Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Owned by RBS May Be Replaced In Art Competition

Updated: We reported on the 20th August about a major Barbara Hepworth sculpture, removed from public view from a Wolverhampton shopping centre and of the concerns of local people, that it was to be sold off in order to fund commercial improvements for the centre. The Mander Centre which is now owned by Delancey property management and the disgraced, nationalised high street bank RBS, assured community groups that the work of art was only removed until renovations were completed. Now in a leaked document Artlyst can reveal that the sculpture’s return is still under discussion and management feel that “a new piece of artwork may be appropriate for the redeveloped centre”.  

In a press release issued by the local protest group ‘Bring Back The Mander Hepworth’ they state; “Buy up a “distressed” shopping centre whose most valuable asset happens to be a Barbara Hepworth bronze estimated to be worth several million. Initiate a redevelopment to add value to the centre and put it on the market. Meanwhile, take out the sculpture and hope the public doesn’t notice it’s gone. But if they do, you’ll need something to pacify them. How about an art competition to design a substitute”?

A spokesperson for Delancey confirmed: “As we have said in previous releases, the Barbara Hepworth sculpture has been removed pending a major redevelopment of the centre. We understand that no firm decision has been made, but believe that RBS are looking at options which will allow the sculpture to be enjoyed by the local community of Wolverhampton in the future.
The art competition referred to in the draft Q&As (published by Richard Warren) was an idea which was considered back in May regarding other artwork for the centre, however due to the pending sale of the centre, this has not been progressed any further.”

For 46 years Barbara Hepworth’s fine bronze Rock Form (Porthcurno) has stood in the Mander Centre shopping precinct in Wolverhampton. It was provided at reasonable price by Dame Barbara to be enjoyed by the people of the city, and has become a familiar and iconic landmark and a source of community pride. It is by far the single best piece of art in Wolverhampton. In 2003 a children’s time capsule was sealed into the plinth.

The original assumption was that it would be a permanent and integral feature, an understanding still shared by today’s generation of the Mander family. But not apparently by RBS, current owners of the Centre in partnership with Delancey property management. In May this year the sculpture was removed without warning and has not been seen since. Under pressure, management have insisted that it is in “safe keeping” in advance of the redevelopment of the Centre, but that is not due to start till next year, and artist’s impressions of the revamped precinct do not include the sculpture.

Astonishingly, a press release given out barely two weeks ago by Delancey contains this proposal (tacked onto an earlier “reactive statement”) for an art competition to come up with something a bit cheaper to take the place of the Hepworth:

“We are reviewing a number of public art installations for the redeveloped centre. We are also considering an artwork competition, which may help us to reach our decision … we feel a new piece of artwork may be appropriate for the redeveloped centre.”

For three months RBS and Delancey have refused to deny that they intend to liquidate Rock Form, though it would certainly be worth their while. A recent Christie’s sale took the price of a comparable Hepworth to over £4 million, making the artist the second most expensive female sculptor of all time. Next year’s Hepworth retrospective at Tate Britain will do little to reduce the appetite of prospective private buyers, though RBS is also notorious for sitting on a £20 million private art collection that has been largely in storage for years. The Mander Centre is currently up for sale – minus the sculpture – at £50 million. The preferred bidder is understood to be Benson Elliot Capital Management, who have declined to comment on the situation. Join Group Here

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