Five metre high sculpture to be unveiled at Highgate Cemetery

Phyllida Barlow

Phyllida Barlow at the British Pavilion 2017 Venice Biennale - Credit: Ruth Clark/courtesy the artist and Hauser&Wirth

A five metre high sculpture described as an "imposing sepulchral" tower will go up in Highgate West Cemetery's courtyard.

Renowned artist Phyllida Barlow hopes the site-specific structure, titled Act, will encourage visitors to look afresh at the Grade I listed burial ground with its iconic colonnade, Egyptian Avenue, and Terrace Catacombs.

Studio Voltaire, which commissioned the seven metre wide tower of fabric-wrapped poles enclosed with concrete paint-flecked panels, said it was "a special opportunity to encounter ambitious new work by this leading artist within an extraordinary and historic site".

Eygptian Circle in Highgate Cemetery

Eygptian Circle in Highgate Cemetery - Credit: Archant

The Finsbury Park artist, whose former students include Rachael Whiteread and Martin Creed, is known for her colourfully painted structures of stacked, bound and balanced everyday materials such as cardboard, fabric, plaster and timber.

They often appear at the edge of collapse and Studio Voltaire added: "Her commission is a dramatic and contemplative response to the elaborate, melancholic funerary architecture of the cemetery, and will bring audiences into unexpected dialogues with a landmark site."

Dr Ian Dungavell, who runs Highgate Cemetery. Picture: Highgate Cemetery

Dr Ian Dungavell, who runs Highgate Cemetery - Credit: Highgate Cemetery


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The project is in partnership with the cemetery and Ian Dungavell, chief executive of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, said: "Cemeteries were the outdoor sculpture parks of the 19th century. Visitors would be inspired by the achievements of those who had gone before them, and improved by looking at the artistic monuments and poetic inscriptions.

"Masons were sent to study antique sculpture in the British Museum. Barlow's sculpture will be mediating between the urban buzz outside and the peaceful tranquillity of the burial landscape. We hope it will inspire visitors in the same way as the 19th century monuments, and inculcate a frame of mind conducive to cemetery visiting."

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Barlow has enjoyed international solo exhibitions, including at The Royal Academy of Arts in 2019, and Tate Britain in 2014, and represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2017.

Act will be built in her Hornsey studio, and transferred to Highgate Cemetery over a week. It will remain in place for six weeks from July 24 to August 30, 9.30am–12.30pm.

Highgate Cemetery

The courtyard where the statue will stand - Credit: Courtesy of Highgate Cemetery

Entrance to the courtyard to view the exhibition is free with no booking required, but access to the wider West Cemetery is ticketed by timed entry or guided tour. Visit highgatecemetery.org/.

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