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Connecting 21st-century installation to 18th-century portrait sculpture in six steps

Published 19 June 2014

Simon Wilson investigates the six degrees of separation between Phyllida Barlow RA and Roubiliac’s portrait busts.

  • 1. Phyllida Barlow RA

    The exhilarating work of Phyllida Barlow, such as Untitled: 11 Awnings (2013), is often made of simple everyday materials such as concrete or felt. Its latest manifestations include a towering commission for Tate Britain (until 19 October) and a brilliantly colourful installation that opens a major venue, the Hauser & Wirth gallery complex set in the Somerset countryside (15 July–2 Nov). The installation is site specific, inspired by country fêtes and carnivals.

  • Phyllida Barlow RA, Untitled: 11 Awnings

    Phyllida Barlow RA, Untitled: 11 Awnings, 2013.

    © Phyllida Barlow. Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Paul Crosby.

  • 2. Barbara Kruger

    Born within a year of Barlow, American artist Barbara Kruger has since the 1960s made collages and installations based on advertising posters, in which famous phrases are twisted to expose the emptiness of consumer culture – ‘I shop therefore I am’ – or where bold slogans, such as ‘Don’t Shoot’, reveal an ironic wit. Her work at Modern Art Oxford (28 June–31 Aug) is as stimulating and salutory as ever.

  • Barbara Kruger

    Barbara Kruger

    © Barbara Kruger. Sprüth Magers

  • 3. Gustav Metzger

    Like Kruger, Gustav Metzger makes work that is highly political, questioning the values of commerce and the existence of art itself. Metzger was part of Fluxus, a loose affiliation of artists who pioneered radical new approaches to art and blended disciplines; for example, his liquid crystal environments, such as Supportive (1966-2011), inspired psychedelic light shows at 1960s rock performances. Now aged 88, his significance is growing, and a show at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge (24 May–31 Aug) introduces a new audience to his exciting and dramatic work.

  • Gustav Matzger, Suportive

    Gustav Matzger, Suportive, 1966 - 2011.

    Gustav Metzger. Musee D‘Art Contemporain de Lyon.

  • 4. James McNeill Whistler

    The artistic questioning of the Fluxus movement had its origins in the 19th century, when J.M. Whistler was redefining art, not least, as a public dandy and wit, introducing the idea of living life as art. He is therefore a suitable father figure for the Liverpool Biennial (5 July–26 Oct), where the Bluecoat Gallery has a survey show of his work. Paintings, such as Thames – Nocturne in Blue and Silver, c.1872-78, so subversive at the time, are now part o the canon, making Whistler an enjoyable entry point to the more challenging contemporary art of the biennial.

  • James McNeill Whistler, Thames - Nocturne in Blue and Silver

    James McNeill Whistler, Thames - Nocturne in Blue and Silver, c. 1872 - 78.

    Yale Centre for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund, USA/ The Bridgeman Art Library.

  • 5. Art Nouveau

    Art Nouveau revived elements of 18th-century French Rococo, such as undulating asymmetrical forms and motifs from nature. One o the most famous sculptors of that earlier era, Louis-François Roubiliac, found fame in London for his lively yet dignified portraits; his relationship with the poet Alexander Pope is the focus of an exhibition at Buckinghamshire’s beautiful Waddesdon Manor (18 June–26 Oct).

  • Alphonse Mucha

    Alphonse Mucha

    Arwas Archives. Photo: Pete Huggins

  • 6. Roubiliac’s portrait busts

    Whistler designed and often painted his frames to create a total visual object. This merger of high art and decoration was an origin of Art Nouveau, the subject of a compact show at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich (until 14 Dec). It includes deliciously sensual posters of women by Alphonse Mucha that typify this style.

  • Louis-François Roubiliac, Alexander Pope

    Louis-François Roubiliac, Alexander Pope.

    © The National Trust. Photo: Mike Fear.

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