Phyllida Barlow, “untitled: 21 arches,” (detail, 2012), polystyrene, cement, scrim, paint and varnish (Photos courtesy of the author)

Phyllida Barlow’s installation at the New Museum, siege, doesn’t waste any time telling you who’s boss. Post-industrial, post-modern — post-everything but post-sculptural — it all but pushes you back inside the elevator.

Its title isn’t kidding either. The scale, mass, texture and color of the installation’s seven components (all untitled but with descriptive subtitles: “21 arches”; “crushed boxes”; “hanging container”; “broken stage”; “balcony”; “massed sticks, bound tubes, bunting”; “compressed stockade”) lay siege to the entirety of the gallery space.

The New Museum’s fourth floor, with its cramped floor plan and impossibly high ceilings, is a difficult space to control, but when an artwork succeeds in activating it, the effect can be overwhelming.

At this year’s Triennial, the same gallery housed exceptional pieces by two young sculptors, Danh Võ (“WE THE PEOPLE,” 2011) and Adrián Villar Rojas (“A person loved me,” 2012). Phyllida Barlow’s massive work supplants the brashness of youth with a seasoned pensiveness, but her forms are no less audacious.

Nor are they any less revelatory: while Barlow, at 68, is more than thirty years older than Võ and Villar Rojas, she is virtually an unknown quantity in New York. Having exhibited for decades on the other side of the Atlantic, mostly in her native Britain, this is her first museum show the United States.

She has therefore emerged on the New York scene as a full-blown master, a true syncretist who fuses every movement of the past fifty years — from Arte Povera to Minimalism to Scatter Art to the latest junk aesthetic — into a variegated practice emphatically her own.


Thomas Micchelli