In the latest Norfolk Contemporary Art Society Newsletter there is a piece from Sculpture for Norwich about Barbara Hepworth’s Sea Form Atlantic, which reads:
SfN has expressed concern to the City Council about the state (and positioning) of this major sculpture now sited in St George’s Street. Already the patina is irreparably worn away in parts by children’s clambering. Following the representations and meetings with councillors and Nikki Rotsos, executive head of strategy, people and democracy, it was agreed that a plaque which Derek Morris has offered to design, should be placed on the plinth providing information about the work an expressing the pride of the City of Norwich in its ownership of a seminal work by this great artist.
Well, if it is decided to place this rather unusual climbing-frame-type object next to a children’s playground, it is inevitably going to get clambered on by little kids who wouldn’t know it was special. As to the patina, some interaction between the public, the environment, and the work is also inevitable: the wonderful, cheeky bronze David with a floral hat by Donatello (now in the Bargello) used to stand in the open – was it in the Piazza della Signoria? – in Florence: it had a gleaming little penis because people stroked it as they went past; not sure whether you could say that was the subtraction or addition of a patina. Sculpture which does not wish to interact with people should presumably be guarded, or out of reach.
But this conflict between sculpture and children has happened to Barbara Hepworth’s work before. Back in about 1962 the Penwith Society of Artists in St Ives decided to reduce the entrance fee for families so that visitors with children would be more able to visit the current exhibition in the Penwith Gallery. At that time Barbara Hepworth was exhibiting sculpture with stretched strings, (presumably an influence from Gabo?) When she heard that her strings had been twanged by kids, she insisted that the Committee put the entry price back up again. She also objected to the cathedral-like white space of the Gallery being violated by noise. As the building was actually a refurbished pilchard packing station, it must have rung with the cries of fishermen and fishwives for years before it was consecrated to art.
Incidentally I’m not sure whether it is direct influence or some kind of convergence, but the vertical Dyson fan-heater has a distinct Barbara Hepworth look.