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Walking into Nud Nob, Sarah Lucas’s first gallery show in NYC in nearly ten years, is something like entering a set for a Michel Gondry movie about the inner visuals of Freud’s mind, pivoting around shiny and quite pretty phalluses of all sizes. Perhaps with a Paul Thomas Anderson filter: Boogie Nights meets, hmmm, Trainspotting. Something like that. We’re mixing our directors, obviously and that’s because going to see art can be like going to the movies, and the more movies we’re inspired to come home and rewatch after getting our art on, the more we love the show.
Dare we say, her art suggests something of a grown up Hannah Horvath.
Sarah Lucas was once declared the “most unabashedly all balls out, rock’n’roll” member of the Young British Artists—the radically sensational 80s and 90s crew headlined by Lucas, Damien “diamond-studded skulls” Hirst and Tracey “debaucherous girl’s bedroom” Emin who rocked and tackled the contemporary art world with shows like Freeze in 1988 and Sensation in 1997 that got them all collected by Saatchi, bringing in wild piles of cash and fame. The YBA were a little like the art world equivalent of Harmony Korine and Larry Clark and Sarah Lucas was something of the Chloe Sevigny: outrageous, scandalous, naughty, provocative while a little bit girly and sweet at the same time. She had famous boyfriends, she was stylish though far from as polished as downtown Sevigny, even in the actress’s grungiest days. The YBAs were raw and messy and shot very quickly from cult status to Hollywood realms: reaching even beyond Danny Boyle proportions. More on an art world par with Scorcese levels of fame and glory.
Now, as critics continue to note, the YBAs and Lucas are middle aged. Lucas is in her 50s, which should mean nothing, though she herself has suggested that she might be best described as an aging hippy. Lucas, in interviews comes off a little like Frances McDormand in Laurel Canyon meets Parker Posey in Superman Returns (no posturing, plenty of edge.) Dare we say, her art suggests something of a grown up Lena Dunham/Hannah Horvath—steadfastly unkempt and provocative, the narcissism dissipated with age.
The show at Gladstone Gallery does seem more polished and big girl than what we know of Lucas, albeit with the penis as motif, if not theme. There’s a giant silver phallus that passersby can peer through the window at—it’s impeccable and shiny with a few attractive pockmarks, and it looks rather fun to climb all over or lay down and take a nap upon. If it weren’t what it was, it’d go great in the children’s playgrounds not far away along the West Side Highway. A little bit Alice in Wonderland, in the least perverse way possible.
That’s the thing, while there are some grotesque ideas and images—a poster of a man with a raw, beheaded chicken for a groin—what’s striking about the show is its elegance and some sweetness. Lucas seems to be honing her classical sculptures, with brass sculptures channeling such masters as Henry Moore and Rodin, albeit with sausage shapes, cucumbers and balloon like figures looking a little droopy, even in their lover’s embraces.
“Sarah Lucas manages to make the everyday hilarious,” is how Damien Hirst described Lucas’s work in a 1996 BBC documentary, Two Melons and a Stinking Fish. Hirst also once called her “a bloke for the 90s.” Lucas blazed her crude and gender bending way through London and New York with giant sculptures of her boyfriend’s genitals and self portraiture with fried eggs laid across her breasts or sucking on bananas—images that wallpaper the current Gladstone Gallery show. Anyone flashbacking to Lena Olin as Sabina, Daniel Day Lewis’s psychoanalytical artist lover in The Unbearable Lightness of Being? Or Miranda July in Me, You and Everyone We Know with a guest appearance by Valerie Solanas?
About the current show, Time Out New York’s Howard Halle sees the phallic to “evoke the male midlife crisis on the scale of public monuments.” The New York Times’s Ken Johnson praises her “amusing if not hilarious one liners” as potential “feminist spoofs on heroic, manly ambition.” By this reading, we’re Netflixing and Amazon Prime-ing American Psycho, maybe a retro Todd Solondz flick as well as runaway indie hits This Is 40, and even a bit of The Hangover (yup.) There’s a tJohn Cameron Mitchell fest to be had and surely a replay of Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight is called for.
Lucas was an outsider until she hand crafted and partied her way to being an insider. Her life and art make for a fabulously cinematic narrative. Let’s hope the BBC documentary becomes available again soon...