Staring at art from the Tate's collection and thinking about it

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

aaing j gni aa - Barry Flanagan

Barry Flanagan, aaing j gni aa, 1965, fabric and plaster, 1700 x 1450 x 1450 mm, Tate.

This early work by Flanagan (later of leaping gold hares fame) can be seen as both a break and a spoof of the British Modernist sculptural tradition, in particular Henry Moore.  Whereas Moore carved and cast, exerting his mighty will on his mighty materials, Flanagan pours wet plaster into fabric bags.  He only has partial control over the form the objects will ultimately have.  Where Moore was hard, Flanagan is soft, and in the sixties, the idea of sculpture being soft was still pretty mind-blowing.  But these soft forms are also phallic, totems somehow drained of their power and rendered cuddly.  Again, the masculinity of the great carving sculptor is undermined.  The form in the bottom left of the picture, meanwhile, is practically Moore-esque with the space opening up beneath it.  The title is primitive, not in the manner of much Modernism, appropriating what was found out in the colonies for its own po-faced purpose, but nonsensically so, like the gibberish a child would say as part of a game of pretend.  Indeed, this is Modernist sculpture turned into something wilfully childish, a return to Dada.  It's a piss-take that says of old gods, 'we don't believe in you any more'.

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