Richard Deacon

14 April 2014

Richard Deacon
TATE BRITAIN, Linbury Galleries
5 February – 27 April 2014
by john ros

LONDON — Whether you know the work of Richard Deacon or not, the current exhibit of the artists work at Tate Britain is both approachable and intriguing.  Richard Deacon is a Welsh sculptor, born in Bangor, Wales on 15 August 1949.  He won the Turner Prize in 1987.

As one enters the museum through the Atterbury Street we are greeted by “Fold”, 2012, the newest of the works in this survey.  The structured piece seems almost chiseled out of thin air, though not to say it is necessarily airy, it is quite dense, weighing over twelve tonnes, it is the largest ceramic work Deacon has ever made.  Patina-ed ceramic blocks stack to build an impenetrable folding screen inspired by the East.  Yet you can see through to the other side at places, there is a lightness in its density — A whimsy to its prominence.  It sits perfectly on a steel slab, almost effortlessly, as if it just appeared one day.  It succeeds in its effortlessness.  This piece is both a great introduction to the exhibit and makes a gorgeous addition to the lobby.  “Fold” bookmarks the exhibit as it is the first thing you see when you walk in and it will be the last piece you pass on your way out.  There is lyricism here — in its placement and its sternness.  An interesting way to start the dialogue within the rest of the exhibit.

The viewer enters the first gallery and encounters five framed drawings spread throughout the room with three prominent yet subtle sculptures on the floor.  The architectural sketches feel like blueprint drawings at a glance, but begin to develop exponentially as they unfold with a longer stare.  They are like dreamscapes mapped over-night, or memories of trips taken — walks throughout the Heath, journeys around the world.  The pieces on the floor almost feel like they were left there by accident — but rather than feel out of place, they couldn’t feel more like a permanent fixture as if they are keeping the four walls in the gallery afloat.  Placement is key here, from drawing to sculpture, then back again.  Then catch a glimpse of the next gallery while passing back and fourth, mesmerized and delighted.  The quiet gallery sets the meditative standard for the first few galleries of the exhibit.

As if “Blind, Deaf and Dumb A”, 1985, almost calls to the viewer, its placement and intrigue establishes the strength of the second gallery.  Here we encounter three more sculptures, all on the floor.  The internal starts to appear as they mimic organs or tissues.  There is a symmetry that begins to take shape.  In the silence one becomes aware of his or her breath and circulation.  This powerful mix of insinuation and meditation elevates this work to a new level.  One can skip the titles all together, or ponder on them: “Blind, Deaf and Dumb A”, Tall Tree in the Ear”, and “Untitled”.  Either way, the viewer is in control of this experience — and therefore feels like an active member in this exchange.

The third gallery looses the meditative feel a bit.  It almost feels too crowded or disconnected.  This may actually be a good thing for the viewer to reengage with the setting and not become too familiar with what one things he or she sees.  “The Back of My Hand #1”, 1986, on the wall is quite odd and intriguing.  This mix of galvanized steel, vinyl and linoleum is the strangest in the room with its mix of materials and austerity on the wall.  Without this striking piece, the next gallery would seem completely out of place.  Small elements on another steel plinth playfully lure the viewer into the 4th gallery.  There is an elegant pause with these works on the floor (and one on the wall).  Again, there is a play with the internal/external.  Body parts begin to form out of one’s imagination.  Form and function begin to take hold as the lyrical pieces are further examined.  Useless tools?  Sexual torture devices?  Whatever the viewer experiences, this gallery is a nice break to the meditation of the previous rooms and a harbinger to the extravagance and scale of the largess of the pieces to come.

“After”, 1998, sits in the middle of the fifth gallery once you pass “Waiting in the Rain”, 2002 and “Lotus”, 2002, which feel like remnants of the previous gallery.  The mix of material and scale of “After”, brings up many new emotions.  Industry, purpose, shelter?  There are many new places the mind travels in these final galleries.  The sculptures feel larger, stronger, as if they almost have more intention.  This may not necessarily be a good thing, as the viewer almost becomes left out of the dialogue.  “Out of Order”, 2003, in the last gallery is an exception.  It seems awkwardly positioned as the viewer is forced to either wall to get by.  As one interacts with it, he or she becomes a part of this un-planned performance piece.  Its positioning suddenly feels like a brave and appropriate curatorial decision.  Its confrontational nature is much different form the previous pieces, but there is still a lightness here.  Playful, yet aggressive — the viewer is suddenly welcomes back into the dialogue.

Over all, the exhibit leaves the viewer nourished.  There is room to work and imagine — not a generosity often given by curators.  Clarrie Wallis has worked hard to give us just enough information to enter the galleries and really get to know Deacon.  She accomplishes the difficult task of allowing the viewer to be a pertinent part of the exhibit.  We leave enriched and ready to tackle the wondrous world of art-pieces that surround us everyday on the streets of London.

A colour catalogue on Richard Deacon by Clarrie Wallis has been published to coincide with the exhibition which runs from 5 February through 27 April 2014 at the Tate Britain, Linbury Galleries.  Open daily, 10.00-18.00 w/ 11GBP Adult admission 9.50 Concession (10 / 8.60 without Gift aid).
More info @: tate-britain

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