Sarah Lucas: Happy Gas at Tate Britain
Tate Britain presents a major survey of the work of Sarah Lucas, one of the Young British Artists cohort of the early 1990s that scandalised the nation. She was part of Freeze, the exhibition curated by Damien Hirst that changed the artistic landscape in the UK forever.
The first room of the show focuses on her early work, with the animatronic Wanker (1999) tossing off an invisible man in perpetuity. There is also The Odd Couple (1992) made from two chairs, a wax penis and a set of false teeth. Three works take articles from The Sunday Sport and blow them up so that the full effect can be appreciated. Fat, Forty and Flab-ulous (1990) tells the story of a woman unrepentant about her Rubenesque proportions, despite her disgruntled husband wanting to sell her. Sod You Gits (1990) is an article about a kiss-o-gram with dwarfism, described as a “laugh-a-minute SEX THIMBLE”.
These outrageous articles are more surreal than anything most artists could come up with, with their liberal use of bold capitalisation and inventive swearing, they read a bit like the rantings of someone in the grips of a Carry On-induced psychotic break, so caught up in reducing every woman to their sexual appeal that they’ve lost their own sanity somewhere along the way while trying to deny women their humanity. They make you wonder if the river Fleet flowed with ergot as well as misogyny.
Starting with 1997’s Bunny, there is a large collection of Lucas’s signature female forms made from stuffed tights. In the central long room, 16 new works are shown for the first time and have evolved the twisted tit aesthetic into resin, bronze and concrete. They twist and writhe over chairs, something recognisably and expressively female in them. Some are frank in their wide open legs (SLAG, 2023), others more coquettish (ANGEL, 2023), and some are downright sulky (CROSS DORIS, 2019). They are confronting and maybe just a little disturbing.
Not all of the work has as much impact. A concrete Eames chair just feels like, “Well, so?” The focus on cigarettes in the last room – a split open car is decorated with thousands of cigarettes (This Jaguar’s Going to Heaven, 2018 – amongst all the joyous perversity, is actually the most provocative and stomach-turning. Smoking, and enjoying it, feels way more shocking than sex now. There is a vigorous and scattershot approach to class, sex and the body here that is completely idiosyncratic.
Sarah Lucas: Happy Gas is at Tate Britain from 28th September until 14th January 2024. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.