Phyllida Barlow: Rig
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In what feels less like an installation than an infestation, Phyllida Barlow’s newest sculptures have effectively taken over Hauser & Wirth’s Piccadilly branch. Usually sealed rooms have been flung open to reveal, say, chickenwire-and-cement columns wearing giant paper-bag hats and propped angularly on oversized draught excluders, or twin tapering stacks of layered cardboard, chipboard, foam and cloth.
Lingering in hinterlands between reference and abstraction, such works force auxiliary adjectival constructions like ‘cheerfully galumphing’ to rise in the mind. They’re full of big, discontinuous flavours, as are the jolly, absurd, vaguely creepy crowd of elongated hoops that blocks one’s path in the basement and the murky, angular roomful of towering, tilted, hand-painted storage units upstairs.
The show’s high point, though, hits you right away in the main space’s floor-to-ceiling urban forest. Towering above are stacked blocks of what looks improbably like concrete, draped in colourful fabric hoods and supported on metal tripod legs set into cement ‘feet’. This bright, abrasive jostle is apparently an abstracting of Piccadilly’s urban cacophony; seen from the balcony, it becomes a consolingly serene sea of coloured blocks. ‘Anti-monumentalism’ is the default description with Phyllida Barlow, and here one might also infer a category confusion between inner and outside worlds. Both seem slightly like tilting at windmills, thanks partly to her own influence. It hardly matters; as she takes her victory lap, Barlow remains pretty much unmatched in infusing sculpture with antic personality.