• Artistic legacy and patrimonial knowledge: a case study of Barbara Hepworth at Tate

Bonett, Helena, 2019, Thesis, Artistic legacy and patrimonial knowledge: a case study of Barbara Hepworth at Tate PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This thesis argues that artists’ legacies are not fixed entities with circumscribed arenas of
knowledge but are in constant flux and in continual contact with diverse epistemologies
and ontologies. The legacy of the British modernist sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth
(1903–1975) at Tate serves as the case study for this research in its exploration of
questions of value formation and knowledge production in relation to artistic legacy and
its interpretation and mediation within a museological context.
This research explores these questions by means of investigating the specificities of
Hepworth’s legacy – both her ‘cultural legacy’ in terms of how she is commonly
understood and her ‘patrimonial legacy’ in terms of the objects and rights she
bequeathed. In identifying the ways in which the authoritative construction and
mediation of the patrimonial legacy impacts upon the received understanding of
Hepworth’s cultural legacy, the thesis argues that this patrimonial legacy also contains
within it the ambiguity, alterity and complexity that point towards alternative ways of
knowing and valuing.
As this research argues, Hepworth’s legacy is framed by an authoritative and dominant
narrative that has led to it becoming naturalised and unquestioned. As an AHRC
Collaborative Doctoral Partnership held with Tate and the Royal College of Art and
taking place at a pivotal moment in Tate’s role in the shaping of Hepworth’s legacy, the
need for a new methodological approach was particularly pressing. The method used in
this research is designed to provoke and instigate change within understandings of
Hepworth’s legacy. More specifically, it is formulated through a practice-led, curatorial
research enquiry into an object of her patrimony – a stone-carving chisel from the
preserved studios at the Tate-managed Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture
Garden in St Ives, Cornwall. Bringing this tool out of this static framing, the research
reframes the tool to become the focus of discursive discussion and object-handling at
displays and events at Tate St Ives and Tate Britain. In so doing, the research asks: How
can a curatorial research methodology serve to disrupt the established narrative of
Hepworth’s legacy and what new knowledge and value is subsequently revealed? How is
value formed and how can it be reformed differently?
As the thesis demonstrates, Hepworth’s legacy contains within it both a formalised,
authoritative, historical motivation and mediation (constructed and naturalised through
art-historical and museological methods), as well as a tacit, discursive and changeable
approach, as found most pressingly in the irregularities and ambiguities of her material
practice and the presence of this within the museum context. The former contributes
towards the key problem of Hepworth’s legacy – its appearance as being fixed,
unambiguous and naturalised – while the latter provides the opportunity for reevaluation
and, ultimately, for change.
In the situated institutional context of Tate, therefore, this project’s expansive, practiceled
curatorial research method breaks up the homogeneity of the museum’s traditional
and conventional systems of inherited knowledge and, in so doing, both recognises the
way in which its ‘patrimonial knowledge’ has shaped the dominant reality of Hepworth’s
legacy, while also opening out that legacy to the multiple worlds it actually functions in
and connects with.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Other > RCA Additional Subjects > Curating
Other > RCA Additional Subjects > Galleries (display spaces)
Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art > W130 Sculpture
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2019 15:55
Last Modified: 24 Jun 2022 08:38
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/3963
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