Entertainment & Arts

£35m Hepworth Wakefield gallery opens doors

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Media captionThe BBC's arts editor Will Gompertz went for a preview of the Hepworth

The Hepworth Wakefield has become the largest purpose-built art gallery to open in the UK for 43 years.

The £35m gallery, named after sculptor Barbara Hepworth who lived in the West Yorkshire city until the age of 18, opened its doors on Saturday.

It contains dozens of Hepworth's works and prototypes as well as pieces by Henry Moore and JMW Turner.

It is the biggest art gallery to be built since the Hayward on London's South Bank in 1968, the Hepworth said.

Designed by award-winning architect David Chipperfield, it has 10 galleries covering 5,000 square metres.

That makes it almost twice as big as the Turner Contemporary in Margate, Kent, another new Chipperfield gallery which opened last month.

Image caption The gallery received £18m from the local council and £5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund

Around 150,000 visitors are expected in the first year, and so many visitors are expected on the opening weekend that staff are handing out wristbands limiting them to 45 minutes inside.

The building, which sits next to the River Calder, has divided opinion among locals.

"Some people don't like the building," admitted Councillor Peter Box, leader of Wakefield Council, which put £18m into the budget.

"They think it looks like a concrete bunker. And I understand that.

"But at least for the first time in many years there's a real serious debate about modern architecture on the streets of Wakefield.

"What no-one can deny when you go inside the gallery is the quality of the exhibits, and I think everyone locally when they visit will be blown away by the quality."

The building should kickstart the regeneration of the riverside area as well as the wider region, he explained, and bring £3m a year to the local economy.

Chipperfield said his priority was to design buildings that were popular with locals, adding that he hoped the Hepworth would inspire a new generation of art lovers.

"People who are against a project are always going to be against it," he said.

"But if you can get young people to come, perhaps it will help change certain attitudes to culture.

"One hopes that, as a certain generation will say it's not for them, maybe their kids will somehow be the opposite. It will give them an opportunity to find something that their parents couldn't."

The gallery is the second in the UK to focus on Hepworth, alongside the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in St Ives, Cornwall, which is run by the Tate.

Hepworth Wakefield director Simon Wallis said the Tate had loaned them works, adding that the two institutions would work together.

"I can see all sorts of ways in which we can creatively begin to work together and share audiences and programming ideas. But there's very definitely room for two given that we've got very different identities."

As well as exhibits relating to Barbara Hepworth, the Wakefield building has inherited the 6,000-piece collection from the old Wakefield Art Gallery, which closed in 2009.

It will also host rotating exhibitions from contemporary artists, beginning with sculptor Eva Rothschild.

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