Sarah Lucas Unveils Spectacular Yellow Pavilion At 56th Venice Biennale

Sarah Lucas British Pavilion Venice Biennale 2015

Sarah Lucas unveiled her spectacular yellow pavilion, yesterday, at the Venice Biennale. I SCREAM DADDIO is a new exhibition by the artist who is a seminal part of the YBA group. The installation of sculpture was conceived and created for the British Pavilion at the 56th International Art Exhibition. The after launch was accompanied by a surprise set of music by the iconic Mick Jones formerly of the Punk band the Clash and Big Audio Dynamite.

Emma Dexter, Director Visual Arts at the British Council, said: “Sarah is one of our foremost artists and it is entirely appropriate that she should be representing the UK in Venice, the grandest of stages. Sarah has risen to the occasion, her provocative new pieces interrogate our assumptions about gender and domesticity, drawing on her previous work but on an unprecedented scale. I am confident that the British Pavilion this year will inspire, confound and move audiences both in Venice and around the world.”

Sarah Lucas’s solo presentation for the British Pavilion centres on an extensive new group of works, made specifically for the commission. Ranging in scale from the domestic to the monumental, the works reprise and reinvent the themes that have come to define Lucas’s powerfully irreverent art – gender, death, sex, and the innuendo residing in everyday objects. Throughout this latest group of works,  the body – sexual, comedic,  majestic  – remains a crucial point of return, while Lucas’s  work continues to confront big themes with a distinctive wit. “Humour”, she has remarked, “is about negotiating the contradictions thrown up by convention.  To a certain extent, humour and seriousness are interchangeable.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t  be funny. Or devastating.”

Responding to the formal, neoclassical spaces of the British Pavilion, Lucas’s sculptures for Venice mark a dramatic new stage in her evolving iconography. Over the past few years, her soft sculptures in tights and wire have increasingly transmuted  nto bronze, resin and concrete.  In 2013, at the last Venice Biennale, she exhibited a sequence of gleaming bronze figures based on the twisting biomorphic forms of her NUDs sculptures.  The latest works similarly channel the ambiguity and vulnerability of earlier compositions – whether the Bunny series of the late 1990s (disembodied legs fashioned from stuffed tights) or the later NUDs – while paradoxically exuding a classical permanence, heft and solidity.

Maradona, a grandiose figure in joyous repose – part man, part maypole, part praying mantis – stands in duplicate at the centre of the exhibition.  Named after the iconic  Argentine footballer,  the figure squats on the ground while an enormous phallus soars majestically into the air. Its arched torso and gravity-defying erection are caught between earthbound and transcendent postures  – treading a delicate line between beauty and buffoonery.  The sculptures’ painted yellow surfaces (deep cream and gold cup) capture the organic texture of their bulbous stuffed nylon prototype. Combining corporeal  resonances with sinuous ‘abstract’ form, Lucas’s  new works evoke – and subtly subvert – the Modernist aesthetic of British artists such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth,  especially the recurring trope of the reclining nude or lone standing figure. The female body features more literally in a series of plaster sculptures of fragmentary pairs of legs which are gracefully animated through their combination with the ordinary domestic furniture that has featured since Lucas’s  earliest installations. These bawdy,  empowered muses form a chorus line that upends  the traditional objectification of the female form in male art history,  while recalling the incomplete bodily casts Lucas has created throughout her career, such as You Know What (1998) or CNUT (2004).

Other works are more domestic in scale and subject. Lucas’s  Tit Cat sculptures  – again derived from models made from stuffed tights  – combine the wiry forms of cats with tied-off,  drooping orbs suggestive of breasts. Arching and prancing,  their tails variously drooping and rearing, these strange metamorphic creatures epitomise the way in which Lucas’s  art slides between real and surreal registers. In one work, a cat is presented atop a recliner chair and footstool,  both items cast in bronze and concrete;  while in another an octopus’s bronze tentacles  prawl over a workaday wooden chair (also fashioned from bronze), its lumpy extremities spilling erotically onto the floor. In both, domestic scenes are translated into weighty simulacra, the chair assuming the status of a throne, the animals of magical shape-shifters.

I SCREAM DADDIO is accompanied by a new book, designed by Julian Simmons and published by the British Council, with the generous support of the Art Fund. Additional thanks to Kvadrat for the production of a bespoke bag.

Sarah Lucas (b. 1962, London) studied at the Working Men’s College (1982–3), London College of Printing (1983–4), and Goldsmith’s College (1984–7). She exhibited in the seminal group show Freeze (1988), which was followed by solo shows Penis Nailed to a Board, City Racing, London, and The Whole Joke, Kingly Street, London (both 1992). In 1993 she collaborated with Tracey Emin on The Shop, Bethnal Green Road.

She has since exhibited internationally – major exhibitions include MoMA New York (1993); Museum Boymans-van Beunigen, Rotterdam (1996); Portikus, Frankfurt (1996); the Freud Museum, London (2000); Tecla Sala, Barcelona (2000); and In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (with Angus Fairhurst and Damien Hirst) at Tate Britain (2004). A retrospective took place in 2005 at Kunsthalle Zürich, Kunstverein.

Hamburg and Tate Liverpool.  Recent international  residencies and exhibitions  include LUCAS BOSCH GELATIN, Kunsthalle Krems, Austria and NUZ: Spirit of Ewe, Two Rooms, Auckland,  New Zealand (both 2011); NUDS, Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli, Mexico  City (2012; recently chronicled  in the encyclopaedic book TITTIPUSSIDAD with photography by Julian Simmons); and Ordinary Things, a major exhibition  of her sculpture,  at the Henry Moore Institute,  Leeds (2012). From 2012–13, SITUATION – a space dedicated to her work at Sadie Coles HQ – hosted eight linked exhibitions.2012 saw the publication of After 2005 – Before 2012, a publication on her work covering seven prolific years. The British Council’s  commission follows on from her major retrospective, SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble at the Whitechapel  Gallery (2013), and surveys of her work at Secession in Vienna (NOB + Gelatin, 2013–14) and at Tramway in Glasgow (2014).

Words/Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2015


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