Phyllida Barlow, Royal Academy review: Britain's greatest sculptor blows up suburbia

A Mozartian economy: demo
A Mozartian economy: demo Credit: Alex Delfanne

You hardly associate Phyllida Barlow with pared-back elegance. The 74-year-old has established herself as Britain’s leading sculptor with maximal installations that tend to look like explosions in a builders’ merchant. In dock, the work that filled Tate Britain’s Duveen Hall in 2014, and folly, for the 2017 Venice Biennale, cheap and nasty colours were daubed over avalanches of timber, plywood and polystyrene.

Her rise to eminence has been a protracted business, delayed by having five children and the assumption, certainly earlier in her career, that sculpture was a man’s business. She responded to her male contemporaries’ fondness for expensive and implicitly “important” bronze and steel, by...

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