Sex, cigarettes, skulls and toilets: Sarah Lucas has a Situation at London's Whitechapel

By Ben Miller | 09 October 2013

Exhibition review: Sarah Lucas – SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble, Whitechapel Gallery, London, until December 15 2013.

A photo of a mattress with vegetables and a bucket on it
Sarah Lucas, Au Naturel (1994). Mattress, water bucket, melons, oranges and cucumber© Copyright Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
With a reputation as the most socially-brazen of the YBAs and a penchant for reputedly using the private parts of Gary Hume in her wall-spanning ball-barings, the in-your-face, visual arrest of Sarah Lucas’s show at the Whitechapel was never in doubt.

An entire series, in fact, is named in thrall to being in the buff. Tights are stuffed with debris, then twisted into strange, fragile, alien forms. Elsewhere, knotted, balloonish bronzes of limbs loop inside, back out and around each other on top of squarely stacked, dark grey stones – a meeting of pristineness and industry.

A photo of a woman sitting in front of a small skull
Self-Portrait with Skull (1996). C-print© Copyright Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
Double-headed members are cast in nobbly, white parodies of classical sculptures, then angled diagonally on oily black clumps of tangled car parts, entwined with engines, wires and light reflectors.

The aroma is a burnt-out one. The senses are drawn in and then recoiled. Tights have been on their last legs and now droop from a bent coathanger, a used fag stuck to the gait.

Lucas, who sits on a toilet twitching at a ciggie in one of the opening portraits, says she first sparked up at the age of four. Her mother, who had unwittingly provided the smoke, might not have envisaged it leading all the way to an amber leaf-filled portrait of Trotsky, squiggled out of fags burnt into lines and formations.

Concrete boots and breasts plumped with fluff within tights cluster like legumes at the heart of a wire mesh frame. Nice Tits, reads the title, smirking at the grimness of the dismemberment.

The central, testicle-festooned space is introduced by a picture of Lucas sitting legs akimbo, staring intently, a skull between her legs – expositor and provocateur.

A shady red light shines from a neon in the shape of a coffin. This, as an entrée, sends us shooting into an entrapment of groins, bottoms, genitalia forced to the floor by the weight of tomatoes, onions and meat joints, pubes concealed by cans of Carling and digestive biscuits placed lampoonishly over nether regions.

A cucumber and two tomatoes protrude from a mottled old mattress – snigger chortle – and, next to it, a ghost has melons for breasts and a bucket as a vagina. It’s sleazy and bawdy, drawing a line straight from Carry On to Viz. But it’s also dark and grim and incredibly unappetising – see the tea whose “bucket” is actually a dirty toilet bowl.

Defacation repeats itself in a concrete, gnomic half-corpse on a cistern throne, utterly dead apart from – of course – the cigarette it clutches. It all feels intensely physical, emotive in its honesty, blowing a raspberry at the collage of Page 3 montages showing sex as clean and carefree and naughty, rather than dirty and emblematic of the flaws life is full of.

Battered, torn sofas, soiled pants cladding cut-off chicken legs and great big pink phalluses, veiny and gross in their sordid imperfections, throw open a raw reality, brutal and comic at the same time.

Everything is strewn into a kind of dysfunctional universe on the ground floor, hung on walls, hanging from ceilings, loosely plugged in, revolving in mobiles. But there is a certain sense of order, or organised chaos. This is Lucas’s truth and, even when it reviles, she makes a compelling case to believe in it.

  • Open 11am-5pm (9pm Thursday and October 19, closed Monday). Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @_TheWhitechapel. Exhibition supported by Louis Vuitton.

More pictures:

A photo of a figure made out of tights on a chair
Bunny Gets Snookered #1 (1997). Tan tights, plastic and chrome chair, steel clamp, kapok stuffing, wire© Copyright Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
A photo of breasts made out of tights on a mesh wire above a pair of concrete boots
Nice Tits (2011). Concrete, wire mesh, tights, fluff© Copyright Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
A photo of various items on a dark brown table inside a gallery
Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab (1992). Table, fried eggs, kebab, photo© Copyright Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
A photo of a large tall thin light between a pair of sculpted boots inside an art gallery
Unknown Soldier (2003). Concrete boots, neon tube© Copyright Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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