Exhibition Review: Sarah Lucas - Au Naturel
Written by Betsabe Morales
Spanning over 30 years of work, Sarah Lucas’ most iconic pieces are featured at the New Muesum making its first U.S. debut.
Unapologetically playful, themes of desire, gender, and existential nuances pervade the “Sarah Lucas: Au Natural” collection. Her use of everyday items, such as cigarettes, canned food, and fruit, allude to her humble working class roots. Curated by Massimiliano Gioni and Margot Norton, the exhibition is named after her classic “Au Naturel” piece. The original installation is famously known as a stained old mattress with house hold objects and fruits acting as the genitalia of two lovers hanging out post-sex.
“Legs crossed and shoulders back” as all women are taught...but try telling that to Sarah Lucas. Much of Lucas’s work emphasizes her personal aesthetic of androgyny through her use of stuffed panty-hose characters that tease the audiences eye with its human like resemblance known as “bunnies”. These anthropomorphic characters are angled in different sluggish positions defying “lady-like” expectations of being eye candy.
Continuing the redefinition of gender, portraits of Lucas showcase her uniform-like style of a baggy t-shirt and comfortable jeans with a short hair cut and plain face. In a nonchalant stance and confrontational stare, she is photographed smoking a cigarette, carrying a shot glass wearing a coca-cola themed t-shirt with “selfish in bed” printed in white. Incorporating “selfish in bed” in her portrait, Lucas pokes fun at the never ending nightmare of a woman not being satisfied in bed at the hands of an inconsiderate man. Sporting a blazer with a turtle neck, another portrait features her carrying a large fish over her shoulder alluding to the typical “catch” profile picture that men notoriously gloat about on Facebook after a weekend lake getaway.
I found myself cackling in amusement at Lucas blatant attempt to crush and mock male ego. The use of phallic symbols play an integral part in Lucas exploration of sexuality. Bruised and burned cars placed with enlarged sculptures of penises scoff at the fact that male masculinity is closely correlated with the stereotype of “the car makes the man”; as the saying goes - “the bigger the car, the smaller the ****.” The same idea can be said about men who pose with their latest glorious catch.
Lucas had the audacity to suggest that women are sexual beings interested in casual encounters through her provocative displays of partners laying out for sex. Staging old futons laying out on the floor suggests lustful encounters that disregard the lack of romance in these scenarios. In addition to these installations, enlarged prints of news paper ads from the 80s are displayed to show local women soliciting sexual favors for money or pure satisfaction. Unheard of to the 80s, these women reclaiming sexuality and embracing their desires in ads promote Lucas on-going theme of feminism.
A wonderfully absurd video installation of Lucas’ partner showcases Julian Simmon laying on a kitchen table while she cracks numerous raw eggs on his body and thoroughly massaging its remnants all over his body. Half way through the installment, he flips his body over revealing his flaccid penis as she begins massaging his balls. Raising a few eyebrows and laughs, the audience were perplexed by this dada-inspired installation. Providing some context, Lucas reveals the use of eggs in pagan rituals symbolizing renewal and immortality.
The heavy use of cigarettes highlight Lucas’ existentional dread as she shapes every day objects like a toilet and car using old and new cigarette buds. Her love of cigarettes is a focal point through many aspects of the exhibit, particularly, in the crucified cigarette figure sculpture hanging from a black cross as a rendition of “God Is Dead”.
As the exhibit creates a humorous ambiance for the audience, viewers were more than satisfied at Lucas enticing and provocative work on display.