Hepworth, not Hirst: the modest ministerial taste

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Indy Politics

She had the pick of a Lucian Freud, an Elizabeth Frink and even a Hogarth. But Estelle Morris, the Arts Minister, has chosen to decorate her office with a collection of unassuming black and white photographs, some parochial wooden crafts and etchings of the management committee of the World Wide Web.

Yesterday Ms Morris, who became Arts Ministerin June, gave The Independent an exclusive glimpse of the art she has chosen for her ministerial office, and revealed that her favourite artist is Lowry, who painted working-class life in her home town of Manchester.

Unlike Tony Blair, who horrified traditionalists by selecting "the designer artists from hell", such as Damien Hirst and Rachel Whiteread, to hang on the walls of Downing Street, she has eschewed the fads in the fashionable London art scene, opting for "things I like", and admits that she is "still learning".

The only household name on her walls is Dame Barbara Hepworth, whose centenary is this year. But instead of choosing one of the sculptures for which Hepworth is renowned, she opted for a series of minimalist screen prints, where "opposition between male and female forms is a key theme".

Next to the Hepworths in her vast ministerial office near Trafalgar Square is a bright pink painting which also explores the relationship between men and women in an abstract fashion. Summer, by Ceri Richards, a British artist who exhibited with the Surrealists in the 1920s, includes "symbolic allusions to male and female reproductive forces and forms". The 1968 work, which resembles a slowly opening flower, draws from Dylan Thomas's poem Summer. She confesses she had trouble working out what it was all about, until she spotted the flower allusion.

The Arts Minister is keener on a set of 12 recent portraits of the inventors of the internet. The portraits, scratched on to glass, are by Nick Crowe, a young artist from Manchester. They include the barely visible white outline of the face of Tim Berners-Lee, the British inventor of the World Wide Web. "I was heartened to hear that there were people behind the World Wide Web. My past role in education got me enthusiastic about IT. In these portraits, art is giving credit to technology," she says

Ms Morris reflects her love of black and white photography by covering an entire wall with contemporary prints. They include a child struggling in an oversize jumper, a shot of a couple at Royal Ascot, and rural scenes with sheep and cows.

The paintings came from the Government's art collection of 11,700 works, which includes works by Gainsborough and Edward Lear and pieces by contemporary British artists such as Gillian Wearing, and Langlands and Bell. Ministers and ambassadors are allowed to choose from the collection, which has a small acquisition budget.

Ms Morris is the first arts minister to seriously patronise the works of the Craft Council, with a selection of almost naive wooden figurines in a boat. She also has an exquisite blown glass bowl by Bob Crooks, which resembles the contours on a map, and a symmetrical dish made of peeled willow twigs.

The most striking work in her collection is an evocative portrait of Angus Davidson, a publisher linked to the Bloomsbury group, by Sir Cedric Morris, which Ms Morris spotted in the archives. The curators told her she would not have room on her office walls, but she insisted, and it is now in pride of place by the door. "As soon as I saw it I really wanted it," she said. "It's beautiful."

The Government Art Collection, near Tottenham Court Road in central London, opens its doors this weekend. Ring 0207 580 9120 to book a tour.