Phyllida Barlow’s fantastical sculptures stretch high towards the lofty ceilings of the British Pavilion. The group of five bulging, grey columns, topped with tilting rectangular blocks, dwarfs viewers in the central gallery. They also set the tone for an installation in which Barlow explores the precarious relationship between the architectural and the theatrical, between real and fake.
Barlow is known for augmenting and ennobling everyday materials in her large-scale constructions and she pushes this skill to its apex in the Biennale presentation. Across the show, huge forms forged from wood, fabric, foam, mesh, and plaster resemble giant improvised toys and architectural decorations designed for elaborate stage sets.
But while many of Barlow’s sculptures might initially read as whimsical, they can also suddenly turn ominous. Entering one side room, you glimpse an enticingly colorful patchwork of panels, only to look up and realize that anvil-shaped forms extend from the panels and loom overhead.