© Richard Deacon. Photo: L Dawkins
© Richard Deacon
For objects that are fixed and immobile, Richard Deacon’s sculptures are astonishingly full of life. Everywhere you look in this retrospective of the British artist there’s some monumental wooden form curving and coursing through space, some linear shape arcing or undulating, or some solid mass bulging suggestively. It’s exhilarating stuff, yet occasionally also slightly exhausting.
In Deacon’s earliest works, from the 1970s and 1980s, leading up to his 1987 Turner Prize win, you find a giant looping structure that evokes an ear, or a Möbius-like tangle resembling metal ducting. Deacon takes care never to hide the works’ materiality – leaving surfaces covered in measurement marks and pencil scribbles, for instance; or allowing glue to ooze out from between laminated wooden strips.
His pieces from the 1990s onwards, however, are much more pristine, more alien and elaborate – culminating in ‘Out of Order’, a vast, twisting network of furled and jutting armatures that corkscrew and wreathe about themselves. Yet, for all its technical sophistication, this sculpture is oddly unaffecting. By itself, it would probably appear extraordinary. But in the context of the exhibition, it feels overwrought. Like watching a movie packed with special effects, by this stage you’ve become used to such spectacle. Instead, as the show progresses, it’s Deacon’s diminutive works that are most effective, like the ceramic pieces, with their slick, sickly glazes, or the bijou, surreal little objects of his ‘Art for Other People’ series. Deacon may be a big deal but it’s his smaller works that truly unnerve.
This exhibition is enjoyable as much for the curatorial experience as it is for the art. Tate has made the bold move to avoid all but the scantest wall text. Interpretation is now confined to the free exhibition booklet. The result is a calm and contemplative atmosphere free of visual clutter and distraction - and from the bottlenecks of explanation-reading gallery-goers.
Renowned British sculptor Deacon creates large-scale work in natural, organic shapes. Reminiscent of snakes, insects and other fauna viewed up close, the forms are completely at odds with the materials used - laminated wood, steel and ceramic.
Describing himself as a ‘fabricator’, Deacon’s art tends to have a rough, hurried finish. Welds are sloppy and wood glue seeps from every nook and join. This somewhat undermines the works, which are fiendishly technical and cleverly conceived. An exception is the beautiful Fold, a stunning screen made from glazed ceramic, on display in the foyer and the star of the show.
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