Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel
September 26 2018 – January 20 2019
In 2018, the New Museum presented “Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel,” the first major survey in the United States of the work of British artist Sarah Lucas. The exhibition spanned Lucas’s entire career, bringing together some of her most iconic works and series from the late 1980s to her recent works,bringing together more than 150 works in photography, sculpture, and installation to reveal the breadth and ingenuity of her practice. The exhibition addressed the ways in which Lucas’s works continue to engage with crucial debates about gender and power, along with the legacy of surrealism—from her clever transformations of everyday objects to her exploration of sexual ambiguity and the tension between the familiar and the disorienting or absurd.
Initially associated with a group known as the Young British Artists (YBAs), who began exhibiting together in London in the late 1980s, Lucas became one of the UK’s most influential artists. Over the intervening thirty years, Lucas created a distinctive and provocative body of work that subverts traditional notions of gender, sexuality, and identity, transforming found objects and everyday materials such as cigarettes, vegetables, and stockings into absurd and confrontational tableaux that boldly challenge social norms. The human body and anthropomorphic forms recur throughout Lucas’s works, often appearing erotic, humorous, fragmented, or reconfigured into fantastical anatomies of desire.
“Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel” featured some of Lucas’s most important projects, including early sculptures from the 1990s that substitute domestic furniture for human body parts, and enlarged spreads from tabloid newspapers from the same period that reflect objectified representations of the female body. Alongside the photographic self-portraits that Lucas produced throughout her career, the exhibition featured biomorphic sculptures including her stuffed-stocking Bunnies (1997–ongoing) and NUDS (2009–ongoing), the Penetralia series (2008–ongoing), and selections from her installations at the Freud Museum in London (2000) and the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2015). These works, which complicate inscribed codes of sexual and social normativity, had never been shown together in the United States. Lucas also created new sculptural works for the exhibition, including This Jaguar’s Going to Heaven (2018), a severed 2003 Jaguar X-Type—the car’s back half burned and its front half collaged with cigarettes—and VOX POP DORIS (2018), a pair of eleven-foot-tall thigh-high platform boots cast in concrete.
The title of the exhibition, “Au Naturel,” was taken from a sculpture Lucas created in 1994, in which an assemblage of objects suggestive of sexual organs adorns a mattress that slumps in the corner as if it were reclining. In an art historical context, “au naturel” commonly refers to paintings of female nude figures, and literally translates from French as “in the nude.” Applying the term to Lucas’s greater body of work, the title speaks to the immediacy, intimacy, and directness of her images and speculates on the possibility of a natural state, perhaps without the limitations of established social structures and gender conformity.
Drawing on art historical references, cultural stereotypes, and tabloid culture, Lucas’s works take a demonstrative stance against puritanism, conformism, and misogyny with distinct irreverence and wit. The combination of these strategies results in a powerful evocation of the themes of death, sex, gender, and religion as they continue to influence contemporary life.
“Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel” was curated by Edlis Neeson Artistic Director Massimiliano Gioni and Curator Margot Norton. The exhibition was accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, which includes an interview with Sarah Lucas conducted by Massimiliano Gioni, as well as contributions by Whitney Chadwick, Anne Ellegood, Angus Fairhurst, Quinn Latimer, Maggie Nelson, Linda Nochlin, Margot Norton, and Anne Wagner. Following its presentation at the New Museum, Lucas’s exhibition would travel to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in June 2019.