Studio Voltaire unveils major new sculpture commission by Phyllida Barlow at Highgate Cemetery

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Studio Voltaire unveils major new sculpture commission by Phyllida Barlow at Highgate Cemetery
Phyllida Barlow, act, 2021, Installation view at Highgate Cemetery, London, A Studio Voltaire commission, Image courtesy of the artist, Studio Voltaire and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Benedict Johnson.

LONDON.- Studio Voltaire unveiled a major new site–specific sculpture commission by internationally celebrated artist Phyllida Barlow at Highgate Cemetery, London. The work has been commissioned as part of Studio Voltaire elsewhere, a programme of off–site commissions taking place across London during the Studio Voltaire Capital Project.

The large–scale commission, act, reaches up to five meters in height. A tower of fabric wrapped poles are enclosed within a commanding structure of sombre, concrete screed panels flecked with colourful paint. Knitted together, these bulwarks of material create an imposing, sepulchral form. However, their exposed supporting frameworks reveal stage–set properties, undermining any initial appearance of monumentality.

Barlow’s structures of stacked, bound and balanced materials have an imposing physical presence and yet often appear at the edge of collapse. Her assemblages are formed of inexpensive industrial or everyday materials – cardboard, fabric, timber, polystyrene, plaster, scrim and cement – painted in vibrant colours, the seams of their construction at times left visible. Tensions in Barlow’s work between transformation, entropy and precarity resonate strongly with the chosen site’s character and surrounding monuments. Her commission is both a dramatic and contemplative response to the elaborate, melancholic funerary architecture of the cemetery, and will bring audiences into unexpected dialogues with a landmark site.

Barlow’s work sits within a site of historic importance and is framed by the courtyard’s impressive colonnade. Famed for its special atmosphere, the cemetery’s sinuous paths wind up a steep, wooded hill and ivy–clad memorials, forming a secluded and evocative landscape. The West Cemetery is home to the most impressive architectural features of Highgate Cemetery, including the Egyptian Avenue, Circle of Lebanon and Terrace Catacombs.

In 2010, Studio Voltaire commissioned BLUFF, a significant exhibition of Barlow’s work which played an important role in raising the artist’s international profile. This new exhibition, a decade later, celebrates a pivotal commission within Studio Voltaire’s history, and reflects their track record of supporting artists at key stages in their careers. Barlow is a renowned contemporary artist, whose work has been the subject of major solo exhibitions at Haus der Kunst, Munich (2021), The Royal Academy of Arts, London (2019), Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas (2015) and Tate Britain, London (2014). In 2017, she represented Britain at the Venice Biennale.

Phyllida Barlow DBE RA (born Newcastle upon Tyne, 1944) lives and works in London. Recent solo exhibitions include Phyllida Barlow frontier, Haus der Kunst, Munich (2021); cul–de–sac, The Royal Academy of Arts, London (2019); Phyllida Barlow: prop, High Line Art, New York; Tenth Anniversary Commission, Jupiter Artland, Edinburgh (2018); Phyllida Barlow: folly, La Biennale di Venezia, British Pavilion, Venice IT; ARTIST ROOMS: Phyllida Barlow, Turner Contemporary, Margate UK (2017); tryst, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas TX; set, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (2015); Duveen Commission: Phyllida Barlow. dock, Tate Britain, London (2014); siege, New Museum, New York (2012); BLUFF, Studio Voltaire, London (2010)

Recent group exhibitions include: Another Energy. Power to Continue Challenging, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo JP; Breaking the Mould: Sculpture by Women since 1945, Arts Council Collection Touring Exhibition, (various locations) UK (2021); the other side of the coin, New Art Centre, Roche Court, Salisbury UK (2020); Objects of Wonder. From Pedestal to Interaction, ARoS, Aarhus DK; Carl Plackman and His Circle, Pangolin, London UK (2019); Tissage, Tressage, Foundation Villa Datris, Isle sur la Sorgue FR; Power to the People, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt DE (2018); Versus Rodin: Bodies Across Space and Time, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia AU; Constellations: Highlights from the Nation’s Collection of Modern Art, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool UK (2017); The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture, Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield UK (2016); New Rhythms, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge UK (2015); Yes, Naturally, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague, Netherlands (2013); A House of Leaves, David Roberts Art Foundation, London (2012); Sculptural Acts, Haus der Kunst, Munich DE; United Enemies: The Problem of Sculpture in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds UK (2011); Nairy Baghramian and Phyllida Barlow, Serpentine Gallery, London (2010).

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