This precariousness is deliberate. Barlow explains that she was not only reacting to the narrow, high rooms of the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler galleries, but that her work also serves as a metaphor for the instability of life, the fact that anything can happen. This also perfectly reflects the way she works, testing and trying out various arrangements with a team of studio assistants, adding and removing pieces as she goes along, a practice she perfected with clay as a student in the 60s. But now her materials are far more diverse, ranging from cardboard and fabric to polystyrene and cement.
Installation view of Phyllida Barlow RA cul-de-sac, Royal Academy of Arts, showing untitled: canvasracks; 2018-2019. Photo: © Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photography: David Parry
We are forced to navigate our way through Barlow’s gallery of giants, and every viewpoint frames the sculptures differently. 'My hope is that the work and audience are in a choreographic relationship,' she explains. 'Sculpture needs to be given time, you need to just wait with it and become the moving object that it isn’t.' Stepping from the first room of gravity-defying structures into the second, we are confronted with a single grey column, which seems imported from some ancient, unknowable temple. From this point onwards, textured grey surfaces, reminiscent of urban decay and building sites dominate. These works are also reminiscent of Anselm Kiefer’s exhibition Walhalla at the White Cube in 2016. Both artists are heavily influenced by arte povera, a movement that prioritised every day materials over traditional marble and bronze.
Installation view of Phyllida Barlow RA cul-de-sac, Royal Academy of Arts. © Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photography: David Parry
Barlow is particularly good at 'drawing' with objects. The last room demonstrates her ability to make a sculpture look like a sketch, or even a maquette built from matchsticks, despite the huge scale. This is a much more pared back offering than we're used to from the 75-year-old Royal Academician. Aside from the initial burst of colour, she favours much more sombre hues here.That's not to say that this in any way a dull exhibition. There is still a playful energy to her work and a sense that she has much more to try out.
|Phyllida Barlow exhibition: Cul-de-Sac, Royal Academy of Arts
|Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD | MAP
|Green Park (underground)
23 Feb 19 – 23 Jun 19, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Click here for more information