Sarah Lucas: Happy Gas

Tate Britain, Sep/23-Jan/24

The exhibition starts before the first gallery, with two sofas pierced by fluorescent tube lights. The couches invite the public to activate their inner identities and enter the Sarah Lucas world, leaving their external judgments behind. Room 1 greets the audience with The Old Couple 1992, which consists of a wax penis and a false set of teeth laid on two chairs, the first installation she ever made, which puts a witty smile on our faces. To our right sits the iconic Bunny 1997, shown in the same year at the RA landmark exhibition ‘Sensation’. The first room continues with her enduring self-portraits and other early works from the 1990s. The huge Tabloid works remind us of when the newspaper used to be the main channel to spread news, and we also recognise how unnoticed our eyes used to pass through these pages that explicitly offered the female body for sale. Could this be a positive change from 1992 to 2023? I hope so, but I am still surprised that fake tits and bums in art spaces can cause more shock than when real ones are printed in the press!

Keeping the consistency up for four decades without falling into repetitiveness, Lucas continues to rethink the themes that have defined her career while bringing fresh ideas. A large sculpture court in the centre of the second room displays a variety of them, with 16 new sister bunnies unveiled for the first time. The materials are ones readily available and come in a wide range, including wool, cotton, polished bronze, cast concrete and resin. Some of these female bodies lean back chilled, showing off their voluptuous curves. Some pose unashamedly on super stylish high pointy heels. Unapologetically as well, others like Sex Bomb 2022 confront the voyeuristic viewer with their sexual desires.

Tate cleverly used the walls surrounding this exhibition to engage in a fun conversation between young Sarah and today’s Sarah. Eating a Banana 1990 is the wallpaper framing the bunnies in Room 2. On the other end, her older self adorns the walls around her early works in Room 4, using the Red Sky 2018 series. Twist and turn, they are pretty much the same, one adding a bold juvenile poke on one side of the coin, and the experienced 60-year-old Sarah bringing reassurance to her early art-making self.

The third and smallest room puts the sexual theme in the centre, but the fun and playful mood reigns over eroticism, leaving possible pornographic correlations out of context. The giant sandwich reminds us of the artist’s common usage of food in her practice. Materials testify to Lucas’s versatility: a banana, toilets, cigarettes, concrete, a car, stuffed tights, chairs, newspapers and lightbulbs. Everyday ready-made objects are used to discuss genre, class and the objectification of women. All that in such an authentic and funny way that makes us laugh.

Known for her Britishness but frankly universal, Sarah Lucas speaks to all. Women’s limbs are elastic enough to round the edges of hard supporting structures, most of them chairs. She positions the female character on top, spreading her soft presence around the space. There is an original narrative that addresses opposite forces working towards the same goal: to pose provocatively. Rather than imposing her strength, she is not afraid to expose vulnerability, but she still takes over the world using her flexibility and broad reach. There are no heads or rationality involved, just wisdom. She gets us!

Isabela Galvao for London Art Walk
September 2023