Phyllida Barlow | Hauser & Wirth

Why am I looking at and writing about concrete so much this summer? First there was Prunella Clough’s desolate little paintings of midcentury urban corners, that caught my eye at Annely Juda Fine Art. Then there was Yu Ji’s dripping, detritus-filled installation at Chisenhale Gallery.

Now, rather grander than both, is Phyllida Barlow’s ring of a hundred or so three-metre-high cement sentinels, that squeeze to the edges of Hauser & Wirth’s main gallery at the moment. ‘untitled: postscorral’, from 2014, makes up most of the show, though there are a few preparatory paintings on paper too, giving the viewer context on Clough’s process, her concerns.

phyllida barlow - postscorral - installation view

These concrete bases, held steady by adorable bright red wooden blocks, and topped with proudly perpendicular wooden boards, form a circle, but one that’s full of divots and meanders. They crowd together and overlap, as if leaning on each other for support.

The visitor’s views are deliberately obscured, pushed as we are against the wall, with barely enough room for two of us to pass each other in places, as we orbit the concrete circle. These sentinels are impossible not to anthropomorphise: they’re looking at each other it seems, excluding their human visitors from their shared ritual.

I guess the one-word title of this impressive work was made up by the artist. I’d be pretty sure it’s a mashing together of ‘posts’ - those sticking-up wooden tops - and ‘corral’ - to gather together, to confine. Though the obvious question if that’s true is, who exactly is being corralled, them (the posts) or us (their orbiting visitors)?

Barlow’s having a bit of a moment in London right now, and is also currently the subject of an Artist Room across the river at Tate Modern. More concrete there, I hope. She has a unique and expressive way with that material.

Phyllida Barlow is at Hauser & Wirth (London). 31 August - 18 September 2021