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Sarah Lucas: ‘Happy Gas’

  • Art
  • Tate Britain, Millbank
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Sarah Lucas, Sandwich, 2004- 2020. Courtesy the artist and Sadie Coles HQ Photo by Max Colson
Sarah Lucas, Sandwich, 2004- 2020. Courtesy the artist and Sadie Coles HQ Photo by Max Colson

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Sarah Lucas’s art isn’t big, and it isn’t clever. But who says art needs to be either of those things? Maybe, instead, art can be vulgar, puerile, obscene, grotesque and childish.

As soon as you walk into this big look back across her career, you meet a mechanical hand tossing off an invisible man, a wax cock on a wooden chair, a wall of tabloid tits, and lists of words for shit and wanking. Not big, not clever, but funny, shocking and, genuinely, deeply insightful. 

Lucas came to national attention as part of the shock and awe Blitzkrieg of the YBAs, but rather than death, love or murder (like her contemporaries Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Marcus Harvey), she was interested in the nitty, gritty, grimy sludge of everyday existence; in sex, excrement, masturbation, cigarettes, filth, the body and putridity. The hows and whys of the things we hide or say under our breath.

It’s an evisceration of norms and standards and societal expectations

After the opening room with its tabloid titillation and foul mouthed nastiness, you get a hall of chairs, each lounged over by twisting, undulating female forms. Her sculptures, made of tights and wool at first, are contorted into impossible shapes, wrapped around backrests and chair legs, their buttocks spread, boobs sagging and tangled. Some are in high heels, some have dozens of breasts, some are bronze, some are resin. They’re all faceless, called things like ‘Slag’, ‘Honey Pie’ and ‘Sex Bomb’, draped over armchairs and office chairs. It’s like the Viz version of Habitat.

I don’t think they’re necessarily brilliant sculptures, and it gets a bit repetitive. But they’re a neat encapsulation of how Lucas plays with the hidden everyday, with bodies and sex and symbols of gender, with questions of taste and acceptability; all mixed with loads of titterring sauciness. 

There’s more of that to come: a bronze figure with a huge red penis, a cigarette popped into a concrete woman’s bum, a chair made of tits. Sometimes it's titillation for its own sake, other times it’s a bit more nuanced, like the burned out car covered in cigarettes, choked with fears about habits and death. In all this toying with boobs and knobs and rude words, Lucas is asking why one thing is ruder than the other, why one thing is allowed and the other not. This isn’t dense, complex art, it’s an evisceration of norms and standards and societal expectations.

Not all of it is good (the YBA urge to make everyday objects out bronze, in this case an Eames chair, is painfully dull) and over the course of the whole show, the joke starts to wear a little thin.

But at least a good joke, because the best humour is toilet humour, the best swear words are the rude ones, and it turns out, the best art is satirical, cynical, vulgar, stupid, funny and absolutely full of knob gags. It’s not big, and it’s not clever, but it’s very, very good.

Eddy Frankel
Written by
Eddy Frankel


Tate Britain
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Tube: Pimlico/Vauxhall

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