In September 2023, Tate Britain will present a major survey of the work of Sarah Lucas. One of the leading figures of her generation, Lucas is internationally celebrated for her bold and irreverent work, often exploring the human body, mortality, and very British experiences of sex, class and gender. This exhibition will bring together more than 75 works spanning four decades, from breakthrough early sculptures and photographs to brand new works being shown for the first time. Devised in close dialogue with the artist and presented in her own voice, this survey will take a fresh look at Lucas’s practice to date.
Sarah Lucas rose to prominence among the Young British Artists of the early 1990s. She attended Goldsmiths College from 1984-87 and showed her work in Freeze, the legendary exhibition curated by Damien Hirst in 1988. Exhibiting together and sharing a playful and daring approach to materials and images, this generation challenged the British art world and made an indelible impact on the cultural landscape. Tate Britain’s exhibition will begin with some of Lucas’s early works from this era, including those made from tabloid newspaper spreads like Sod You Gits 1990 and Fat, Forty and Flab-ulous 1990. These introduce the artist’s use of innuendo and word-play, as well as her interest in feminist discourse and representations of the female body. Her early career will also be reconsidered as part of a wider story, from her childhood to her life today, highlighting her ongoing examination of social conditions beyond the confines of the art world.
Lucas’ use of chairs, and her evocation of seated figures, will have a central role in the exhibition. Lucas explains, “I decided to hang the exhibition mainly on chairs. Much in the same way that I hang sculptures onto chairs”. Across her career, she has often taken domestic furniture and imbued it with a humorous and unnerving honesty about sex and desire. Tate will bring together a selection of such sculptures from the 1990s, ranging from early examples like The Old Couple 1992 – made from two chairs, a wax penis and a set of false teeth –through to later sculptures like Hysterical Attack (both Eyes and Mouths) both 1999, which formed part of an intervention at the Freud Museum in 2000. Also featured will be examples of Lucas’s signature soft sculptures made from stuffed tights, including Mumum 2012 and Bunny 1997, which was shown in the Royal Academy of Art’s landmark 1997 exhibition ‘Sensation’. The exhibition will go on to explore the growing range of materials used in Lucas’s sculpture, including bronze, resin and concrete. This change in materiality was a major departure from the techniques she had been using for decades, including tights and stuffing, cigarettes and food, which were chosen for their immediate availability. Examples include concrete furniture like Eames Chair 2015, bronze casts of stuffed phallic shapes like DICK ‘EAD 2018, and giant cast concrete vegetables such as Kevin and Florian 2013which will be installed on the lawn outside Tate Britain.
Sculptures will be juxtaposed with large-scale photographs of the artist from throughout her career, including her earliest and most well-known portrait Eating a Banana 1990. Blown up as wallpapers and looking down on her sculptural works, these portraits will reflect the important role of the photographic image in Lucas’s practice and will set up a dialogue between her older and younger self. This juxtaposition will continue with Lucas’s most recent self-portrait series Red Sky 2018 shown alongside several larger-scale sculptures and installations, including This Jaguar’s Going to Heaven 2018 – a dismantled car clad in thousands of cigarettes – and Exacto 2018 – a chair skewered with fluorescent tube lights. A series of nude plaster casts such as Pauline, Sadie and Me (Bar Stool) will also be reunited, having first been shown in 2015 when Lucas represented Britain at the 56th Venice Biennale.
A highlight of the exhibition will be a large gallery of recent sculptures made between 2019 and 2023, including ten new works which are being displayed for the very first time. Some show a return to the found objects and stuffed tights of Lucas’s early work, such as SUGAR 2020 and CROSS DORIS 2019, while others are rendered in finely cast bronze and resin. These recent works show how Lucas has continued to rethink the themes which have defined her career, including the objectification of the female form and the anthropomorphic potential of everyday objects, while consistently bringing fresh perspectives to her practice.
Sarah Lucas: Happy Gas, 28th September 2023 – 14th January 2024, Tate Britain