image for Phyllida Barlow, ‘folly’, British Pavilion, Giardini, La Biennale di Venezia

Phyllida Barlow, ‘folly’, British Pavilion, Giardini, La Biennale di Venezia


British artist Phyllida Barlow’s ambitious installation for the British Pavilion, ‘folly’, playfully challenges audiences to explore their own understanding of sculpture.

Barlow’s sculptures inhabit the entire Pavilion, reaching up to the roof and even spilling outside. In the central gallery, she encourages us to take on the role of explorer, picking our way around a sculptural labyrinth of densely-packed towering columns.

The word folly has several meanings and the exhibition also explores dualities, such as fun and foreboding. Brightly coloured baubles jostle joyfully, yet these bulging forms also have a sinister quality as they press towards visitors and dominate the space. Sculptures resembling chairs on a fairground ride allude to festivity yet their folded forms imply decay and desolation.

Barlow enjoys juxtaposing familiar objects with abstract sculptural forms – a gnarled anvil sits on dismembered pianos in ‘piano/anvil’ and the cast concrete ‘holedhoarding’ outside the Pavilion resembles a billboard, surrounded by abandoned debris shaped like shoes, tyres and placards. The dark grey used in these sculptures, reminiscent of the urban environment, is offset by bold colours, with pinks, reds and oranges punctuating the works.

Barlow challenges the limits and possibilities of cheap, everyday materials, such as timber, concrete and fabric. Her bold installation feels monumentally vast but the sculptures remain grounded by a distinctly human presence evident in their creation.

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Image: Installation view, ‘Phyllida Barlow. folly’, British Pavilion, La Biennale di Venezia
Photo: Ruth Clark