With funding cuts hitting arts organizations throughout the U.K. this year, the arrival of the $58 million Hepworth Wakefield, hepworthwakefield.org, in West Yorkshire is cause for celebration. Named after Wakefield-born sculptor Barbara Hepworth, it is the largest purpose-built art gallery to open in the U.K. since London's Hayward Gallery in 1968. It also confirms the northern county as the go-to place for modern sculpture in Britain: the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, ysp.co.uk, is there, as is (in the city of Leeds) the Henry Moore Institute, henry-moore.org.
The Hepworth is an impressive structure, set dramatically by the River Calder. Frances Guy, the head of collections and exhibitions, describes it as "a sculptural building entirely appropriate to what we have on show." But it's inside that it really comes into its own. The 10 exhibition spaces have been designed around the 44 full-size models (in plaster and aluminum) that Hepworth used as preparation for the bronze works she cast from the 1950s onward. There are also finished pieces by Hepworth, and many significant works inherited from the old Wakefield Art Gallery. There are loan items too (Turner, Brancusi and Mondrian) from various national collections, and a temporary exhibition space, which at present is displaying the art of sculptor Eva Rothschild.
Nearby, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in West Bretton offers art both inside and out. An exhibition of the strikingly ethereal work of Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa is currently taking place indoors, but the treat is 60 works by the likes of Moore, Hepworth and Anthony Caro set in the rolling landscape of this 200-hectare site. West Yorkshire's reputation as a sculptural hub looks set in stone and bronze.