Phyllida Barlow is a British artist who came of age in the wake of the “New Generation” of British sculptors of the early 1960s. In conversation with both Pop in the United States and Arte Povera in Europe, Barlow turned away from the staid formalism of her British contemporaries, looking to brighter colors and everyday materials. Her immense sculptures—made from traditional building materials, such as lumber and plaster, as well as textiles, Styrofoam, and cardboard—reference her constant observations of everyday life. With her large-scale installations, Barlow constructs imposing works that play between the monumental scale of public art and architecture and the precariousness of her chosen materials and compositions. Her works evoke the dual facades of theater and architecture and the stories they construct.
For the High Line, Barlow presents a new iteration of a sculpture presented outside the British Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, re-imagined for the High Line. Throughout her career, Barlow has constantly revisited works to reconfigure them, often in consideration of a new context. The work consists of two large concrete panels, with holes cut from their centers; set on stilts, the work appears like a character teetering among the planks at its base and emerging from the planting beds below. The sculpture stands on a railway spur at 16th St. that used to run directly into a refrigerated warehouse immediately northwest of the former Nabisco cookie factory; as with much of Barlow’s oeuvre, the work points to the area’s industrial past and how architecture, like art, is perpetually cannibalized from one generation to the next. Barlow’s work will be the first artwork ever presented on the Northern Spur Preserve, a location that allows for unique views both from the High Line and the avenue below.
Of the work, Barlow writes:
…what remains? what is displaced?
where is the evidence of what used to be?
what was once industrial and purposeful is erased;
there are no shadows of the past;
where there was labour, grime and work
there is now pleasure
neatly contained within the richly verdant garden trail—
only the length and breadth of the High Line
are the reminders of its former rail track identity;
prop is a reminder of what might remain from an industrial past;
it is an ambiguous object—
although dependent on a hoarding structure, it cannot be that…
the existing hoardings visible along the High Line are vast,
supported by industrially fabricated structures;
prop is a mere shadow of those contemporary monuments;
in comparison to them, prop is a frail copy—
a prop in every way:
a fake, and a pretense—
other than its vacant circular orifices offering a sight line to what lies beyond …
Photo: Installation view, Phyllida Barlow, folly, British Pavilion, 57th Venice Biennale, Italy, 2017. Photo: Ruth Clark. © British Council. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth