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Richard Deacon at Tate Britain

One of Britain's leading sculptors gets his due in a chronological survey of his energetic forms.

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Frances Wilson
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Tate Britain’s new spring exhibition focuses on British sculptor and Turner Prize winner Richard Deacon (born 1949) and is the largest chronological survey of Deacon’s work for 25 years. The exhibition also marks the unveiling of “Fold 2012,” a gigantic sculpture created out of green-glazed ceramic blocks, which shift and shimmer as the visitor walks past. The work represents a gate rather than a barrier and is placed in the public space between the entrance and exit of the exhibition. It is the largest piece Deacon has produced and is characteristic of Deacon’s ambitious and ever-evolving approach to creating art, and his interest in the relationship between components and the whole, a theme further explored within the exhibition itself, which surveys Deacon’s work from the 1970s onwards.

Richard Deacon is widely regarded as one of the leading British sculptors. He ranks alongside other luminaries of the genre as Anish Kapoor, Tony Cragg, Antony Gormley and Richard Long. He is best known for his lyrical open forms and works displaying organic fluid movement, a recurring feature notable in serpentine structures such as “After” (1998), which alone occupies Room 5 of the exhibition like a giant somnolent latticework python.

It was a visit to the enormous rock-carved Buddhas in Sri Lanka that set Deacon on his artistic course, and the monumentalism of these ancient sculptures is evident in many of his pieces, though he prefers to work in lighter materials such as wood, burnished metal, plaster, plastic and clay rather than solid stone. Manufactured materials fascinate him, one reason he prefers to be called a “fabricator” — a maker of things — rather than a sculptor who places emphasis on the construction and manipulation of materials. This is highlighted in the exhibition by a group of works from his series called “Art for Other People” made with a diverse range of everyday materials including steel, form, rubber, chrome, leather and marble.

The first room of the exhibition includes drawings as well as the resulting sculptures, based on Rilke’s “Sonnets to Orpheus.” In these drawings and sculptures Deacon developed variations on the concept of the “hollow enclosure,” an opening that might stand for an ear or a mouth, or Orpheus’s musical instrument.

Room 2 focuses on one of Deacon’s favorite materials, laminated wood. These bent wood structures explore the tension between sensuous organic curves and the precise nature of their construction. The sculptures explore the interface between exterior and interior, surface and edge, form and image while their titles suggest a more metaphorical reading.

The spacious, unadorned rooms of Tate Britain’s Linbury Galleries allow visitors to wander amongst the sculptures, exploring their lines and form, the way they are physically created, and the shifting light and shadows they create. Open doorways between the galleries provide interesting vistas containing giant spirals of polished, riveted metal, lustrous ceramics and ribbons of steamed oak which dance and twirl like strange sea creatures. Indeed, there is so much vitality and energy in these organic forms one has the feeling they might rear up and move around the gallery given the chance.

Frances Wilson

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