NEW YORK – In a video from 1990, artist Sarah Lucas sits at a small table in a garden and eats a banana and a sausage, both phallic symbols, with the apparent intention of doing something smart and naughty. At one point, in the middle of this youthful provocation, she looks into the camera, attacks the viewer and smiles minutely. If you find this smile charming, you'll probably find everything Lucas & # 39; Werk has said to her fans about it: bold, raw, rude and funny. If the smile does not compensate for the banality and poverty of the rest of the video, much of their work will also seem unbearable.
56-year-old Lucas rose in a loose group of creators known as Young British Artists, who were frequently featured in influential London exhibitions from the late 1980s. Like some in the group, the English artist has accentuated her affiliation to the working class, and like others, she has a fondness for the raw, sexual, and scatological. One of her most important early works, exhibited at the Neues Museum, is called "Penis Nailed to a Board", a collage from 1991 that features tabloid coverage of a scandal of men who met for sadomasochistic sex , Another entry in this first US survey of the artist's work includes lists of words drawn on paper, many non-printable, and other insults that are often thrown at gay and lesbian people. Another early piece shows a chair with a penis attached to it.
She has said that both in her self-confidence and in the work she does, she is "blokey," which seems to mean she's focused on sexuality, and especially on male genitals, in a kind of dressing room, a love for body fluids, Toilets, cigarettes and graffiti in the bathroom. There seems to be a feminist component, as if the artist could solve centuries of artistic exploitation of women by using a manic repetition of the penis as a subject. The work, however, is strangely empty, and the reaction it produces does not even have the pleasure of a scandal, at least not after the first penises, or the cast lower body forms smoking cigarettes from the anus or the wall that has dried raw eggs or the Jesus plastered with cigarettes.
Lucas's work in the art world has not been driven by something particularly interesting or essential in itself, but because it enables a discourse that makes it an attractive figure for some critics, gallerists and collectors. She is authentic, she is "balls", she dares.
"The sense of strength emanating from Lucas's oft-postulated attitude, and her insistence on portraying the corporality and inevitable flaws of the human form so that some viewers might be disturbing, do not overshadow the real vulnerability in their work." , writes a set of catalog essays. And so it seems she has positioned herself in a precise and productive place: as an artist doing work that needs to be protected because it causes scandal or insult.
Some artists need to be protected from time to time when dealing with difficult or charged topics. But Lucas has created a work that is designed from start to finish to fit into the category of art that must be defended from bourgeois or male oppression. Critics may write about how this work "questions" sexuality or class, but in fact it does nothing like that. All you have to do is prove that some people will find some things offensive, and when that reaction is triggered, it has achieved its narrow goals and intentions. This category is so narrow that it must be difficult to continue to create art to fill it, especially given the competition and the natural cycle of inflation when it comes to finding images and ideas that provoke an audience that is not dull but bored.
In another video, "Egg Massage," from 2015, the companion of artist Julian Simmons is seen lying naked on a table while eggs are being broken and drooling on him. They gather on his body and around him on the table while a photographer moves in and out to capture the ritual. Again, one waits for the substance of the work, something that brings this little drama into crisis, meaning it or aligning our thoughts to a deeper content. The only thing of interest is the photographer, who is not really necessary because someone else is already filming the artist, who smacks his partner with eggs. Instead, the photographer's presence is meant to highlight the role of the voyeur and the exploiter of the man now covered with eggs.
After all the provocations of Lucas, this is one of the few things that are really disturbing because it suggests the emptiness of the alleged criticism contained in their work. The goal is not old ways of exploitation or more traditional, it's about just reversing them. It has neither gender equality nor a world outside gender categories. Instead, she argues that the humiliation of a man is somehow redemptive, as if it were simply about sharing the categories of victims and victims and not eliminating victimization.
This is not a revolution, it's revenge. But it is typical of Lucas's work that lacks a vision of the world beyond the peculiar appropriation of blokey-ness by a working-class woman.
Maybe that was even funnier 30 years ago. Today, it just seems to be a waste of energies that could actually advance the world.
Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel is on January 20 at the New Museum in New York.