Phyllida Barlow, ‘prop,’ 2018 © Phyllida Barlow. Courtesy of Friends of the High Line. Photo: Timothy Schenck
14 Nov 2018

Phyllida Barlow on the High Line

14 Nov 2018

For more than fifty years, British artist Phyllida Barlow has created sculptures and large-scale installations using a direct and intuitive process of making. She transforms humble, readily available materials through layering, accumulation, and juxtaposition, often drawing inspiration from her urban surroundings to reference construction debris, architecture, signs, fences, and discarded objects.

The artist’s recent commission, ‘prop,’ for the High Line in New York, consists of two large concrete panels, with holes cut from their centers, set on stilts. Drawing inspiration from a sculpture she presented outside the British Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, the towering sculpture appears like a character teetering among the planks at its base and emerging from the planting beds below. ‘prop’ is the first artwork ever presented on the Northern Spur Preserve at 16th Street, a location that allows for unique views both from the High Line and the avenue below.

Phyllida Barlow, ‘prop,’ 2018 © Phyllida Barlow. Courtesy of Friends of the High Line. Photo: Timothy Schenck

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 …

Phyllida Barlow, untitled: roadsidehoarding; 2017-2018, 2018 © Phyllida Barlow

Phyllida Barlow, untitled: roadsidehoarding; 2017-2018, 2018 © Phyllida Barlow

In conjunction with the High Line commission, ‘tilt,’ an exhibition featuring recent large-scale works installed for the first time alongside more than a dozen smaller sculptures, is now open at Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street. Together, the works on view encourage an intimate encounter between object and viewer, continuing a career-long exploration into the ways in which sculpture can dissolve boundaries between realms of experience.
Employing a visual vocabulary developed over the past five decades, Barlow’s works are often painted in vibrant colors, the seams of their construction left visible, revealing the means of their making. ‘tilt’ marks a new stage in Barlow’s practice, as she shifts her focus from the immersive built environments of her past presentations – which often riffed on the architecture of their installation spaces, transforming their surroundings – in favor of more autonomous, stand-alone sculptures that invite viewers to consider the works on an individual basis. They block, straddle, and balance precariously throughout the gallery, challenging viewers into a new relationship with the sculptural object.

‘tilt’ is on view at Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street from 14 November – 22 December 2018, and nearby ‘prop’ remains on view through March 2019 on the High Line at 16th Street.

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