Hauser & Wirth South Gallery
Los Angeles, California
Through May 8, 2022
Article by Cathy Breslaw
In conversation with Catherine Taft, (Curator of LAXART) at Hauser & Wirth, Phyllida Barlow described Los Angeles as “a nervous system without a brain”. Coming from anyone else, it may have seemed an insult, but for Barlow, it’s a challenging opportunity to understand the “space” that is Los Angeles, a place where it can be hard to get your bearings. Barlow went on to comment that the contrast of a “shanty town” adjacent to an accumulation of shiny large buildings is visually stimulating and she is intrigued. Much like Los Angeles, Barlow’s work possesses a raw and authentic beauty that doesn’t hide behind the smooth and seemingly perfect sculptural objects that her traditional British art training sought to guide her work.
Barlow’s sculptural installation in Hauser & Wirth’s South Gallery challenges the confines of a Neoclassical space of immense columns and 21 foot ceilings and a second story mezzanine with a confrontational aggressive energy that encourages the audience of viewers to explore. Upon entering the space, we wonder if we are in Barlow’s strange dream world as viewers walk around and under and look up and over the sculptures – in the center there is a cement multi-level low stage which prohibits visitors from traversing the surfaces. There is a structure of stilts supporting two staircase-like forms suspended and seemingly climbing into space and going nowhere. Nearby, a cluster of very tall partially painted wooden poles and cement draped scrim and vibrantly painted fabrics of sphere-like forms of varying sizes are placed at the top. Also nearby is what looks like five large dark gray scrim flag-like forms appearing to have been toppled over with their poles cemented into the cylinder forms that once help them up.
The South Gallery’s upstairs mezzanine includes a collection of smaller floor and wall-mounted works. These works are organically shaped forms of textured and painted cement and are suggestive of figures. The mezzanine allows for the viewer to see both the smaller forms and glimpses of the first floor monumental sculptural forms simultaneously.
Using inexpensive commercial materials including cardboard, fabric, plywood, polystyrene, scrim, cement, and paint, Barlow addresses both architecture and sculpture simultaneously while asking viewers to question each of their boundaries. The works stretch and reach into space with authority and confidence and visitors leave with perhaps a new way of looking at sculpture and our surrounding world.