‘I’ve Always Been Interested in Objects That Seem Badly Behaved’: Watch Phyllida Barlow Make Towering Art From Industrial Materials

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the "London" episode of "Art in the Twenty-First Century," Season 10. © Art21, Inc. 2020.

Visitors to Munich’s contemporary art museum, the Haus der Kunst, will be met with towering sculptures made from cement, cardboard, and textiles flecked with bright pops of color. The works dominate their surroundings, threatening to topple over and sometimes blocking paths.

The sculptures are the creation of British-born artist Phyllida Barlow, who is the subject of a career retrospective at the museum as part of 2021 programming dedicated to contemporary female artists.

Inspired by the urban landscape of London and the functional materials of construction sites and public infrastructure, much of Barlow’s work is entrenched in the terrain of London, from the East End to the shiny new skyscrapers of the 21st century.

Production still from the “London” episode of “Art in the Twenty-First Century,” Season 10. © Art21, Inc. 2020.

In an exclusive interview as part of Art21’s series Art in the Twenty-First Century, Barlow describes the intersection of form and function in her work.

“Sculpture can take on the world we’re living in,” she says, explaining that the bits of color she incorporates into her work are based on “colors of information in the urban environment” used by builders to mark places in need of repair or other attention.

When she was younger, Barlow was introduced to the work of Eva Hesse and recalls being “completely mesmerized” by the artist’s approach to sculpture, in which she used basic materials like string and cloth to “consume space.”

Right now, Barlow is working on large-scale works that interrupt space, hindering movement and demanding attention.

“This is looking at where sculpture ends up,” Barlow tells Art21, “and what happens if it ends up in places where it’s not meant to be. I have sort of always been interested in the object that seems badly behaved.”

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Art in the Twenty-First Century series, below. The brand new 10th season of the show is available now at Art21.org. Phyllida Barlow. frontier” is on view at the Haus Der Kunst through July 25, 2021. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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