Last year, the Art Fund, which rewards a British museum each year, awarded the honour to the Victoria and Albert Museum for its inventiveness and masterful blend of critical rigour and diversion (see Victoria and Albert Museum Rewarded for Creativity). For the 2017 prize, the competition was closely fought with museums from outside Great Britain. Many thought that the new Tate Modern, renovated by the Swiss architectural company Herzog & de Meuron and reopened last year, would win the prestigious prize.
They were wrong. Unlike last year, the Art Fund decided not to award the prize to a London museum but to an institution in the heart of Yorkshire. The Hepworth Museum in Wakefield (not far from Leeds) thus became the Museum of the Year. In addition to the prestigious title, it receives a prize of £100,000.
Designed by British architect David Chipperfield, the museum opened in 2011. It is named after the famous sculptress Barbara Hepworth and numbers several of her key works among its collections.
“The Hepworth Wakefield has been a powerful force of energy from the moment it opened”, commented Stephen Deuchard, director of the Art Fund. “The building has proved a perfect stage – both for its collections and a breathtaking sequence of special exhibitions. The Hepworth serves its local community and contributes to regional tourism too…. It’s the museum everyone would dream of having on their doorstep”. Museum director Simon Wallis drew attention to the artistic dynamism of the region. The Yorkshire Sculpture Park just 20 minutes drive away won the Museum of the Year title in 2014. Combined, these two institutions are a real draw.
In 2016 the Hepworth Museum increased its visitor numbers by 26% with large retrospective exhibitions dedicated to the photographic star Martin Parr and modern British painter Stanley Spencer. The institution is also involved with contemporary art following its commission for an installation by Anthea Hamilton, a finalist in the Turner Prize. With the £100,000 it has won, the museum will be able to consider several new projects, in particular the opening of a public garden and enlargement of its building.