In 2011 Barbara Hepworth’s Two Forms (Divided Circle) was stolen from Dulwich Park during the night. The bronze sculpture was thought to have been stolen for its metal value. It was the latest in a series of thefts of public sculpture believed to be perpetrated in response to the rising prices of certain metals.
In response, Southwark Council and the Contemporary Art Society commissioned Conrad Shawcross, the youngest living member of the Royal Academy, to create a sculpture to replace Hepworth’s much-loved masterpiece.
Shawcross’s design, Three Perpetual Chords, was unveiled this weekend close to the site where the Hepworth once stood. Consisting of a sequence of looping, sinuous tubes, standing at roughly human height, it is a series of three cast iron sculptures that are visualisations of musical chords.
He admitted to the BBC that the idea of another theft was making everyone nervous, and that this was in the forefront of his mind when he was designing it. “They wanted there to be no incentive to steal it,” he said. “Even stainless steel was, in their eyes, a bit too expensive, so it forced me to look at other materials.”
He therefore chose one of the least valued metals, cast iron, which is a material more commonly used for sewer pipes and manhole covers than valuable sculpture. It is also tough. “You couldn’t break this up if you came in here with a sledgehammer”, Shawcross said.
Shawcross hopes that visitors to the park will interact with his sculptures, rather than see them as an austere piece of public art. “I hope they become meeting points, romantic destinations, and encourage playfulness while remaining beguiling and provoking figures on the horizon.”
The piece can be seen at Dulwich Park, SE21. Watch a video about the making of the sculpture below.