Sarah Lucas


Ever since her 1992 exhibition «Penis nailed to a Board», English artist Sarah Lucas (born 1962) has been considered a member of the central group of the Young British Art phenomenon. Alongside the main protagonists Damian Hirst, Tracey Emin, Angus Fairhurst and Gary Hume, she was represented in the legendary «Freeze» show of 1988, but from the very beginning developed her own idiosyncratic artistic vocabulary, focusing on the major themes of life such as gender relationships, sexual and social identity, death, and destructivity. Her oeuvre, which embraces photography, collage, sculpture, installations and drawings, plays with social clichés, with linguistic and visual representations of sexuality and gender ascriptions.

The show at Kunsthalle Zürich comprises some 50 works by Lucas, offering an overview of her artistic oeuvre from 1990 to the present. This is the first such panoramic exhibition and also Sarah Lucas’ first solo show in a Swiss institutions. The exhibition and catalogue are being coproduced with Kunstverein in Hamburg (where the show runs from July 16 – Oct. 9, 2005), after which it moves to the Tate Liverpool (Oct. 28, 2005 – Jan. 15, 2006).

Characteristic of Sarah Lucas’ oeuvre is the use of simple everyday materials and objects. She takes foods, abandoned furniture and found objects to create cheeky and provocative objects whose frequently macabre qualities often have a wit of their own and explore very substantive topics relating to subjective and collective experience. Often hand in hand with direct allusions to historical artworks, Sarah Lucas makes use of collage and assemblage to highlight clichéd notions of role attributes, role behavior and both the socio-political and individual significance of such categorization. In her works the female and male body are repeatedly reduced to the status of mere place-fillers, are only fragmentarily presented and open up the terrain for ambivalent associations and interpretations. Her work «Bitch» (1995) consists of a table, over

which a T-shirt has been pulled, evoking the image of a kneeling woman, as there are two melons in the T-shirt, and a vacuum-packed mackerel has been pinned to the table where the woman’s sex would be. Aggressive and yet with tongue-in-cheek, vulgar and yet also subtle, the sculpture lays in the Surrealist lineage in terms of the materials used, and likewise in the Arte Povera tradition, while at the same time kicking out at Alan Jones’ Pop sculptures, which are so infused with male fantasies.

Sarah Lucas’ works are filled with a liberating lack of illusion, expanding the imaginative field ofmany well-known forms of art and everyday life. In Kunsthalle Zürich visitors will be received by a gigantic photograph showing the artist from behind, clad only with a T-shirt. It is entitled «Complete Arsehole» (1993), the insolent mixture of sub-culture aesthetics and subversive undermining of the dogmas of Concept Art, not to mention the famous slogan of US Abstract Expressionism: “You get what you see”. What we see is a complete backside, and the image and the text tautologically say the same thing.

Lucas’ oeuvre exposes, imitates and responds to the male gaze, so clichéd by its omnipresent media presence. Lucas repeatedly takes up male behavior patterns and undermines these marvelously with female nonchalance as is evidenced particularly by her series of self-portraits (1990-1998) in which she incorporates the double role of the author and the object of the gaze into the cycle of mixed roles and suggestiveness. Sarah Lucas cheekily turns to the viewer, biting into a banana, she sits in an armchair with fried eggs on her breasts lasciviously in a male pose; sitting on the toilet she visualizes the «The Old In And Out» as a language game that oscillates between a sexual and existential dimension; or she has a cigarette stub hanging out of the corner of her mouth in true working-class style or with absurd decorations such as a “stinking” fish on her shoulder. We see her in the mystified pose of the smoking vamp, while her distorted face in another self-portrait is covered by a white mass of foam. Sarah Lucas’ oeuvre is playing with the “major” themes with impressive formal ease and yet with great precision, creating ambivalent images with which she light-heartedly exposes the contradictoriness of our associations and perceptual structures.

Kunsthalle Zürich would like to thank:

Präsidialdepartement der Stadt Zürich, Stanley Thomas Johnson Stiftung, Luma Stiftung