Phyllida Barlow: PRANK

Phyllida Barlow (British, 1944–2023) created PRANK, a new series of seven steel and fiberglass sculptures, for City Hall Park. Barlow based each sculpture on a familiar object that might be found at home or in an artist’s studio. The objects have been rotated, repeated, and stacked to create awkward, improbable structures. An oddly irregular white form first used by the artist in 1994, known as “rabbit ears,” appears on each angular steel assemblage.

PRANK was completed before Barlow’s untimely death in March 2023, and marks an important step as her first exhibition made with robust outdoor materials. At the same time, it returns to several longstanding themes and motifs. Variants of the comical “rabbit ears” defy gravity to scale stairs, grasp edges, and balance atop eccentric structures, as if performing. The title of each sculpture is a single evocative word: antic, hoax, jape, jinx, mimic, stunt, and truant. Together, they suggest an interest in the creative potential of disruption and rule breaking, a hallmark of Barlow’s art. Against such traditional sculptural values as balance, proportion, symmetry, and gravitas, her work offers absurdity, exuberance, vulnerability, and humor. In doing so, PRANK takes on the scale, materials and legacy of monumental outdoor sculpture and redefines it in Barlow’s own, indelibly human terms.

Phyllida Barlow: PRANK is curated by Public Art Fund Artistic & Executive Director Nicholas Baume with initial development by former Public Art Fund Curator Daniel S. Palmer.

About the Artist

Phyllida Barlow (1944–2023, Newcastle, England) lived and worked in London. Influenced by the early 1960s New Generation Sculpture exhibitions at Whitechapel Gallery in London, Barlow began experimenting early in her career with the sculptural potential of materials unassociated with traditional sculpture. Prior to receiving exhibitions in major museums and galleries, Barlow utilized public and temporary spaces to show her work, developing her exploration of physical space and challenging conventional notions of where sculpture could exist. For forty years, Barlow also worked as a teacher, fostering some of Britain’s most distinguished artists. Since 2009, she worked exclusively on her art practice and exhibited her work widely in the United Kingdom and internationally.

Barlow studied at Chelsea College of Art (1960–1963) and the Slade School of Art (1963–1966). She later taught at both schools and was Professor of Fine Art and Director of Undergraduate Studies at the latter until 2009. Major awards include receiving the Aachen Art Prize (2012) and being named a Royal Academician (2011). She has had major exhibitions at Royal Academy of the Arts, London, England (2019); Jupiter Artland, Edinburgh, Scotland (2018); Turner Contemporary, Margate, England (2017); Venice Biennale, Italy (2013, 2017); Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas (2015); Tate Britain, London, England (2014); and New Museum, New York (2012), among others. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honors in 2021.

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Installation Photos

Planning Phase Sketches and Paintings



City Hall Park, Lower Manhattan

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