Art’s urbane guerillas hit Wakefield: the Hepworth Museum

Brian Lewis, Pontefract’s

poet laureate and a painter to boot, bravely exposed the neglect of local artists when the visiting functionaries of State

holding bay. The plan was to draw attention to our leaflets and pictures by shifting some of the 21 framed images close to the grass by the pedestrian bridge which every visitor would pass over that night on their way to the opening at 6.00pm. Using this location we would hand visitors the No, No, No – Hepworth or Good Morning Mr Courbet 6,000-word essay-cum-tract. We had planned a pincer movement attack: paintings to look at and a tract to read.

This had been printed in an edition of 250 by a local printer (localism is always a good greasy slice of halal to slap across the chops of a prestigious gallery) and consisted of 16 numbered pages which came folded from a piece of A3 paper. It cost £75 to print. We did the design ourselves.

In all ways it google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; was

​ massively non-PC and went against all the rules of modern advertising. It was not in colour, recognized no sponsors and took little regard for

people who had dodgy eyesight. It was knocked up by a couple of blokes in a basement in Pontefract who had combined ages of 136 years.

We knew that most people wouldn’t read it, but a few might. Online petitions bother no one and make it seem that you are doing something when you’re not.  Those in authority might read on and our leaflet was aimed to get up their nose and along with the paintings make us visible. The size of the tract was

that I had a right to
protest, to which I replied ‘You’re right there’. Then he said:


‘Peter says google_ad_width = 970; that are you aware that the Hepworth family are gathering this lunch time and today is the anniversary of her death.’

There they had me. Sentiment took hold.  As soon as he said

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it I knew that I was not going to upset a family gathering, any family gathering, by speaking ill of granny.

I thought quickly. ‘I will not give the leaflet out today, even though the main arts gathering is on tonight, but I will not remove the

paintings. On your part I want you to say //--> that you will read the leaflet and pass copies down the appropriate line of management. This printing

For detailed process, you can “visit here” or contact

has cost me a good slice of this week’s pension. I will do that but only for tonight, tomorrow is another day.’

sizes="(max-width: 192px) 100vw, 192px" />Compromise brought conciliation. ‘What exactly is your target?’ he asked. I took out the leaflet and read the back page. ‘This pamphlet’s targets are /* xin-1 */ the London art world and the type of art they promote; arts consultants, their data and the withdrawal of funding from other local arts organisations. It chronicles overspending on fine arts and the consequent neglect of local artists, writers, publishers, theatre companies and museums.  Hopefully it will become /* 9-970x90 */ the start of a debate about why and how we fund the arts in the UK and how it differs from how they are funded elsewhere.’

Ten minutes later I was talking with both

newly appointed Chief Executive and Wakefield’s senior arts officer. I was blunt and they were amiable but they listened carefully and


promised to read the leaflet. I assured them that we
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would meet again.

They were followed by a procession of friends who knew about the ‘exhibition demonstration’ and Wakefield officers, mostly people I knew because of my work on regeneration. They told me bits and bobs about plans for

the rest of the weekend and how they intended doing up the area. There were other hard-handed men and the occasional hard-hatted woman who knew about art and what they liked.


the police arrived. They had been sent by someone – exactly who I’m not sure – but they were fine. They informed me that I was committing the technical offence of obstructing a public highway but agreed that since I had avoided putting up a price list I wasn’t trading. They exercised their right of discretion and the right google_ad_width = 970; of demonstrating seemed to overrule everything.  Then the last-but-one visitor came. He was ‘a Hepworth’, the only member src="//"> of the family to bear the name. He was followed by google_ad_slot = "7160667483"; torrential downpour so we turned the pictures to the wall and five of us retreated under a convenient medieval bridge extension and talked about his cousin Barbara and why

our demonstration was called ‘Good morning Mr Courbet’. His views about her work were close to mine. When we emerged from under the bridge we saw a wet cyclist on a lightweight bike. I was about to meet
for the first time the publisher of a scurrilous journal.

Was the tiring day on the bridge worth the effort? And what had we learnt?

1. Paintings need to be small enough to fit into bin liners and have robust frames. It is best to have a number of solid frames in three sizes. Uniformity makes the exhibition look more professional.

2. John, our market frame-maker, showed that by using handwrap (a sort of clear film) on a handle you protect the frames, have something to attach titles to, but more important you could attach painting and display

boards to bollards and railings.

3. You need someone close at hand with a car big enough to carry away the paintings.

4. Make sure that some of your pictures google_ad_height = 90; are explicit

and targeted. If you’re hitting out at someone, have a hand-out which explains what you’re doing. The quality of the work is
important. The majority must be able to sit happily in a public gallery. Avoid anything that is called ‘abstract’.

5. Take on big subjects such as Arts Council policy.

6. Don’t sloganise. Contrary to received wisdom people really enjoy reading a developed argument.

The Jackdaw Jul-Aug 2011