Whitechapel Gallery, London

Art review: Sarah Lucas, Situation - There are boobs and bum aplenty, but there is also a point

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Zoe Pilger reviews feminist artist Sarah Lucas's first major solo exhibition

“I never want to see genitalia again in my life,” I overhear one man say to his friend in the upstairs gallery of Sarah Lucas’ first major solo exhibition in London. We are surrounded by giant sculptures of white penises, pointed skyward. “I’ve seen enough today.”

YBA Lucas, now 50, is renowned for her aggressive deconstructions of sexual parts, from stockinged legs clamped to desk chairs to suggestive melons positioned on a filthy old mattress to a blown-up tabloid story about a “topless midget.” There are boobs and bums aplenty here, but there is also a point.

Click here or on 'view gallery' for more images from Sarah Lucas

Making art in the post-feminist atmosphere of the 1990s, when the media figure of the ladette seemed to suggest that equality meant acting like a drunk, horny man, Lucas drew on the history of feminism while doing that rare thing: being original. She is perhaps the most interesting of the YBAs because she is an actual artist.

Over a twenty year career, she has developed a visual language that is all her own. While the references are obvious – Duchamp’s latrine, Bourgeois’ pink cotton bodies – Lucas is a sensitive sculptor. Amidst the crudeness, there is great delicacy and beauty. And her anger is justified.

The downstairs gallery is spectacular. Lucas has used the space brilliantly: grey breeze-blocks sit amongst sculptures, photographs, and installations, some of which are outstanding. Fuck Destiny (2000) is a wonderful sculpture of a red leather sofa bed, impaled with a tube of fluorescent lighting. Its wire mattress is studded with two coral-pink light-bulbs that stare like stunned, feminine eyes. This is an abstracted scene of sexual intercourse that is both violent and formally beautiful.

'I might be shy but I'm still a pig' by Sarah Lucas 'I might be shy but I'm still a pig' by Sarah Lucas Upstairs, the small gallery is covered with Wallpaper (1994/2013) – floor to ceiling images of men’s crotches concealed by raw meat and cans of Carlsberg bursting open. The effect is oppressive, clammy, horrible. It’s all too much – in a good way.

The final gallery is less successful. It’s full of Lucas’ “mature” work, made over the last few years. I’m not sure that maturing is a good thing for Lucas, whose work depends on the urgency and furtiveness of telling the world to “F off.” There are bronze sculptures which show the sexes melting into one another, polymorphously perverse and less appealing than the bald horror of the earlier works. Lucas is an eloquent conceptualist and we need her hostility more than ever in this era of post-post-feminism.

2 Oct – 15 Dec

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