Phillip King

Genghis Khan


Not on display

Phillip King 1934 – 2021
Painted plastic
Object: 2134 × 2743 × 3658 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1970

Catalogue entry

Phillip King b. 1934

T01236 Genghis Khan 1963

Nor inscribed.
Fibreglass and plastic with steel supports, 84 x 108 x 144 (213.5 x 274 x 366).
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1971.
Exh: (original) Rowan Gallery, February 1964 (8).
Lit: Statement First 2, St Martin’s School of Art 1961; Statement in catalogue of Rowan Gallery, February 1964; Andrew Forge, ‘Some New British Sculptors’, Art forum, May 1965, p. 33 repr.; Interview with John Coplans, Studio International, CLXIX, December 1965; Phillip King, ‘Notes on Sculpture’, Studio International, CLXXV, June 1968; Bryan Robertson, Catalogue of British Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 1968 (original repr.).
Repr: The English Eye, Marlborough-Gerson, New York, 1965 (p.61); Young British Sculptors, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, April-June 1967 (11).

The artist originally made ‘Genghis Khan’ in plastic and fibreglass in 1963. It was bought by the Peter Stuyvesant Collection, London. However he subsequently discovered that fibreglass is not satisfactory as the only medium for sculpture such as ‘Genghis Khan’ which consists of broad curved surfaces, as it tends to distort and mark. He therefore remade the sculpture in 1971–2, on this occasion in an edition of three. It is still made of fibreglass, but it is supported on a steel frame to prevent the distortion of the fibreglass shell. The original ‘Genghis Khan’ has been destroyed. The first version of the new edition belongs to the Peter Stuyvesant Collection, the second to the Tate Gallery, the third to the State University of New York.

The title was suggested by the exotic tent-like structure surmounted by a pair of antler-like forms. The form of ‘Genghis Khan’ relates to ‘Rosebud’ 1962 and ‘And the Birds began to Sing’ 1964. All three sculptures comprise sheets which wrap around each other to form a cone. However, none of the sculptures arc self-contained cones: in all of them forms unfurl or explode, or in the case of ‘Genghis Khan’ flow outwards. The artist said (Interview with John Coplans, op. cit.): ‘The struggle of matter towards expansion, movement and change is set against the awareness of the static controlling forces of inert matter. Hence the often recurring use of the cone as a very large, very much earth-bound shape that will provide maximum challenge in an effort towards expansion.’

King regards this sculpture as the last which intentionally alludes to a particular representation.

In the same interview the artist was asked:

Q: ‘Do you deliberately seek some kind of geobiomorphic form or imagery, some kind of a segmental view of nature or perhaps something similar. If so, what kind and why ?’
A: ‘I would say formal themes run through my mind for long periods at a time. In their general characteristics they relate to formal problems, but in the working out of an individual piece, associations to natural forms, phenomenal events or contemporary imagery do crop up, they remain of secondary importance and their main value lies in the fact that they help to formalise an idea which seems to exist in the mind mostly in terms of feeling and shapes based around a formal event. For instance, when I made ‘Genghis Khan’ I did not think of mountains and clouds, but the idea was based around a bursting event using flowing forms, bounded in by side walls and the ground.’

Q: ‘Is your sculpture frontal ?’
A: ‘I do not want my sculpture to have a main viewing point or front but to be a front. Two dimensional elements exist but they play against three dimensional ones and articulate the objects according to its needs. Outside contour can work with or against inside shape, making it more or less tangible. The use of simple horizontal vertical co-ordinates, tend to make points along the sculpture. But these tangible factors may disappear or be reduced in relation to other factors. For instance, the all round contour of ‘Genghis Khan’ has more formal entity than the ground contour and it also echoes it and dominates it, thereby helping to make the sculpture float off the ground.’

Bryan Robertson (op. cit.) wrote: ‘There is also the use of colour to deny weight but establish volume as well as to register identity. The dull purple indigo of ‘Genghis Khan’… usually has the symbolic function of implying regality. King’s work is notably free of figurative connotations but the emblematic presence of a warrior-chieftain is inescapable here.’

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.

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