- Phillip King PPRA
- Genghis Khan
- painted stainless steel
Private Collection, London
Bryan Robertson, John Russell & The Earl of Snowdon, Private View The Lively World of British Art, London, 1965, the original model illustrated in a photograph of Phillip King’s studio
Andrew Forge, ‘Some New British Sculptors’, in Art Forum, May 1965, the original model illustrated p. 33
John Coplans, ‘Interview with Phillip King’, in Studio International, CLXIX, December 1965, the model discussed
Phillip King, ‘Notes on Sculpture’, in Studio International, CLXXV, June 1968
Phillip King (exhibition catalogue), Kröller-Müller Museum, The Netherlands, 1974, n. n., another cast illustrated p. 21
Tim Hilton, The Sculpture of Phillip King, London, 1992, another cast illustrated in colour pl. 3; another cast illustrated pp. 19, 107 & on back cover
is one of Phillip King’s most celebrated sculptures, and a landmark in the history of post-war British sculpture. As a student at St. Martins in the late 1950s King was part of a generation of sculptors taught by Sir Anthony Caro who urged them to be adventurous. Inspired by Caro and Paolozzi as well as a range of other sources such as Constantin Brancusi’s seductively simplified sculptural forms, King started to work in a highly experimental manner. In 1958, at the suggestion of Caro, King was apprenticed to Henry Moore with whom he shared the belief that sculpture had to be derived from nature and be created using a humanistic approach. However, after a three month trip to Greece in 1960 he created a number of sculptures which were without any trace of the influence of Moore and where purely object based. King also started using unconventional materials, such as fibreglass, in the belief that no medium was inherently more sculptural than any other. This bold approach led him to create the first of his cone shaped sculptures, Rosebud
in 1962, which was soon followed by Genghis Khan
in 1963. The basic cone shapes were never simply cones, but rather ornamented or split in such a way as to transform the basic form into an essentially sculptural object – a quality that could be discerned from any angle. Discussing the title and possible visual connotations it might possess Tim Hilton suggests that ‘Genghis Khan seems to be clothed rather than stripped. Its fantasy may allude to strange natural forces, water spilling in ravines in remote mountains: hence the allusion to Coleridge’s poem. There is also a temptation to call this sculpture one of King’s most North African subjects, or to think of it in terms of Islamic architecture’ (T. Hilton, op. cit.
, London, 1992, p. 42). King emphasised that though the title for the work came from Coleridge's 'Kubla Khan', the piece was 'more to do with confrontation, not representation'. Furthermore, Genghis Khan
allowed King to experiment with the notion of space, and the idea of a sculpture engaging with a viewer by occupying the same space, rather than being distanced by a plinth or pedestal.
In 1965 Bryan Robertson described the extraordinary qualities of the present work: 'The great Genghis Khan ... rears up from the floor like a chieftain, the leader of the tribe, culminating in the severely cut-out shapes which extend outwards from the peak of the conical-shaped sculpture, like antlers - or like bat-wings. Conversely, the sculpture has a downward-flowing movement, sweeping down to the train-like shapes which spread along the floor on two sides. The title is perfect for the character and mood projected by this sculpture; its majestic inscrutability is brought to full expression by the oriental, slate-like, royal purplish-blue of the colour' (B. Robertson, J. Russell & The Earl of Snowdon, Private View The Lively World of British Art, London, 1965, p. 242).
King was chosen to represent Great Britain alongside Bridget Riley at the fateful Venice Biennale in 1968, which was troubled by student protests, and Genghis Khan was one of the earliest works on show. It has subsequently been recognised as one of the most influential and important sculptures of the 1960s, with casts belonging to Tate and the State University of New York.