Sarah Lucas: Ordinary Things, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
Another London: International Photographers Capture City Life 1930-1980, Tate Britain, London

Don't laugh: Sarah Lucas's erotic work may bring naughty postcards to mind, but in reality she's as classical an artist as Cézanne or Michelangelo

Mimesis: a Greek word, meaning something like "imitation"; the starting point of all art. Mix pigment with oil and paint a bowl of pears? Mimesis. Chisel marble into human flesh? Mimesis. Sculpt willies out of courgettes? You guessed it.

Which is to say that Sarah Lucas, past mistress of the vegetal penis, is as classical an artist as Cézanne or Michelangelo. Lucas's current show at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds runs the gamut of mimetic willies, from Au Naturel (1994, an actual cucumber poking out of a mattress) to Courgette (2002, a concrete courgette lying on a shelf).

The 50-year-old artist has varied her theme along the way. There is Gourd (2002) and, worryingly for the literal-minded, Man Marrow, labelled as measuring 11cm x 35cm x 10cm. Occasionally, parts of Lucas's sculptures seem to be actual willies, cast, perhaps, from understanding male friends. Thus the rightward point of the lowest arm of the swastika-like The King (2008), although the penis in question is a formal element in the work, having no organic reason to be where it is.

And so, mimesis. Lucas's todgers are mostly not todgers at all, but vegetables (or nylon tights, or bits of wood) made to look like todgers. When they are actual penises, they behave in an un-penis-like way. Like the fruit in the fruitheads of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Lucas's squashes are insistently themselves and insistently not, recognisable as what they were and what they have become. As befits a once-Young British Artist, there is something resolutely British about these objects, a quality that links them with Viz magazine via the naughty postcards of Donald McGill, Carry On Matron and Benny Hill.

But there is something more serious about Lucas's work, too, and, as is revealed by this show, something much more classical. It is easy to see her rude-girl persona as gratuitous, when it is carefully thought through. Lucas behaves like a man. She has made male-ness her medium. If you are offended by this, you are meant to be: male artists have spent the past two and a half millennia objectifying the female body, after all. Lucas's relentless noting of the likeness between men's lower anatomy and cucumbers is not meant to flatter. I am reminded of the Spitting Image sketch in which Mrs Thatcher, ordering dinner for her Cabinet, is asked by the waitress: "And the vegetables?" She replies: "They'll have what I'm having."

Underlying all of this is something less political than sculptural, a feeling for form that at times seems abstract. Lucas's least successful works are her most literal, the stuffed-stocking spiders and octopuses, Claes Oldenburg meets Louise Bourgeois. Her best are the rudest – what man could look at Au Naturel without a nervous laugh? – or the hardest to grasp. The works in the NUD series certainly feel rude. Perched on grey breezeblocks and twined like Laocoö*'s snakes, they are flesh-coloured – American Tan, at a guess – and end in puckered nylon ties that look like nipples or bum holes. But they are equally readable as exercises in form alone, a balancing of colour, shape and texture that seems to date back to early Modernism. They are, dare I say, at times nearly beautiful.

You feel that the 41 foreign photo–graphers in Tate Britain's show, Another London, would have fallen on Lucas's art with a happy whirring of shutters, seeing in it something essentially, eccentrically British. For them, eccentricity and Britishness were synonymous. They came to London looking for it, and found it.

Thus Ivan Shagin's 1930s shot of a Pearly King holding a flag tray labelled "Empire Day", or Cartier-Bresson's of a waterproofed Kensington dame on a bench in Hyde Park in the Grey Drizzle. There are charming images – Bill Brandt's bemused shot of milk bottles on a doorstep – although they are as much about the artist's expectations as about Britain. Milon Novotny's juxtaposed pictures of Buckingham Palace and East End slums were made for the Czech magazine Kultura, while Cartier-Bresson's French Republican shots of the coronation of George VI exclude the king.

What does all of this tell us? When Walter Gropius arrived here in 1934, he admired the patriotism of posters exhorting the British to Take Courage. Mondrian mistook garden gnomes for Disney's Seven Dwarfs. Foreigners don't always have useful things to tell us about ourselves. In any case, the scenes in Another London are now as strange to us as they were to them. Time makes tourists of us all.

'Sarah Lucas: Ordinary things' to 21 Oct (0113-246 7467); 'Another London ...' to 16 Sept (020-7887 8888)

Critic's Choice

It's all getting interactive at Tate Modern … Tino Sehgal's Turbine Hall commission, These Associations, bring the visitor up close and personal with the stories of strangers. Be ready to get involved, until 28 Oct. Or you could head underground for more performances and installations in their new Tanks space; this week Tania Bruguera takes up residence with her Immigrant Movement International "behaviour art" project (till 15 Aug).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas