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British Pavilion's Sarah Lucas Installation Stirs It Up at Venice Biennale

  • LONDON, United Kingdom
  • /
  • May 06, 2015

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Sarah Lucas has a major solo show at the 56th Venice International Art Biennale.
Photo by Cristiano Corte © British Council

The British Council is presenting I SCREAM DADDIO, a new exhibition by Sarah Lucas which has been conceived and created for the British Pavilion at the 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia (May 9-Nov. 22, 2015).

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," Emma Dexter, Director Visual Arts at the British Council, said. "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.

Sarah Lucas’s solo presentation for the British Pavilion centers 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  into bronze, resin and concrete.  

Sarah Lucas plastering, 2015.
Photo by: Julian Simmons

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  sprawl 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. 

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