Phyllida Barlow: Cul-de-Sac review

4 out of 5 stars
Phyllida Barlow: Cul-de-Sac review
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. © Phyllida Barlow Photo: © Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photography: David Parry

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Visiting the Royal Academy can make a person feel small. That naked Grecian sculpture? It’s massive. Those ceilings? They’re towering. The staircase? Gargantuan! And you, tiny insignificant creature, are worthy only of cowering in the corridors of this prodigious Palace of Art. You’re small and it’s big.

But the bigness of the RA just got even bigger, thanks to Phyllida Barlow’s new exhibition ‘cul-de-sac’. Housed across three rooms, but with only one way in or out (clue’s in the title), these new sculptures have one thing in common: they’re fucking huge. Jumbo-sized constructions that loom over humans the same way chunks of ancient monuments in the British Museum reduce everyone who walks past them to Borrower-size.

Unlike the flawless stonemasonry and marble of the RA’s Burlington House, Barlow creates her art from stolid concrete blocks, gnarled old wood, gloomy grey metal and bumpy bits of gauze slathered in paint. These are the bran flakes of building materials, the crunchy, lumpy left-overs.

As a result, Barlow’s hefty sculptures look like the structures found along Britain’s derelict coastline. The industrial seashore or river mouths neglected in favour of sandy beaches and pastel-coloured huts.

Brutalist slabs are arranged like a jetty pointing out to sea, gristly timber pokes out of a metal plate that looks like an abandoned launch for a river ferry, and in the first room a perch of colossal coloured sheets stand to attention like semi-folded sails.

Because of this, it’s a bigness that isn’t designed to make people feel small in a bad way. Instead, it’s oddly calming, the way staring out at an expanse of dark ocean on a drizzly day is nature’s Xanax. Sometimes, being small is such a relief.

By: Rosemary Waugh


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