, writer and lecturer undertaking an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctorate at the Royal College of Art and Tate on the legacy of the British modernist sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975).
- MA Modern and Contemporary Literature, Birkbeck College, University of London, 2008; GDip History of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, 2006; BA English, University of Birmingham, UK, 2004
- Tutor, Critical and Historical Studies, Royal College of Art, London, 2018–present; Conference convenor, Modernist Legacies and St Ives, Tate Research and Tate St Ives, 2014–19; Lecturer, Art History, Criticism And Communication (Summer Study Abroad), Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, 2017–present; Tutor, Criticism and Curating in Art and Design (Summer Intensive), Royal College of Art, London, 2016; Curator, RCA Research Biennial, Royal College of Art, London, 2014–15; Associate, Tate St Ives Artists Programme, 2014–15; Research student representative, Royal College of Art, London, 2013–14; Research curator, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2011–13; Seminar convenor, Hepworth Studio Conservation Project, Tate Research and Tate St Ives, 2013; Associate lecturer, History and Philosophy of Art, University of Kent, Canterbury, 2012–13; Research coordinator, The Camden Town Group in Context and The Art of the Sublime, Tate Research, London, 2009–11; Learning publications and website officer and Schools and colleges administrator, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2006–10; Exhibitions assistant (intern), Gallery assistant and Art handler, Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham, 2002–05
- 'Trewyn Studio' screenings: Tate St Ives (Aug 15), St Ives Festival (Sep), Esker Foundation, Canada (Nov), Paul Mellon Centre (Feb 16), Hawksfield, Wadebridge (Apr), Porthmeor Studios, St Ives & Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein (Jun), Tate (Aug), Truro (Apr 17); 'Hepworth’s Chisel', Tate St Ives and Tate Britain, London, April–August 2015; 'Why Would I Lie? RCA Research Biennial Exhibition', co-curated with the Biennial team, Dyson Gallery, Royal College of Art, April 2015; 'Why Would I Lie? RCA Research Biennial Film Series', co-convened with Emily Richardson and Mercedes Vicente, Royal College of Art, January–April 2015; For previous exhibitions, see https://rca.academia.edu/HelenaBonett
- ‘Hepworth’s Early Years’, invited public talk as part of the seminar Becoming Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, February 2018; 'Hepworth as Monteur', invited public discussion in support of the display of Hepworth's personal library, The Hepworth Wakefield, June 2017; ‘Modelling a Method: Contesting Patrimonial Legacy Structures in the National Art Museum’, Making Women’s Art Matter conference, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London, February 2017; ‘Hepworth at Work’, The Work of Artists research seminar, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London, January 2017; 'Communicating Legacy: The Material Agency of a Chisel', Material Histories: Networks of Women and Art in Cornwall co-convened Tate Research seminar with Rachel Smith, Tate St Ives, June 2015; 'An Ethical Object? An Exploration of the Connectivity of a Chisel', Why Would I Lie? RCA Research Biennial co-convened conference, Royal College of Art, April 2015; ‘An Ethical Object’, RCA Research Biennial co-convened session Ethics of the Other, ICA Friday Salon, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, April 2015; 'The Studio-archive of Barbara Hepworth', The Archive and Domestic or Private Space study day, Royal College of Art, December 2014; 'The Modernist Architect’s Home: A screening and discussion of Emily Richardson’s new film exploring H.T. Cadbury-Brown’s house, 3 Church Walk, Suffolk', British Association of Modernist Studies International Conference, Senate House, London, June 2014; 'Modernism Preserved: Experiencing Anachronism at the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden', British Association of Modernist Studies International Conference, Senate House, London, June 2014; 'Materials, Movements, Encounters: Modernist Art Networks and St Ives', co-convened Tate Research seminar with Rachel Smith, Tate St Ives, June 2014; 'The Sculptor as Archivist: Interpreting Barbara Hepworth’s Legacy', Association of Art Historians Annual Conference, Royal College of Art, April 2014; 'Music and Movement in Barbara Hepworth', invited public lecture delivered in support of the Tate St Ives exhibition Summer 2013, Porthmeor Studios, St Ives, August 2013; 'Curating Barbara Hepworth’s Archive at Tate', Report on the Archive symposium, Birkbeck College, London, July 2013; 'The Studios at the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden: Developmental Seminar', convened two-day Tate Research seminar, Tate St Ives, May 2013; 'From Studio to Museum: Barbara Hepworth’s Trewyn Studio', Barbara Hepworth seminar, Tate Britain, London, March 2013; ‘Sculpture and New-wave Cinema’, co-delivered with Jonathan Law, Association of Art Historians Conference, The Open University, Milton Keynes, March 2012; For other talks, see https://rca.academia.edu/HelenaBonett
- ‘Hepworth, Dame (Jocelyn) Barbara (1903–1975)’, biography for Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, www.rem.routledge.com, 2016; 'The Sculptor as Archivist: Interpreting Barbara Hepworth’s Legacy', Henry Moore Institute Essays on Sculpture, no.73, 2015, 26–31; 'The Guarea Wood-carvings: Between Myth and Reality', in Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World, ed. by Penelope Curtis and Chris Stephens, Tate Publishing, 2015, 84–89; ‘Barbara Hepworth: Penelope Curtis in Conversation with Helena Bonett’, Under the Influence, no.15, Spring / Summer 2015, 212–23; 'An Ethical Object', in Why Would I Lie? RCA Research Biennial, ed. by Susannah Haslam and Peter Le Couteur, Royal College of Art and ArtQuarters Press, 2015, 123–26; 'Reasons for Returning', Prova II: Humanities Research Forum Journal, vol.2, 2014, 112–17; 'Modern British Sculpture' (co-author with Jonathan Law), An Introduction to the Exhibition for Teachers and Students, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2011; 'Wild Thing: Epstein, Gaudier-Brzeska, Gill', An Introduction to the Exhibition for Teachers and Students, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2009; For other publications, see https://rca.academia.edu/HelenaBonett