In 2016, The Hepworth Wakefield worked with Kettle's Yard on a series of exhibitions, displaying their collection while the Cambridge gallery was closed for a major building project.
In the 1920s and 1930s Jim had been a curator at the Tate Gallery in London. Thanks to his friendships with artists and other like-minded people, over the years he gathered a remarkable collection, including paintings by Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, David Jones and Joan Miró as well as sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
Jim Ede carefully positioned these artworks alongside furniture, glass, ceramics and natural objects, with the aim of creating a harmonic whole. He kept 'open house' every afternoon of term for local University of Cambridge students, personally guiding his visitors around his home.
In 1966 Ede bequeathed the house and its content to the University. His vision was not for an art gallery or museum but 'a continuing way of life from these last fifty years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability'.
This exhibition examined the development of the iconic Kettle's Yard collection in the context of Wakefield’s own collection of primarily modern British art. It opened up dialogues around the nature of collecting, art’s relationship to the domestic environment, and how art and life are intrinsically linked in what Jim Ede called ‘a way of life’.
Mirroring Jim Ede's interest in art and the home, in the late 1950s, Helen Kapp, Director of Wakefield Art Gallery, organised the exhibition Living Today. This brought together works of art, furniture and textiles to ‘demonstrate that art is not exclusive but that it penetrates into every aspect of domestic life'.
Then housed in two terraces in the city centre, the majority of works in the Wakefield Art Gallery's collection were, like Kettle's Yard, domestic in scale and acquired from contemporary artists, many of whom developed ongoing relationships with the gallery.
In 1926 Jim Ede started collecting paintings by Alfred Wallis, the St Ives artist, fisherman and scrap merchant. Wallis sent them by post for Ede to select and buy. Ede was spellbound by Wallis's ability to capture the character of the sea. Painting from memory, Wallis conveyed the pitching and tossing of the waves and the vastness of the sky.
When looking through historic photographs of Kettle’s Yard, Hamilton found images of several large, circular woven mats. On investigating this further, she discovered that the mats were one of the very few elements that did not remain in the house today. Newly handwoven grass mats, enlarged in scale, were arranged in the gallery space to trace this shifting detail at Kettle’s Yard.
Circular objects and spiral motifs are a recurrent theme throughout the Kettle’s Yard collection. An iconic example of this is Jim Ede’s spiral arrangement of spherical stones that Hamilton has transformed into a suspended hanging mobile from the ceiling.
This kimono by Anthea Hamilton was inspired by a 1927 self-portrait by Christopher Wood from the Kettle’s Yard collection, which was on display opposite. In the painting, Wood sits on the balcony of his studio holding a paintbrush with a view of Paris behind him. He wears an eye-catching Harlequin jumper made up entirely of triangles.
Hamilton has used its pattern and colour to create her kimono. She has also described how the individual triangles of fabric are hand cut and dyed, so that there is an intrinsic level of human error. This reflects the pattern of the jumper in the painting, distorted as it moulds around Wood’s body.
Daniel Sinsel’s sculptures have an intimate quality which often veer into the realm of fetishism; his work explores opposites such as opacity and transparency. Hamilton invited Sinsel to display his Butzenbrille glasses, fragile molten-coloured disks, reminiscent of traditional ‘Butzenscheiben’ (bullseye windows), which contrast with the robust industrial appearance of their cement frames. Oversized and extravagant, his glasses glorify the act of looking.
'A spiral staircase is always a great mystery. Does it go up or down, where does it go and from where does it come?' Jim Ede, A Way of Life: Kettle’s Yard (1984)
Hamilton has repurposed a spiral staircase to echo the beloved spiral staircase that exists in Kettle’s Yard. Various objects and artworks have been placed on the treads of the staircase, mirroring the way in which smaller items are displayed on larger objects and pieces of furniture at Kettle’s Yard. Hamilton has noted how the body of the Dancer (1913) sculpture by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, twists and turns, reflecting the spiralling nature of the staircase itself.
Hamilton has displayed two works from the Kettle’s Yard collection on Laëtitia Badaut Haussmann's Day bed (2016). An oversized bronze Ornamental Mask (1912; posthumous cast, 1969–70) by French-born artist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska lies on top of the structure. Inside, sits the alabaster carving Forms (late 1960s) by British artist George Kennethson.
'Hamilton’s disruption has, in fact, produced something subtle and sensitive to the very unique character of Kettle’s Yard itself.'
Apollo Magazine, October 2016
'This is Hamilton at her best, creating conversations between different artists, eras and materials.'
Financial Times, November 2016
'Her re-interpretation is fresh and unexpected.'
Wallpaper* Magazine, October 2016
The Hepworth Wakefield
Exhibit created by The Hepworth Wakefield staff
Special thanks to Iheanyichukwu Onwuegbucha