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