Richard Deacon at Tate Britain
Richard Deacon, who won the Turner Prize in 1983, has long been regarded as one of our premier sculptors. His work is lyrical, baroque and what first strikes one is its air of virtuosity. Yet there is something a little too slick about Richard Deacon’s sculpture. Its charm and beauty recommend it immediately, but on reflection one finds him either too jazzily neat, or Victorian in his neatness and muscular prettiness. One could, admittedly facetiously, compare his rather prim use of form to that of Augustus Egg.
Its achievement is not so much one of form, but of an ambitious use of space, which saves some of the biomorphic stuff from the early 80s. This use of space becomes more obvious as the show goes on, and wins out over the use of pattern as texture, and vice versa, that makes his late 80s work almost drab. He is ambitious to demonstrate his own achievements, but these are never quite as much as they should be.
His work is, excluding some of the show’s earliest pieces, too resolved, too satisfied to really engage the viewer though they will entertain – particularly the two colossal Disney-ish conceits included from the last decade. Out of Order (2003) is great fun – ones senses that it is a piece to stand in, rather than observe from without. The show becomes less interesting as it becomes more enjoyable, as Deacon, never seeming to have been overly bothered by or bothered at all with the questions his work raises, has had a happy enough time with his caprices. This sense is not helped by the smoothness of the Tate retrospective – due to the size of his pieces, there is only so much on display, but one would be more interested in the stranger by ways of his career, particularly anything of his early development. He has a pre-occupation with whole shapes different from his recurring interest in form, and an interest in spaces as well as space, and these would have spiced up this exhibition. His materiality is theatrical. However his work is intelligent, has a mystery and occasional ghostliness about it that makes it worth watching.
Richard Deacon is at Tate Britain until 27th April 2014. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.