Critics’ Picks

Barry Flanagan, light on light on sacks, 1969, hessian sacks, light, 6' 6 3/4“ x 17' 4 1/2” x 7' 10 1/2".

Barry Flanagan, light on light on sacks, 1969, hessian sacks, light, 6' 6 3/4“ x 17' 4 1/2” x 7' 10 1/2".


Barry Flanagan

Tate Britain
September 27, 2011–January 2, 2012

Sometimes the fame of certain artists is unfairly bound to a single body of work, and curiously enough, it may not always be the best work in their repertoire. Barry Flanagan is known above all for the bronze sculptures he made beginning in 1980, depicting humanoid hares that leap, dance, and play the tambourine. “Early Works 1965–1982” opportunely points out that the “bunny” phase was preceded by fifteen years of some of the most interesting sculptural experimentation in the United Kingdom, while also reminding us that Flanagan was the only English artist included in both “When Attitudes Become Form” and “Op Losse Schroeven” (On Loose Screws), two epic group exhibitions compiled in 1969.

Curated by Clarrie Wallis and Andrew Wilson, this latest exhibition ranges from the artist’s early works, created when he was just out of St. Martin’s School of Art (whose sculpture department graduates included other restless and iconoclastic talents of the time, such as Gilbert & George and Bruce McLean), to his early bronze animal sculptures. There are works based on the properties of malleable materials like sand and fabric; sculptures constructed from sheets of metal that have been cut and folded; installations that document the encounter between three-dimensional forms and light projections (such as light on light on sacks, 1969); and, finally, a selection of works in sculpted stone. His career is one where different and even opposite tendencies often converge: phenomenological approach and literary references (Alfred Jarry comes to mind first), a de-emphasis on skill and a love for artisan tradition, the abstract and the figurative. Wallis, in her catalogue text, finds Flanagan’s particular empirical approach to materials and techniques to be the element that unifies such different impulses. Yet this show emphasizes that the other constant in Flanagan’s work is humor, often deliciously surreal. How can one remain serious before an elongated stone sculpture from 1977–79 titled a nose in repose?

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.