One of the most eagerly-anticipated shows of 2018, artist Sarah Lucas has touched down at the New Museum, bringing with her an expansive body of works that runs the full expanse of her craft. Curated by the New Museum’s artistic director, Massimiliano Gioni associate, Margot Norton, the show, Lucas’s first in an American institution, spans three floors and any number of aesthetic modes, moving from sculpture to photography, wallpaper to video in ways that both explore each object and twist the original historical contexts of their works (gallery shows, museums and her renowned Venice Biennale show from 2015 all get their due here) into new configurations.
Over the past thirty years, Lucas has created a distinctive and provocative body of work that subverts traditional notions of gender, sexuality, and identity. Since the late 1980s, she has transformed found objects and everyday materials such as cigarettes, vegetables, and stockings into disorienting, 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. Here, these elements and frameworks get ample space to work their magic.
True to so much of the artist’s work, Au Naturel revels in its spirit and energy. It’s tough and honest, unflinching and funny, even mixing these varied modes with an often frank and vulnerable depiction thats speaks to the artist’s impeccable wit and abilities across a range of materials and styles. It dwells on the artist’s evolving practice from the 1990’s onwards, but rarely takes the easy way out on looking inward, instead reaching out at every turn to explore Lucas’s aesthetic ties to Dada, Surrealism, even Minimalism, often using the annals of art history to turn their iconographies into taut critiques of the male-dominated landscape of 20th Century art. These are works that known their history to a T, but rather than merely perform witty operations, use this same socio-historical mooring as a battering ram, laying out the field with each work.
In the context of a year in which the #MeToo movement has brought the challenges of modern feminism into the headlines, and has confronted the exercise of male domination in culture, politics and elsewhere, Lucas’s work could easily be read as a palliative of sorts, a critical response and reference to the world around her as one from which she can draw and rework its forces. But this reading also sells Lucas’s work rather short. Rather than a mere criticism of male power in the arts and elsewhere, Lucas’s work, in its unique mastery of the disparate languages of modern practice, poses ways to deconstruct, and rebuild, the way we think through the artistic project, one with the female perspective in prime position.
The show is open through January 20th.
— D. Creahan
Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel [New Museum]