Stuck in the cul-de-sac with no way back****

A suite of three new galleries have been created from former office space over at the Burlington Gardens’ side of the Royal Academy, one letting into the other, a very pleasing show-through. Works by Phyllida Barlow – collectively entitled cul-de-sac – are on display in them. Was this where Stormin’ Norman Rosenthal once worked? They are being put to very good use these days.

untitled: canvasracks; 2018-9 concrete, cotton-duck canvas, hardboard, paint, plastic, plywood, steel, tape, timber

Barlow’s work is always violently demonstrative, elbowing space aside, proclaiming its right to make its mark. Seeming ponderousness tussles with weightlessness. There is suspension. There is precariousness. There is overbearingbess. There is a knuckly rudeness of facture. A kind of recklessly joyous racketyness skips along hand-in hand with sculptural outflungness.

untitled: barrel; 2018-9 cement, paint, plywood, polyurethane board, polystyrene, polyurethane foam, spray paint, timber

The materials from which she works are everyday, arte povera rough-and-ready – hessian sacking, sail cloth, scrims of concrete, slatherings of paint. Nothing fussy. Nothing finicky. Nothing smooth-worked to the point of elegance, god forbid. They soar up into the air, scarcely credible teeterings, and balancings, almost head-butting the ceiling.

(left) untitled:post-shadow; 2019 concrete, cardboard, cement, Hessian scrim, plaster, plywood, polyurethane board, polystyrene, polyurethane foam, steel, timber, wire mesh

Poles fence with each other, catch lumpish boxes in their arms. Or they hurl themselves out sideways like an impromptu stretch of road-cum-theme-park terror-ride. Even though they may be monumental in size, they are certainly not monumental in steadfastness of feeling – or being. They are more like improvisatory riffs through space, no sooner here than gone again. Fat musical trills. They possess a casual, throw-away defiance. That which has chanced to emerge is here, but not for long.

Cul-de-sac by Phyllida Barlow will be on display at the Royal Academy until 23 June

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