Barbara Hepworth sculpture stolen from Dulwich Park to be replaced with 'anti-theft' works by Conrad Shawcross

Sculptor wins contest for south London park with theft-proof heavyweight pieces
  • @MrNickClark

The competition to replace a much-loved sculpture stolen from Dulwich Park in south London has been won by a rising star of the British art scene with a work weighted with concrete to foil potential thieves.

Conrad Shawcross’s work Three Perpetual Chords, a series of sculptures, has been selected to be permanently installed in the park to replace a Barbara Hepworth bronze stolen two years ago, The Independent can reveal.

The youngest living Royal Academician, known for his large-scale moving sculptures, Shawcross triumphed over the Turner Prize nominee Anya Gallaccio; Ryan Gander, who won the Zurich Art Prize; and Eva Rothschild.

He said he was “delighted” that his proposal had been accepted, adding: “It is an honour to have been selected, given the legacy of Barbara Hepworth.”

Hepworth’s sculpture Two Forms (Divided Circle) was cut from its plinth in December 2011 by suspected scrap metal thieves who had broken into the park late at night.

The work was never recovered, and authorities believe it was probably melted down and sold; one of a series of thefts of public artwork across the country believed to be for the value of the metal.

This month a Henry Moore statue valued at £3m was stolen from Glenkiln Sculpture Park in Scotland. A previous Moore sculpture that had been taken was melted down and turned into electrical parts.

While a bronze or copper sculpture can be worth millions as an artwork, thieves would get only a few thousand pounds for the melted-down metal.

The theft of the Hepworth sculpture left many locals distraught and Southwark Council moved to commission a new artwork for the park, calling in the Contemporary Art Society to run the competition. Initially the guidelines stipulated that the work could not be made out of metal – to prevent thieves targeting it.

The shortlisted artists provided models, videos and statements for their proposed works and the public was invited to comment on them earlier this year.

Hundreds came to see the proposed commissions. Helen Nisbet, a consultant at the Contemporary Art Society, said: “The Dulwich public were hugely engaged. They really loved the Hepworth and were emotionally attached to it. This process meant a lot to them.”

Shawcross’s proposal will be unveiled as the winner on Monday. Ms Nisbet said: “The public really loved the fact that it related to the Hepworth with the material. We initially said no metal, but Conrad has found a way to use a cheaper metal, and filling it with concrete makes it harder to steal.”

The work will be made of cast iron – the material used for manhole covers and Victorian pipes – and filled with concrete. “The material itself is not valuable,” Shawcross said.

He wants visitors to the park to climb on the three sculptures and sit in them. “They are quite approachable and fun, I hope, and something people would enjoy.”

He continued: “The idea is you can just see the next one when you arrive at the first one. They are these abstract forms that encourage you to come towards them. They are not on plinths, they’re in the grass.”

Shawcross’s work came to wider notice when Charles Saatchi bought a piece in 2003. He has gone on to be displayed around the world.

Last year he collaborated with the Royal Ballet and the National Gallery on a piece for the Cultural Olympiad, and most recently he turned the Roundhouse in Camden into a giant timepiece. The artist, who was born in 1977, was elected to the Royal Academy earlier this year.