Phyllida Barlow


Phyllida Barlow has created a major new commission at Highgate Cemetery, London. The site–specific sculpture is staged in the open–air courtyard of the West Cemetery, presenting a special opportunity to encounter large-scale new work by this leading international artist within an extraordinary and historic site.

The 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 commission celebrates a pivotal commission within Studio Voltaire’s history, and reflects their track record of supporting artists at key stages in their careers. Barlow’s 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.

act was commissioned as part of Studio Voltaire elsewhere, a series of commissions taking place offsite whilst undertaking The Studio Voltaire Capital Project. 

This commission is presented in partnership with Highgate Cemetery.

act is supported by Arts Council England, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Art Fund.

With kind assistance from Hauser & Wirth.

With special thanks to all those who purchased pointer (2020), a special fundraising edition in support of this commission.

West Cemetery Courtyard at Highgate Cemetery

Swain's Lane


N6 6PJ

  1. Commission dates: 24 July–30 August 2021

    Opening hours: Monday–Sunday, 10am–5pm

    Location: West Cemetery Courtyard at Highgate Cemetery, Swain's Lane, London N6 6PJ

    Visiting the exhibition:

    Entrance to the Courtyard to view the exhibition is free.

    Booking is not required.

    Visiting Highgate Cemetery:

    We strongly encourage visitors to take the opportunity to explore the wider cemetery. 

    Access to the wider West Cemetery is ticketed and by timed entry or guided tour only. 

    Access to the East Cemetery is also ticketed. 

    Please visit for further information and to book. 

    Group visits:

    If you would like to arrange a group visit, please contact


    Highgate Cemetery is accessible by walking, cycling, or public transport.

    There is no off-street visitor parking, and we encourage visitors to leave their vehicles at home. 

    Download a map and travel information here

    Please check your journey at and consider travelling outside of peak hours.


    The commission is situation within The Courtyard which has step free access. However please note that the courtyard has a cobbled surface, is on a slight slope and is uneven in areas. A limited amount of accessible parking is available outside the West Cemetery. There is an accessible toilet in the West Cemetery. Please contact or 02076221294 if you would like to speak to us about your visit. 

    For further information regarding accessibility in the wider West or East Cemetery, please visit or contact the office on or 020 8340 1834.

  2. 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); 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).

  3. Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. It provides millions of pounds every year to help museums to acquire and share works of art across the UK, further the professional development of their curators, and inspire more people to visit and enjoy their public programmes. In response to Covid-19 Art Fund has made £2 million in adapted funding available to support museums through reopening and beyond, including Respond and Reimagine grants to help meet immediate need and reimagine future ways of working. Art Fund is independently funded, supported by the 130,000 members who buy the National Art Pass, who enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places, 50% off major exhibitions, and receive Art Quarterly magazine. Art Fund also supports museums through its annual prize, Art Fund Museum of the Year. In a unique edition of the prize for 2020, Art Fund responded to the unprecedented challenges that all museums are facing by selecting five winners and increasing the prize money to £200,000. The winners are Aberdeen Art Gallery; Gairloch Museum; Science Museum; South London Gallery; and Towner Eastbourne.

  4. 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.

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