The meeting, chaired by Cllr. Barrie Hargrove, Cabinet Member for Transport, Environment & Recycling, was held at St Barnabas Church on 19 March 2012 and attended by senior Southwark officers, including Gill Davies, Strategic Director of Environment and Leisure and John Wade, Parks and Open Spaces Manager, together with Cllr. Veronica Ward and all Village Ward councillors.

Background - Barbara Hepworth’s Two Forms (Divided Circle) was bought by the Council direct from the artist in 1969 for £15,000. It was stolen apparently for its metal, with a minimal value as scrap.

Insurance - The Hepworth had been insured for £500,000 but, after deduction of the excess and the like, the amount available to acquire a replacement was £400,000. The only condition attached was that the location of any replacement had to be secure and permit use of CCTV. It was confirmed that the Council had resolved that the available sum be ring-fenced for use in Dulwich Park.

Location - After consultation with the chairman of the Dulwich Park Friends, six possible sites had been identified including one near the site of the stolen work and two near the cafe. They all were reasonably near to a source of electricity so as to enable installation of CCTV. These sites were however not set in stone and other sites were possible. A plan showing the locations of the six currently proposed sites will be available on the Council’s website.

Commissioning Plan - A paper prepared by the Council was distributed and a brief summary given. The principal options set out in this paper were:

  • Buying an existing sculpture. Works of monumental sculpture are available through a number of art dealers or sculpture parks.
  • A limited competition, inviting a select number of artists to develop design proposals.
  • Open invitation, inviting submissions from any artist who chose to participate.

All of these options would involve the formation of a representative commissioning panel to make recommendations which could be referred to wider public consultation at an appropriate time. It was suggested from the floor that Ian Dejardin, the Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery, who was present at the meeting, be a member of this panel and he agreed to this.

The paper outlined the pros and cons of each of these options. A disadvantage of the limited competition was that a design fee of between £500 and £1,000 per artist would have to be paid. In answer to a question from the floor, it was acknowledged that high profile artists, Anish Kapoor was mentioned, were unlikely to participate in such a competition. If any work was to be commissioned from them they would probably have to be individually approached.

There followed a discussion based on questions from the floor. Amongst the suggestions made were that:

  • The Two Forms should be recast. Southwark said they had approached the Hepworth estate on this but it was adamant that it would not agree to this. It was also stated that no Hepworth works were currently on the market.
  • Any replacement should be an iconic piece of sculpture worthy to follow the Two Forms. If the £400,000 available was not sufficient to acquire a work of comparable stature, there should be an appeal to the public for top-up funds. Some market testing was suggested to ascertain how much could be raised by public subscription. Southwark indicated it did not have the resources or wish to organise such fund raising or related activities.
  • Any replacement should be by a woman sculptor, with Elizabeth Frink being mentioned.
  • Instead of a single new substantial work a number of smaller works by young artists should be commissioned.
  • Only half of the available funds should be spent on a new work at this stage, with the remaining half being invested for acquisition of other works in the future. It was contended that even at current low interest rates £200,000 invested would generate a considerable annual income.
  • A plinth rather than a sculpture should be erected, with periodic competitions for a work to be placed on the plinth, the winner of the competition being placed on the plinth until the outcome of the next competition. Ian Dejardin pointed out that any such arrangement would involve considerable ongoing curatorial effort and expense. Southwark indicated that any such expense would have to be estimated in advance and deducted from the available £400,000. 
  • Instead of a new artwork, a performance space, possibly in the form of a Greek theatre, should be built to permit live performances of drama and music by school children and others in the park. 
  • An “artistic” bandstand. 
  • A fountain, possibly integrated into a work of sculpture.
  • A pagoda. This could be designed with a long flight of stairs, which in a flat park could provide healthy exercise.
  • Any replacement sculpture should not be in metal to avoid any recurrence.

Next steps Southwark will organise a steering committee to consider the various proposals made with a view to making recommendations on the way ahead, to be followed by further public consultation meetings with the local community.

In general, Southwark showed a willingness, within the constraints of its resources, to engage constructively with this project with a view to reaching a decision that broadly meets the wishes of the community.

Adrian Hill