Review: Alison Wilding, the Whitworth

Published 15 June 2018

Gabriel Coxhead reviews an exhibition spanning the past 20 years of the sculptor Alison Wilding's career.

‘In the midst of the journey of life/I found myself astray in a dark wood.’ These are the opening lines of Dante’s Inferno, and they’re where the title comes from for In a Dark Wood (2012), the largest sculpture in this selection of recent works by Alison Wilding. It’s a kind of pun: the piece is literally constructed from dark wood – hundreds of iroko slats, stacked in complicatedly interlocking, crisscrossing layers. But it also captures the eerie, vaguely sepulchral tone of the work, whose overall shape suggests a kind of funeral pyre; or else a commemorative, monumental arch. Trapped within the grid-like thicket are several round, lead-coloured balls – objects that might normally signify play or movement, here fixed mournfully in place.

Other pieces continue the mood of, if not quite a descent into hell, then certainly a deathly solemnity. Largo (2002) features silk-and-paper flowers arranged atop a large semi-sphere, like a garden bowl planter – except that everything has been leeched of colour: the bowl-form is pallid concrete, the flowers are ashen-hued. Reversing (2017) consists of an expanse of hand-printed wallpaper whose design represents scrolling acanthus tendrils, to which a pair of jagged, saw-toothed brass discs have been pinned, suggesting violence and interruption, of nature cut off at the roots.

A display case contains smaller pieces, including bronze-coloured casts of toy aeroplanes draped in shrouds. Despite their size, they feel weighty – rather like the exhibition as a whole. It’s a concentrated selection, a single room only. But it makes a strong case for Wilding as one of the most consistently impressive British sculptors of the past 40 years.

Alison Wilding is free to all, until 12 August, the Whitworth, Manchester.

This review was originally published in the summer 2018 issue of Art Quarterly, the magazine of Art Fund.

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