‘Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel’
“The art of the British sculptor Sarah Lucas seems to operate on a sliding scale between anger and whimsy,” writes Regina Marler. “At one end are works like Receptacle of Lurid Things (1991), a life-size flesh-colored wax cast of what we assume to be a middle finger—raised at the art audience? At patriarchy? At everyone?—and at the other is Sex Baby Bed Base (2000), a mattress spring frame from which Lucas has hung (on a wire clothes hanger) a small sleeveless T-shirt, the fabric sliced in front to admit a couple of lemons, pushed through from behind, as bared breasts. The lower half of this rough-and-ready female simulacrum is completed by a rubber chicken. The whole assemblage feels fun, cheap, and provisional: open to interpretation, and not giving a damn. To walk through Lucas’s first major American retrospective, “Au Naturel,” is to move across this emotional register with her: stirred, amused, and to some extent implicated in her willful incorrectness and smirking, post-punk critique of everyday sexism.
“In Lucas’s breakthrough pieces of the early 1990s—well represented in the “Au Naturel” exhibition, now at UCLA’s Hammer Museum—anger is the dominant note. Some of these deploy a working-class defiance while also poking fun at it: Concrete Boots (1993) consists of a cast-concrete pair of work boots; 1-123-123-12-12 (1991) features Doc Martens with razor blades embedded in front; a wax cast of Lucas’s sneering mouth with a cigarette clamped in her teeth is called Where Does It All End?(1994). I’m really quite dangerous, they seem to say. You should consider crossing the street. The Odd Couple (1991) consists of two wooden chairs with off-putting additions: one has a wax cast of a penis glued to the seat and the other a set of false teeth.
Lucas was picked up by a gallerist, Sadie Coles, who still represents her. Her works from that period have a savage ingenuity, and can feel like a cultural critique or a well-timed joke. Au Naturel (1994), the deadpan assemblage for which the new show is named, consists of an old mattress slumped against the wall, the bodies of male and female lovers lying side by side on it crudely suggested by two oranges and an upright cucumber for the man, a couple of melons and an old bucket for the woman. This piece isn’t a one-liner—a standard complaint leveled against the Young British Artists—but it is a classic example of Lucas’s bawdy humor, her harsh metonyms, and her gift for reductio ad absurdum. Au Naturel is a gentle work compared to Bitch (1995), in which a T-shirt stretched over a table end and hung with melons and a plastic-wrapped fish at the other end stands in (or rather, bends over) for a woman.”
For more information, visit hammer.ucla.edu.
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