Sara Barker (4 stars)

Mary Mary, Glasgow, until Sat 16 Jun


(Picture: Falling Abbey)

Conceptual and perceptual reality fit like a Möbius strip, chasing and paralleling each other in the work of Glasgow-based sculptor Sara Barker. Her new installed sculptural works kick the over-stuffed theoretical baggage of Minimalism about the gallery, in a series of intellectually playful compositions that at first appear very slight indeed, but slowly reveal a seriously capricious foundation that keeps the viewer on their toes.

The sculptures in the first gallery space lure the viewer into the classical perspectival cone of vision; we feel compelled to face these flimsy wooden spars straight on. This position is enclosed by two ‘bracket’ shaped forms on the wall behind our heads, emphasising the fact that the field of vision is always framed, ideologically prefigured. The sculptures take on the structuralist sanctity of the minimalist grid, opening it back up to relativity, our subjectivity. Both Caro’s pompous and romantic abstractions and LeWitt’s conceptual starkness are parodied by off-cuts of stained cheap wood and cardboard. When you start finding these objects aesthetically pleasing their ugliness mocks you; when you start reading them as theoretical statements, free from aesthetic consideration, something almost beautiful emerges. This is Barker’s greatest skill.

In the next room she continues this examination of the difference between an artistic (or conceptual) examination of space, with large cardboard rectilinear forms that frame nothing. Again, the viewer feels like they should stand straight in front of the work, only to find that this privileged position is barred by a pillar. We could go closer to the work (in the ritual of reception and viewing favoured by the abstract expressionist), but closer examination appears to reveal very little of what is usually understood to be artistic merit. Barker’s work catches us between two positions, presenting a parallax view that refuses to give up the whole truth.

One of the most successful sculptures in the show demonstrates all of Barker’s insights. ‘Falling Abbey’ is presented on a plinth of sorts, at the perfect height for seeing the work up close. As you circle this maquette of a monument to anti-art, the unchecked idealism that still bolsters most contemporary art crumbles before you.

(Alexander Kennedy)

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