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Barry Flanagan (sculpture) - Tate Britain - Early Works 1965-19

  • This is one of those big fancy Tate shows that you could walk around in about 5 minutes and wander out of thinking little more than: "Nice rabbit." That was certainly the reaction of some of the other people there on the Wednesday afternoon I visited, and there weren't that many of us either, we only just outnumbered the Tate staff. But that is probably a bit harsh as out of the 5 other people I saw looking at the show two of them were fully immersed, sitting on the floor and drawing the pieces. Perhaps its the kind of show you have to meditate yourself into, and when I tried that it wasn't at all bad.


    The best bit for me was in the second room - the piece you might have seen in the advertising - the big blue sort of soft chimneys that have rope lying around them and a blue circle on the floor. For some reason it has a presence of its own, it's also satisfyingly abstract, by which I mean it doesn't seem like it's a poor reworking of some stone age symbol or early man stone circle. It just seems to have it's own identity and a kind of purity to it.




    This purity seemed more lost by the third room where there were small wigwams made with spindly pieces of tree. These just reminded me of the play area at Wisley Gardens where you can take children to make wigwams with exactly these kind of pieces of wood. Maybe you would commend the fact it makes that kind of connection - but for me it just made me laugh a bit and wonder why the artist was making like small comic versions of wigwams. It came across as a poor attempt to make some reference to iconic structures, and this tendancy of the show to try and put words into the sculpture I felt was lacking clarity - as if the quality of the sculpture couldn't communicate itself. All the sandbags in this room had the same feeling for me. There was some desperate attempt to try and make some connection with the first world war. If the sculpture can communicate on its own why does it need these forced resonances shamlessly shoved into it.



    The rabbits were in the last room - again these are the kind of works you might recognise, but not know who made. Again I guess (maybe I read it in the book) these were trying to link to some Egyptiain symbolic rabbit effigy. When I stood and tried to meditate myself into these works they did become better, but I wasn't walking around looking at the work but thinking about Egypt.



    All in all I guess the show is just not that engaging. If you've got your Tate card and you can get in for free it's probably worth wandering around but I have a feeling you won't be in there long.