Sarah Lucas

With Knobs On … : Sarah Lucas and British Art in the 1990s

This was originally written in 1998 for publication in the Culture Matters series of booklets at Sheffield Hallam University, and following some delays, slightly revised, and the fourth chapter added to bring the story up to date; by then, the year 2000. Unfortunately, the funding for Culture Matters was cut before the publication appeared, so this has sat around in typescript form since then, and is presented here without any further attempts at revision or updating. Hopefully it offers a view of the work from that time, without benefit of hindsight or reconsideration – though I’m more or less happy to stand by around 90% of the points made even after a decade, and continue to admire Sarah Lucas’s work, as it has developed since this piece concluded its critical survey. The first section tries to look at the (then) context in which the YBAs were being discussed c.1998/2000, and the two chapters that follow look more closely at Lucas’s work in the period from around 1991 – 1997, while the final chapter sums up developments to around 2000, focusing mainly on The Fag Show at Sadie Coles HQ and Beyond The Pleasure Principle at the Freud Museum at 20 Maresfield Gardens. 

self portrait with fried eggs

PART 1:

“Where’s it all going? What are we fucking up to, if anything, that we all think is so important?”

Sarah Lucas, 1996

A now long-forgotten poet named Hugh Sykes Davies, writing two years after the high watermark of English Surrealism, the International Exhibition of 1936, sent a fairly standard-issue bit of automatist poetry to The London Bulletin that might now be read as a series of captions and suggestions for a series of works that would not be made for another fifty years: “It does not look like a finger it looks like a feather of broken glass/It does not look like something to eat it looks like something eaten/It does not look like an empty chair it looks like an old woman searching in a heap of stones … “(1).

When Sarah Lucas finally realised them, as a finger made of plaster, fragile yet aggressive; as an abject, notional female body, constructed of cold food on a decrepit table; as a chair, whose seat contains a vagina dentata of false teeth, the correspondences became striking, and if only by coincidence, the ‘objective chance’ central to Andre Breton’s conception of Surrealism, pointed towards a clear relationship between her work and an aesthetic discourse centred on the viability of an avant-garde, oppositional art in the contemporary context.

It’s not an obvious place to start, as the debates surrounding recent British art have tended to focus on a kind of apocalyptic populism, located inside a short historical span, and (in a kind of aesthetic spin on millennial angst) have developed a habit of proposing ‘the end of art’ as a distinct practice within Western culture, merging the practice of art not with ‘life’, in the Modernist fashion, but with the mediated ‘simulacra’ represented by popular (and populist) media. Art, in this model, doesn’t so much disappear into everyday life as melt into the background of corporate info-tainment, advertising and design (a process that the Disney corporation calls ‘imagineering’, with an end-product that Guy Debord christened ‘The Spectacle’) thus becoming camouflaged rather than transformed.

Artists, whose role becomes to grant an aura (of sexiness, rebellion, transcendence, value) to mass-produced, conformity-directed objects and services, become a kind of casualised research and development arm for corporate media interests, furnishing material for big-budget advertising and a veneer of ‘rebellious’ attitude for everything from jeans to cars – recent campaigns have included Volkswagen’s use of Gillian Wearing’s Signs That Say What You Want Them To Say … (1993) and Harvey Nichols’ use of Mike Kelley’s Aah … Youth (1991), among others, though these campaigns have rarely acknowledged their sources. As I write, a campaign running on poster-sites and in women’s magazines for internet retail company ‘Ready2shop.com’ features two models pictured naked from the waist up, the first holding a pair of melons and the second two fried eggs over her breasts in open imitation of Lucas’s two best-known assemblages.

Sarah Lucas Bitch

This convergence between art, media and advertising is not an inevitable process, but rather the result of what Angela McRobbie has defined as a “conscious act of bad faith” :

It is tempting … to explain an this on the grounds that art nowadays is simply good business and that these artists are ‘Thatcher’s children’. Liz Ellis has suggested that in this context the new art has reneged on all feminist achievements and shorn itself of all recognisable ethics, it is art as part of the political backlash … Convincing as this account is I would argue for a rather different approach. Ensconced inside the consumer culture, less lonely and cut off, the new art simply becomes less important, it downgrades itself in a conscious act of bad faith … if not all art can be great and if there are more and more people seeking to earn a living as an artist, then this is a realistic, not merely a cynical strategy. [McRobbie, 1999]

McRobbie is right to locate to locate this shift in the pragmatic area of necessity rather than as the considered choice of the artists themselves. As ‘high’ cultural space has been colonised by commercial concerns, this essentially ‘Thatcherite’ process of imposition of free-markets has converged with a Left critique of elitism and institutional power to produce a two-pronged assault on what Peter Burger defined as “free space within which alternatives to what exists become conceivable” (2). This fusion of market and political interests is particularly suited to the sensibilities of a post-punk generation, which fears pretension and ‘being boring’ above all else. This leads to a kind of radical passivity that, by promising nothing, lowering expectations, is less open to failure or criticism.

If one of the strengths of contemporary art is an awareness of an audience beyond the narrow confines of its own production, evaluation and sale, the key weakness lies in an unwillingness to address that audience in terms noticeably different from those proscribed by the conventions of the corporate mass media, on whose coat-tails (and finance) the new art tends to ride. As Julian Stallabrass puts it:

British visual art has always been the poor relation of music and literature … and was even more disadvantaged when considered against the money and celebrity generated by the pop and fashion industries. There has been a deliberate attempt to change this situation, not only by drawing in material from fashion and pop but also by drawing upon the particular concerns of mass culture, those of contemporary ‘real life’. These concerns were largely seen through media eyes, as they had to be. for an appeal to a wide audience could only be mounted through the media. and success would be measured largely by media visibility. [Stallabrass, 1999]

The key point here is that the media, as a system of distribution largely owned and controlled by an elite of trans-national corporations, becomes the perceived site of democratisation of contemporary culture, and the cross-ownership of cultural industries (News International, Disney, Bertelsmann and Time-Warner, for example, all have stakes in film, publishing, music, news and television production) alongside the tendency for these media to be funded by commercial sponsorship and advertising, ensures that this site of democratisation and anti-elitism is deeply compromised. It is not necessary to adopt a conservative stance in defence of traditional institutions and canons, or to complain about ‘dumbing down’, to perceive that the commercial imperatives of these ‘horizontally’ integrated corporate structures create a drive towards the control of cultural space (3).

These two factors together, then, demonstrate that recent British art is founded on a myth of institutional revolt, with roots in both the anti-consensual Thatcherism of the 1980s, and the ‘New Left’ institutional critiques of the 1960s and 70s, laissez-faire economics and identity politics, as both coincide on the ground of consumer choice.

The key to understanding this myth from the artists’ perspective is its conflation of the power structures and institutional forms of the art world with bourgeois society and social structures as a whole. The radicalism of recent British art is nominally aimed against the gallery and its own elite audience, and allies itself with an external ‘popular’ culture, without much acknowledgement that this gesture of revolt is backed by the social and economic dominance of corporate interests beyond those institutions, to which the conventions of ‘autonomous modernism’ have tended to be opposed.

To say this is not to claim that this opposition was particularly effective, but that the extension of the artist’s autonomy to the social realm became a central tenet of modernist revolt, and this kind of projectivity is currently lacking in contemporary art. Much recent British art is founded on the reversal of this, insofar as its justification tends to be reactive, extending the reach of marketing and ‘info-tainment’ to the sphere of aesthetic production. In practice, this has meant courting a mass audience by reproducing the existing discourse of the mass media within the spaces of ‘high’ culture, using the ‘low’ in an effort to draw on the same audiences for much the same ends. The ‘revolts’ of this art, in other words, take place within a struggle for control of prestige cultural space between traditional ‘establishment’ elites, and newer corporate and media elites. Democratisation rarely enters the equation, except as a rhetorical counter in this struggle, and if ‘ordinary people’ are addressed, it is in terms of their role as consumers, or as the mythical site of authority embodied by ‘the man in the street’.

Part of this turns on an unexamined primitivism on the part of artists and administrators that sees the mass audience as undifferentiated, except in those broad niches defined by identity politics. The mythical authenticity of the ‘common people’, to whose judgement mass-culture and its disciples continually –  if only rhetorically –  appeal, becomes the sole site of meaningful cultural validation, and as Stallabrass implies, this validation is measured in column-inches and head-counting.

That this presumed authenticity is itself a mechanism for maintaining elite control of cultural institutions and hierarchies becomes plain when it is seen to be derived from the supposedly ‘uncorrupted’, ‘natural’ taste of the ‘common people’, so that, by definition, any individual capable of challenging such appeals is corrupted (ie: educated) and therefore unrepresentative of the mass. A working-class individual who does not conform to the type imposed by his or her betters, in other words, is not ‘authentic’, a de facto elitist, and consequently forfeits the authority to speak as a real member of his or her class. As Stallabrass points out in response to anti-intellectual comments by artist Peter Davies:

…[this] attitude is not only of a repudiation of arcane jargon. of language that excludes the majority, but also of a suspicion of whole categories of knowledge, of the process of acquiring learning, and even of sustained thought itself. [Stallabrass, 1999]

Yet also implied in this is an assumption about access to learning, and as a position this can only come from a perspective where this access is sufficiently secure to make the flirtation with its rejection plausible. Just as the old-school establishment marked down non-amateurs as vulgar for ‘trying too hard’, the very fact that a working-class individual approaching contemporary art may have fought to acquire the knowledge necessary to challenge the middle-class proprietors of media-driven, populist culture is in itself enough to dismiss the challenge. Anyone capable of articulating an opposed position is by this definition ‘tainted’, not an ‘ordinary person’, and so not worth listening to.

When Tracey Emin, for example, dismisses talk about art as “a bourgeois debutante’s day out, the kind of conversation you’d have in a student canteen” (4), she is assuming that the higher education she has herself recieved can be safely dismissed on behalf of those so far ‘untainted’ by it, and as Stallabrass points out: “…much is made by [Emin’s] supporters of the reactions of ‘ordinary people’ who sometimes break down emotionally before [her work]”

Yet it is surely also implicit here that this response is what, for such apologists, might define a particular individual as an ‘ordinary person’. If you do not respond to this work, the implication seems to run, then you are lacking in the necessary honesty and unselfconsciousness that would allow you to. If the terms on which Emin’s work is often discussed offers a particularly clear example of this kind of primitivism, however, it is far from unique. [Stallabrass. 1999].

In terms of the new art’s attempt to align itself with ‘the people’, using the media as its platform, the revolt within the traditional institutions of fine art has implications that are rarely acknowledged. It is a trait of the newspapers of Rupert Murdoch, for example, to combine anti-elitist, ‘common people’ rhetoric with appeals for deregulation and privatisation, in the explicit furtherance of his own business interests, and the similar function played culturally by populist strategies in art, as these work to validate corporate mass-culture within the few cultural spaces left to the development of alternatives, is not accidental. The fact that galleries have traditionally been spaces intimidating to non-specialists does not in itself mean that the occupation of these spaces by the mass-media is democratising. It marks a cultural shift only to the extent that the patronage of the post-war liberal state has undergone displacement by the corporate patronage of trans-national media and business interests (5).

Yet this in itself assumes that the art being produced in the 1990s differs substantially from earlier art, and while the supporting arguments may have changed (transforming avant-garde myths into the populist terms of pop and media culture) it would be difficult to see where the essential differences in the art itself, as it is presented in galleries, might lie. For Matthew Collings, the artists of the 1990s:

…looked at art history with a ruthless eye, saw what was there, chucked out what they thought was useless and kept the rest … They chucked out a lot of the intellectual snobbery and hidden academicism of the Conceptual Art of the sixties and seventies, for example – as well as things from old-type ‘art’ art, like the life class, still life painting, and all artists being men. They tried to make art more real. [Collings, 1997]

Yet Collings assumes that a disjunction has taken place between the ‘new’ and the ‘old’ art, and though the definition of the ‘old’ here is nebulous in the extreme and applies to nothing recognisable as serious art-practice since the advent of Modernism, it is difficult to tell exactly what sort of disjunction is meant to have occurred. It has been the goal of every artist since Courbet “to make art more real” (albeit with wildly varying notions of what this objective meant in practice) and, aside from a handful of one-offs like Balthus, Schiele, Derain, Morandi and Freud, “the life-class” and “still-life painting” can hardly be said to define a mainstream Modernist art. Even if we take only the comparatively conservative, exclusive canon of Alfred Barr Jr’s Museum of Modern Art in New York as our basic measure of the ‘old’, we will be forced to note that the strategies of 1990s art remain, for all their emphasis on the ‘new’, beholden to strategies and provocations nearing their ninetieth birthdays.

The disjunction, if such a strong word can be used of what its essentially a difference of degree, lies not in the self-interested use of art by political, corporate and media institutions, but rather in the art’s own pre-emptive adoption of postures tailored to suit such interests. If art has become more real, or at least, if the attempt has been made to make it more real, its realism rests on conservative, and essentially passive, assumptions about the possibility of change: in short, it is an academic art, in much the same sense that nineteenth salon painters produced an academic art. Sanctioned by a tradition of ‘anti-art’, the contemporary artist operates in a context where gestures of cynicism, pessimism and revolt serve established interests, and in which rebel postures (whether cynical, ironic or sincerely adopted) suit a globalized economy intent on continual, niche-marked, superficial change. As Peter Burger puts it:

If an artist today signs a stove-pipe and exhibits it, that artist does certainly not denounce the art market but adapts to it. Such adaptation does not eradicate the idea of individual creativity, it affirms it. and the reason is the failure of the avant-gardist to sublate art. Since now the protest of the historical avant-garde against art as institution is accepted as art, the gesture of protest of the neo-avant-garde becomes inauthentic. Having been shown to be irredeemable, the claim to protest can no longer be maintained. [Burger, 1974]

The difference, in these terms, lies in the embracing of that ‘inauthenticity’, and the transformation of the “gesture of protest” into a commodified form, so that the myth of the avant-garde’s perpetual revolution can be defused, and redeployed in the terms of ‘creative innovation’ demanded by a consumer marketplace looking for a constant stream of new product. The rhetoric may often be framed, out of marketing necessity, in the oppositional terms of the counter-culture (6), but the function of artists becomes solely as a minor branch of the entertainment industry. Peter Woollen, for one, takes much of this rhetoric with the pinch of salt it probably deserves, placing the New British Art into its broader political, economic and historical contexts and quoting a useful summary by Paul Wood:

It may not be going too far to view [the new art] as the delayed victory of those Constructivist and Dada tendencies which earlier challenged Modernism as part of what proved to be the historically premature revolution of the early Twentieth Century. Shorn of the revolutionary projectivity, such Postmodernism forms the suitable partner for the managerial-capitalism-as-nature which defines the late century. If this is so, then the real Academy of the present time is upon us. [Wood, quoted in Woollen, 1997]

The remark about the academy, specifically noted by Woollen as “uncannily perceptive”, raises interesting points in relation to Collings’ definition of the ‘real’, and later in his article, Collings goes some way towards defining this notion:

What was the impact of Damien Hirst’s shark when it was first shown? Its atmosphere of threat. Its wrongness … Its message was that the world had changed: politics is over, ethics and morality too. Advertising, Sport, a pretend lust for classic guitar sounds of the Sixties – we’ve got all that instead. [Collings, 1997]

For Collings, even allowing for intentional exaggeration and a desire to provoke, art’s becoming “more real” means only more literal in its relations with media-led consumerism and managerial capitalism, as defined by Wood. Both Jonathan Glancey and Peter Woollen make their own versions of this case. For Glancey, more naive than Woollen but perhaps, for that reason, closer to the consensus among the artists themselves:

Young British artists, trained in schools that are for the most part determinedly avant-garde, are caught in a race they can never win… If a part of the arist’s role is to reflect, comment upon or interpret the world around them, and if that world moves at a dramatic pace, they will have a hard time keeping up with creative people in commercial fields – in computers, graphics, television, advertising and so on. Ultimately, this hardly matters as artists are now as much inspired by these commercial arts as the commercial arts are by talented new artists. [Glancey, 1997]

In other words, far from diversifying or democratising, the culture follows the logic of the free market into corporate convergence, within which the commercial interest dominates; the artist appropriates the forms and ideologies of corporate culture in order to ‘add value’ and sell them back, so becoming integrated within a process of mutual cannibalisation that results in the homogenisation of cultural production. The avant-garde myth becomes the engine-house of consumerism. Peter Woollen adds his own, rather more cautious spin to Glancey’s basic point:

In essence we are confronted by a world in which the boundaries between gallery art, media, advertising, digital imaging, fashion, film, graphics and display have begun to dissolve. The ‘Society of the Spectacle’, as Guy Debord dubbed it in the Sixties, has engulfed every facet of visual communication. [Woollen, 1997]

This is not a new phenomenon, and as long ago as 1972 Gerald Woods was able to produce an anthology under the title Art Without Boundaries: 1950 – 70 for the influential Thames and Hudson ‘World of Art’ series, proposing that:

The most exciting, and possibly the most fruitful, trend in the visual arts since the early 1950s has been the steady erosion of traditional boundaries: between painting and sculpture, painting and film, film and typography, photography and print-making, ‘fine’ and ‘commercial’ art… Christo’s wrapped objects and Boyle’s ‘happenings’ show how art can be extended into our environment and our lives. [Woods, 1972]

The crucial distinction between now and 1972, however, lies in the way that this movement was then concerned to appropriate mass-cultural forms for the dissemination of avant-garde art on its own terms, in an attempt to reach wider audiences with work that would not be familiar from the mainstream media. The expansion of ‘spectacular’ media industries and their encroachment into both the institutional and creative spaces of art during the 1990s, in contrast, seems to have resulted less in this kind of proposed dialogue between ‘high’ and ‘low’ on something approaching equal terms, than a pre-emptive surrender of art’s transformative and imaginative functions to the demands of commercial pragmatism. What is especially interesting in this debate is the writing-out of Surrealism as a historical model, focusing instead (as in Wood’s example) on the nihilism of Dada and the utilitarian, progressive strains of Constructivism and Futurism.

The frequently-cited nihilism of Dada, however, can be overstated. While the Cabaret Voltaire openly turned the destructive energies of the First World War onto a culture that its founders saw as complicit with the mechanised slaughter of the trenches, the intention of that destructive emphasis was far from nihilistic in any real sense. For Dada, the nihilism cancelled itself out by being directed toward a purpose: in destroying everything that exists, the equation read, Dada would create the free space for a new kind of human potential to be realised. If the fetishisation of high art and civilised values produced the Somme, Dada’s founders reasoned, then clearly these fetishes and values deserved whatever full-scale assault could be mounted on them. As Richard Huelsenbeck put it in Memoirs of a Dada Drunmer:

Art as such became a problem for me in regard to human destiny. I was a child of my age, an individualist connected in some mysterious way with all mankind and its troubles. My fight for the personality and against the tyranny of the masses gradually turned out to be a family quarrel. I didn’t want the old world, I wasn’t looking for a paradise in the past. I was and still am a child of my age, with its technology and all its paraphernalia, but I wanted our age to have room for the creative man. This was the justification for our fight against the philistine, the bourgeois, and the insipid substance of middle-class life. [Huelsenbeck, 1969]

Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings’ later move into religious mysticism (7), and Hans Arp’s development of an early primitivism and use of chance procedure into a new kind of bimorphic, contemplative abstraction (8) both hint less at a betrayal of Dadaist principles (an oxymoron anyway, as the true Dadaist was against Dada itself) than the only logical development of those principles. In fact, it is precisely in the excision of this kind of ‘revolutionary projectivity’ that Dada’s influence has been neutered: not diluted from, but reduced to, a passive nihilism. If Dada intended a comprehensive sweeping away of everything that preceded, surrounded and comprised its own historical moment, it is only legible as a utopian project, a kind of cultural ‘Last Judgement’ ahead of the entry into a new, fundamentally transformed world. Its refusal to contemplate the historical moment beyond its own can be read at least as much as a desire to leave its potential open as a lack of belief in its possibility. As Huelsenbeck puts it:

… people claim that the stupid and the wicked have always been in power. I don’t believe it, or I would like to say that I don’t regard it as inevitable. There is a difference between the wicked fearing hell and believing that they are the ones to whom we owe life. Dada is – the world has come to such a point … with all its negative, positive and creative reactions. [Huelsenbeck, 1969]

The Surrealist movement’s later emphasis on the transformative function of art, and its tendency towards a paradoxical and insoluble equalisation of individual aesthetic autonomy and collective action (9), is in fact a logical development of Dada’s utopian project. Locating the new world in the recently-uncovered unconscious motivations of Freud’s The Interpretation Of Dreams, Surrealism offers an exit from the literalism of assumptions that art is an a priori either/or cultural phenomenon. Its self-contradictory combination of autonomy and social action is a paradox that has pretty much defined art-practice ever since, and it is precisely in the leaving unresolved of its own internal contradictions that Surrealism stands as a model of continuing relevance. To read contemporary work through a Surrealist lens is an instructive procedure, and the influence of Surrealism as a set of procedures and possibilities remains central in contemporary practice. Max Kozloff, addressing these issues in 1968, stated that:

Of all the decisive moments in the tradition of twentieth century painting, only one can be said to burrow still relevantly within us. Dada, as it is almost axiomatic to say, and its rambunctious outgrowth Surrealism, surround and confirm a swarm of present avant-garde works reflecting a confusing wealth of idioms. leaving aside all of Pop Art, one has merely to think of artists as diverse stylistically as Helen Frankenthaler and Edward Keinholz (just as earlier there had appeared Miro and Ernst) to validate the lyrical or cancerous urgency of Surrealism in the current aesthetic stream. [Kozloff.1968]

Read Gary Hume and Sarah Lucas for Frankenthaler and Keinholz and the same point still stands over thirty years later, implying that the disjunction often claimed between the new art and the tradition from which it emerges is at the very least exaggerated, and remains even now more a question of context and attitude than of substantial aesthetic difference. This changed context can be illustrated by tracing the development of the object in twentieth century art from its initial appearance as a key strategy of provocation in Dada to its commodification in 1960s pop and subsequent developments such as the 1980s ‘commodity sculpture’ of Jeff Koons and Haim Steinbach.

Duchamp Why Not Sneeze Rrose Selavy?

In outline, the purpose of the Dada approach to the object was to dislocate the use-value of things, to charge them with a set of meanings (and anti-meanings) unrelated to their function and thereby unsettle the complacency of our relationships with their everyday equivalents, an effect intrinsic in collage, which explains the widespread focus on this medium above all others within the movement. Dada licensed an art of fortuitous resemblances and conjunctions, a use of chance and absurdity, and a kind of deliberate visual charlatanism (exemplified by the marble sugar cubes of Duchamp’s Why Not Sneeze Rrose Selavy of 1921) that was later refined into the Surrealist object, making available a procedure that provided a means of alienating the material thing from its context, wrenching the apparent certainties of its function (and by implication all function) into an eroticised, menacing play of ideas. By forcing the object to defy its status as object, metamorphosing it either by physical alteration, or through a process of analogy, into an idea, the object became a representation of what-it-is-not that threatened categorisations by remaining unmistakably itself while taking on disturbing qualities of otherness: after Man Ray, all irons potentially sprout a set of tacks, every metronome a ghosted eye ticking menacingly.

Conceptual art is often premised on this disjunction between object and idea, one example being Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree (1973), a glass of water on a glass shelf, fixed high on one wall of an otherwise empty gallery space (10). The relationship between title and object, and Craig-Martin’s insistence on the literal reality of the one thing having become the other – the transformative effect, in other words, on the viewer’s perception of the object as language, the language as object, and the poetic symbolism of the oak tree itself – is the space in which the work operates as art. Craig-Martin’s influential role as a teacher at Goldsmiths throughout the 1980s would indicate that this kind of approach to the object, arriving in Conceptual guise but arguably Surrealist in origin (witness the ‘linguistic’ paintings of Magritte, for example, in which a tuba, candle and bowler hat might be labelled ‘bird’s egg’, ‘sleep’ and ‘forest’, or a painting of a pipe titled Ceci n’est pas une pipe) has deeply influenced much recent British art.

Michael Craig-Martin An Oak Tree

The Surrealist inheritance implied in one aspect of Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree, however, must be set against a more literal use of the object. Refined in the 1950s and 60s by neo-Dada and Pop, the object developed a tendency to return to the Duchampian Readymade, though – crucially, as it turned out – with both the destructive humour and philosophical sophistication stripped out of its functioning. It came to function in ways that implied a ‘Surrealism without the unconscious’ (11), a superficial use of Surrealist procedures that contains their exploratory intentions within a premeditated and proscribed conceptual framework. It must also be conceded that, in some cases, as Max Kozloff points out:

What Pop art has done is to perceive [the] subconscious blazing away everywhere in society’s commercial artefacts (which comprise a new nature). [Kozloff. 1968]

The point, however, is that as it became exemplified in the work of Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons the Pop object initiates a different conceptual procedure, one in which the art object is commodified and literalised at the level of the functional object. Counter-meanings are invested only at the level of irony, and at no point are the transformative qualities of art brought into play in life. By reducing art to an issue of status only, the Pop object (as distinct from the object as invariably used by artists associated with Pop) merely illustrates or transfers existing economic and social relations into aesthetic discourse, insisting on a social and economic use-value for art that excludes the imaginative and transformative qualities that constitute art’s distinctive functions. If the Dada object sought to destroy both art and life as they stood, and the Surrealist object sought a merging of art and life on terms as yet unknown, then the Pop object insists on the replacement of art by life as it already exists.

Warhol Brillo-boxes

The distinctions are far from negligible, even at those points where the categories appear to overlap, and the conceptual distance between a Duchamp ‘Readymade’ in 1917 and a Warhol Brillo Box in 1963 is greater than is often supposed. This distance will be crucial to the following discussion of Lucas’s various strategies.

Notes:

1: Hugh Sykes Davies, London Bulletin (May 1938), quoted in Steven Connor, British Surrealist Poetry of the 1930s in Gary Day/Brian Docherty (eds), British Poetry 1900 – 1950: Aspects of Tradtion (Macmillan, 1995).

2: For details of these arguments, including tables and statistics, see Naomi Klein, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand BuIlies (Flamingo, 2000).

3: Peter Burger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (trans. Michael Shaw, Manchester University Press, 1984).

4: Emin, quoted in Wayne Burrows, Stitch This! (The Big Issue in the North, November 1997).

5: Klein, No Logo (Flamingo,2000).

6: Klein, ibid

7: Hugo Ball, Flight Out Of Time: A Dada Diary (ed: John Elderfield, trans. Ann Raimes, University of California Press, 1996).

8: Herbert Read, Arp (Thames and Hudson, 1968).

9: Andre Breton, Manifestos of Surrealism (trans. Richard Seaver/Helen Lane, University of Michigan Press, 1969).

10: An Oak Tree featured in the exhibition Live In Your Head: Concept and Experiment in Britain 1965 – 1975 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London in early 2000.

11: The phrase is Frederic Jameson’s, from Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, where it is used as the title of a chapter on video.

Au Naturel

PART 2:

“If everything happened through premeditation you wouldn’t get anywhere that you didn’t know about before you started”

Sarah Lucas, 2000

Where Collings sees the art of the 1990s as primarily defined by its acceptance of mass imagery and atomised personal experience, a view that has some justification, Sarah Lucas’s work, with its home-made, cack-handed construction in pursuit of opaque meaning, moves against the grain of both the slickness and the immediacy of her contemporaries. True, her work at a superficial level seems immediate, even simplistic, but as Lucas herself has explained, this surface accessibility is an intentional point of access to the work, not its destination:

I grew up around people who had no particular interest in modern art. Either they thought it was a con or somehow beyond their understanding. It is important to me that people can get into it on some level, even if they don’t. But I also think my work is complex. People don’t always think so. They get it on a certain level and don’t look any further . You can’t always win. Having said that, sometimes I think it looks pretty crude myself, so I can understand about others having that reaction. [Lucas, quoted in van Adrichem, 1995]

The contradictions at the heart of her project, between opaque meaning and immediate surface impact, become both its strength and its key weakness, and to analyse this, to see in Lucas’s work a kind of partial reassessment of a Surrealist programme, filtered through a sensibility shaped by class and gender politics is, if nothing else, a starting point. As Lucas herself points out, in a revealing exchange during a 1995 Parkett interview with Jan van Adrichem:

JA: So you could say that your technique, the way you manipulate the stuff, was influenced by feminism: that looking through the lens of feminism you were able to completely transform your work. Is that also a metaphor for what artistic activity might be in your case?

SL: Yes, it was a huge turnaround for me. But on the other hand I never wanted to be an artist on a soapbox. In a way I’m romantic about art. I want it to be really refined. I don’t want it to be ringing in my ears and sick up to the back teeth of it. [van Adrichem, 1995]

Allen Jones Hatstand, Table & Chair

The same ambivalence arises in Lucas’s admission that the wax cast of her own mouth with its crumpled cigarette in Where Does It All End? (1994 – 5) was intended as both vulnerable and aggressive, the rhetorical question posed by the object’s title “not too hopeful, but not absolutely hopeless either” (1). As with Lucas’s response to Allen Jones’ Table (1969), a work with a long history of feminist objection and critique behind it, and a work that Lucas has claimed to admire for its unequivocal message and formal economy, or her statement that “sexist attitudes are there to be used: I get strength from them” (2), different potential responses seem co-exist within individual works. The function of each piece is to embody a complex of ideas, rather than a single clear statement:

The idea and the materials all have to come together in a good relationship. It comes around in my head like that: things I have been thinking for years, bits and pieces of an idea … But half an idea doesn’t make an object. Nor can it be contrived. It must be lived out and the materials must be allowed to live it out … You can’t simply ram your ideas into these materials or you would end up with a tight-arsed, mediocre artwork. [Lucas, quoted in van Adrichem, 1995]

Rene Magritte The Rape

At Lucas’s best, in a work like Two Fried Eggs And A Kebab (1992) Surrealist tropes are brought into play in ways that are simultaneously critical and in the subversive spirit of Surrealism itself. Not only do the eggs become breasts and the kebab a gaping female genitalia (complete with labial folds), the head of this rudimentarily implied figure is composed, after Rene Magritte’s Rape (1934), of a freestanding photograph of the tabletop in which the breasts/eggs become eyes and the vulva/kebab a mouth. What disturbs about this is not so much the equivalences drawn between fried egg and breast or kebab and vulva (analogies drawn – according to Lucas – from the slang expression “two fried eggs and a kipper”, a reductive denotation of female anatomy) but the seediness and atmosphere of violation that surrounds the work as a whole. The equivalences become disturbing precisely because they remain abjectly comic and farcical, even as they suggest, in the grimy tabletop and its cold, unappetising food spilling patches of grease, a kind of nauseating aura of violence having been done.

Two Fried Eggs & A Kebab

It’s an effect that seems akin to Bruce Conner’s sixties collages with their own aura of cheap sex and death, their accumulation of feathers and True Crime pin-ups in nylon stockings, his disturbing assemblages of dismembered and charred corpses like apparitions from the unconscious of a sleek, image-driven West Coast Pop. In The Bride (1960 – 61), for example, a decrepit, phallic figure is concealed under layers of dust and cobweb-like wrapping, while The Marcel Duchamp Travelling Box (1963) features a small glass case tied with string, a phallic protrusion sitting limply on the lid. Along with artists like Edward Keinholz and Wallace Berman, or the early assemblages of Robert Rauschenberg (particularly the sexually connotative combines of the 1950s like Monogram and Bed) Conner’s makeshift aesthetic clearly informs Lucas’s work at a fundamental level, though whether Lucas herself intends direct references to be inferred is left unclear.

Bruce Conner

Yet this aesthetic, standing in opposition as it does to the glossy media imagery that predominates in contemporary art, is often read in terms of the same pragmatism that seems to inform the production of much recent art by association and contemporaneity alone. Angela McRobbie, for example, discussing the Royal Academy’s Sensation exhibition of 1997, has argued that:

… the cynical apolitical individualism, as well as the weary, not to say tawdry, disengagement of many of the pieces (Sarah Lucas’ soiled mattress with phallic shaped fruit pieces casually thrown on top … ) certainly says something about how art now perceives itself and where it also places itself. Acknowledging and even endorsing what Kobena Mercer has described as the ‘vulgarity and stupidity of everyday life’ is casual, populist art which wishes to be repositioned inside the chat-show world of celebrity culture. alongside the sponsorship deals, in the restaurants and at the very heart of consumer culture. [McRobbie, 1999]

The point is already made about this as a general context for much recent British art in this essay, but the use of Lucas’s Au Naturel (1994) as the chosen illustration tends to demonstrate how this context has distorted the reading of Lucas’s work. Not only does McRobbie exaggerate the slovenly appearance of the sculpture itself (far from being ‘casually thrown’, on the mattress, the sexual connotations of the fruit are clearly purposefully arranged, and precisely positioned) she proceeds to conflate it with the slicker, more media-friendly work of others. If McRobbie’s general remarks can be plausibly applied to those – such as Damien Hirst or Gary Hume – who seem most comfortable in the lifestyle supplements of the broadsheets and on the pages of magazines like Vogue, the sense that Lucas’s work resists this kind of smooth absorption into the mainstream remains a distinguishing factor, and its “exemplary lack of style” is certainly part of this. When ‘Ready2shop.com’ take Lucas’s principle of substitution for their advertising campaign, it is significant that the physical decrepitude of Lucas’s source works is airbrushed out, and the darker ambiguity of Lucas’s humour omitted in favour of a cleaned-up, postcard-style nudge and wink (3).

While Collings’ desire for an art made “more real” amounts to little more than a call for artists to imitate the ‘spectacular’ media culture, partaking of the glamour and status of the brand name and the promotional gimmick, Lucas’s work rests awkwardly on a line between what she has herself defined in relation to the representation of femininity in Two Fried Eggs And A Kebab as “the ideal and the actual” (4), the object as itself and nothing but even as it dissolves into a kind of conceptual other. Like Craig-Martin’s glass of water that insists on being seen simultaneously as an oak tree, Lucas’s assemblages tend to hover between the mundane, unvarnished presence of their components and the symbolism of their arrangement before the viewer, the bleak poetry of their implication and the blunt vividness of their presentation.

It is precisely the lack of polish, the refusal of craft in Lucas’s assemblages, that short-circuits their comic elements. If Au Naturel (1994) were more carefully constructed, it would be less effective. Its visual punning – a pair of melons and a scuffed fire-bucket for the female, two oranges and an upright cucumber for the male – is, as in Two Fried Eggs And A Kebab, more disturbing than comic in effect. In terms of the work’s relationship to media culture, to consumerism and the work as a commodity, this use of decrepit and inherently undesirable objects as the material of the work is clearly at least in part a contributing factor in the work’s sense of intractability, the difficulty created for the viewer intent on reading the assemblages as part the consumer culture within which they are framed.

Yet the attempt to place works like these into some sort of context beyond the apparent carelessness in their making and their confrontational refusal to raise themselves to anything remotely like beauty, aligning themselves with a seedily asexual attitude instead, is at the high risk of contradiction. Lucas herself, in so often playing out a tabloid anti-intellectualism in both her persona and her work, appears to warn against the attempt, an aspect of her project that came to the fore during her collaboration with Tracey Emin at The Shop (1993), a six-month long project summarised by Gordon Burn:

[Lucas and Emin] took over the lease on a former doctors’ surgery at 103 Bethnal Green Road, in the East End of London, and opened for business selling T-shirts daubed with slogans such as “Complete Arsehole” and “Fucking Useless”, key rings, mugs, mobiles, decorative penises, and one-offs, such as an octopus made from tights stuffed with newspapers and wearing a wig, all of which they made themselves. Lucas greeted customers in a T-shirt that said “I’m So Fucky” while Emin’s asked “Have You Wanked Over Me Yet?” [Burn, 1996]

Because of this, the obvious angle on Lucas’s subsequent work has been to overplay its rebellion against taste, to read it in terms of Collings’ “more real” and emphasise its throwing over of aesthetics in favour of the rough and tumble of fags’n’booze’n’birds – its attempt to align itself with a ‘just having a laugh’ proletarian anti-aesthetic. A sub-editor’s introductory copy to Burn’s profile summarises the emphasis on this aspect of Lucas’s persona:

She’s the bad girl of British Art, a scowling, swaggering hard-case who thinks it’s a laugh to loiter outside men’s toilets with a fish … [Burn, 1996]

Burn himself spends much of his profile describing such features of Lucas’s appearance as “a short Wrangler-style leather jacket that had apparently once been brown, but was now as white and cracked and dry as the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. It looked like a shitty jacket that had been repeatedly allowed to get soaked and then hung up in front of a fire to get even shittier”, a jacket that is earlier described as “her equivalent of Warhol’s platinum-white wig, or Gilbert and George’s tweedy old civil service flasher suits – part of the personal mythology she was in the process of constructing for herself at the time”. Lucas’s posture is “spoiling-for-a-knuckle confrontational”, “the fag in the hand, the feet set wide apart, her head cocked back”, a description that literalises her self-portraiture : the artist as East End ‘bit-of-rough’ with no gap between image and fact (5).

Sarah Lucas

Lucas herself plays up to this persona (“My life, if I live to be five million years old I will never be able to work out how birds’ minds tick over”, she is quoted as saying at one point in Burn’s interview), describing the current ascendancy of the “Britpack” artists as “the survival of the fittest…it’s not like the dole, you can’t get in the queue and get your whack”, for example, and later addressing her own status with the words “I’m not into being ‘top sculptress’. It’s just not up my street. Having said that, I have made some fucking excellent sculptures”. In the light of such comments, we have to suspect that when Burn writes, “‘I like her. She’s a laugh’. This would be Lucas’s ultimate complement,” Lucas herself condones the move.

Yet, as Julian Stallabrass has persuasively argued (6), the very assumption that proletarian culture can be so easily defined and appropriated marks the gesture as a simplistic one, as often as not more complicit with what it claims to oppose than in alignment with the popular mass-culture it claims to champion. Aside from the argument that cultural gentrification of areas like the East End has, in Stallabrass’s words, “a tendency to sing the praises of what [it] is assisting to the graveyard” by pricing working class communities out once the galleries, restaurants and bars have begun to raise property values, Stallabrass also makes important points about the terms on which recent British art engages with the imagery of class in the gallery itself:

So what is it that the art-goer gets from the profanities, humour and filthiness that is, in clichéd thought, associated with the lumpen masses? The confirmation of the opposite in themselves; the feeling that, however much they may be holidaying in other people’s misery, they never lose their sense of who they are, that sense of being continually affirmed by the consumption of its opposite in art. [Stallabrass, 1999]

Echoing the sentiments of Pulp’s 1995 hit ‘Common People’ (7), where a similar point about middle-class art-students playing at poverty until returning to their parents’ houses was made (ironically and inevitably enough, the song was subsequently taken up as an anthem by those it attacked), Stallabrass’s point is clear enough:

In [recent British art] there is generally no sympathy, no engagement with that now large [unemployed or economically inactive] segment of the population – only with an environment which they help to produce and which may then become the subject of appropriation by a section of the cultured middle-class: artists, gallery-goers, and fine-art book buyers. [Stallabrass, 1999]

Just as the ‘camp’ or ironic consumption of trash-culture by the highly educated gains its frisson from the deliberate slumming involved, this appropriation is dependent on the free choice of the audience. To indulge a connoisseurship of the transgressive and anti-PC aspects of the sexual coverage in a marginal newspaper like The Sunday Sport in opposition to middle-class consensus, or to argue for the validity of a corporately produced tabloid culture, is exactly this kind of appropriation, rooted in the assumption that the rejection of middle-class comforts and liberal certainties comprise a genuine choice for the viewer. It loses its viability as a position when this choice is denied to a large section of the audience the work is ostensibly designed to reach, where the message alters to imply that if trash culture is good enough for the artists, it must be good enough for those without access to the alternatives.

Damien Hirst with Lucas' Seven Up

Lucas’s series of photocopied blow-ups of spreads from The Sunday Sport offer the one example in her work of this kind of failure, and Stallabrass is surely correct to pinpoint this failure in the fact that:

…the work enacts what the newspaper itself does, glorying in its own bad taste and stupidity, amusing its readers with its crude and philistine attitudes. If the work has an effect, it is in placing the viewer in a situation where voyeurism and the pleasures of looking collide with conventional liberal attitudes [ … ] a pervasive and disabling irony becalms the work in a manner that is supposed, in conventional wisdom, to challenge the viewer but which in fact conveniently opens up demotic material to safe aesthetic delectation. [Stallabrass, 1999]

By, in Stallabrass’s words, placing these spreads into “a space where a middle-class consensus reigns, where unreconstructed lumpen attitudes may be collectively sneered at, though also at the same time enjoyed” (8), the work seems to miscalculate its effect. Despite Sarah Kent’s insistence that “Comment is redundant; the articles damn themselves with their breathtaking misogyny” (9), it is far from clear that any explicit critique is intended, or invited by these works. Lucas herself denies this kind of critical intention with her remark that:

I’m dipping into the culture, pointing a finger; directing attention to what’s there. I’m not making a didactic point. [Lucas, quoted in Kent, 1994]

By placing The Sunday Sport into an art gallery, Lucas is at best, in these terms, depending on an audience that will respond ‘correctly’ to the imagery and text on display, and as such ‘correctness’ is not a marked feature of Lucas’s oeuvre, it can be assumed that this kind of critique is not the main aim of these works. Such a presentation of this material will almost certainly help the kind of educated, liberal viewer likely to visit an exhibition of contemporary art to indulge feelings of superiority to the readership of The Sunday Sport, and may confirm a distaste for its publisher, David Suilivan, but since only the most sheltered of viewers will be flatly unaware that such images exist in the culture, it’s difficult to know what Lucas hopes to achieve by re-presenting them on a larger scale in a ‘respectable’ context.

Of course, there is the contextual displacement, and the surprise involved in seeing this material presented as art may create a slight shift in meaning. The images, primarily featuring topless women, for example, might in this new context be cross-referenced with a fine art tradition of nude painting, and some parallel between the two noted. Or we may be asked to look at the spreads from a formalist perspective, that might see in the Sport‘s boxes and columns a link to geometric abstraction or Bauhaus design. Lucas herself cites an intention to create an “embarrassment effect” in the viewer:

For example, if you take those early works I made from the pages of The Sunday Sport, where I blew up the centrefolds. When you see people sitting reading a newspaper on a train it’s a very discreet activity. Viewing them in a gallery is a very different thing especially if you’re walking around with your family or among others, perhaps, people who you don’t know, looking at this stuff, giant-sized. I mean that makes you automatically very self-conscious but I think that embarrassment effect gives the work a lot of power. [Lucas, quoted in Putnam, 2000]

The primary effect, however, is of the incongruity of these images in an ‘art’ setting, producing a reading in which the work challenges the institutions and canons of ‘high’ art with the virility of popular culture in a late spin on an eighty-year old Dada strategy, a tactic that, as Sarah Kent’s use of the term “aesthetic terrorist” elsewhere implies (10), tends to favour the tabloid image, implicitly arguing for the legitimacy of the tabloid spread over the conventions of fine art in a way that elides the question of whether all viewers have access to both.

The problem with this is two-fold. Firstly, the identification of The Sunday Sport with working-class masculinity in opposition to middle-class consensus is problematic, since it depends on the kind of primitivism already noted in which the lumpen mass becomes a site of presumed authenticity, this masculinity being both simplified and generalised into a cliché designed to affirm the gallery-goer’s distance from the material shown. Secondly, the identification of working class masculinity with a tabloid that is neither produced nor widely read by the men it is taken to represent, is also deeply problematic. If, as Lucas says, these works are not about pornography, but “the acceptable stuff available at 25p: common currency rather than the deviant or marginal,” (11) The Sunday Sport remains a low-circulation tabloid whose misogyny is particularly unsubtle, and which itself comes clean about its own status, relying on the ironic sense of its readers, and marketing itself fairly unequivocally as a trashy ‘joke’ newspaper.

While these works might be taken to expose potential weaknesses in Lucas’s approach, however, they are not the whole story. One means of dealing with working class culture and subject-matter that Lucas uses effectively is her adoption of its language and iconography as a body of raw material, from which complex statements can be made. Lucas has described her attraction to language:

I tend to overuse words and phrases that I like a lot. Take slang. for example. You use the same words over and over again, your vocabulary doesn’t get any bigger. I’ve always enjoyed people talking that way and swearing. Like someone saying “fuck” ten times in the space of three sentences and each time it means something slightly different. [Lucas. quoted in van Adrichem. 1995]

In one early untitled series, made while sharing a studio in Rome with Gary Hume in 1990, Lucas made scrolls listing hand-written swear words in alphabetical order, the effect of the words concentrated together being to show the versatility of obscene language, the lists creating a kind of singleminded gutter poetry: ”Arse-Eater, Arsehole Bandit, Ball Bag, Banger, Bell Ender, Bollocks …” (12), an effect of repetition that has also been explored by Sheffield-based Forced Entertainment in a seven hour film of performer Cathy Naden writing Out 3,433 ‘filthy’ words and phrases’ in chalk on a school blackboard (13). The point about the repetition of the word “fuck”, however, with its constantly shifting meanings, seems a clue to Lucas’s broader use of ‘gutter’ language and iconography in her art, repeating images such as the phallus, breast and vagina as they occur in slang in order to explore the way these ‘concealed’ meanings emerge in the wider culture.

Forced-Entertainment

It is certainly the case that Lucas’s assemblages are often overlaid with strong traces of an absurdist humour that collapses nihilism into comedy. Her work stands out from that of her contemporaries in many respects, but few are more immediately noticeable than its humour, and alongside what might be called its self-conscious lack of self-consciousness, its “exemplary lack of style” (14), the work tends to stand apart from both the concerns and the appearance of much that surrounds it. Describing her first response to Au Naturel at the Sensation exhibition, Sarah Kent remarks that:

On first viewing, it looked absurd, too slight to be taken seriously. Yet each time I went back to the exhibition, the piece got better. Whereas after several visits the smart sculptures and declamatory paintings began to pall, her quieter. more insiduous work seeped in slowly and, once lodged in the mind, remained obstinately fresh, a thought -provoking irritant. Instead of wearing thin, the piece got better, the associations richer … [Kent. 1998]

The deliberately makeshift and pointedly shoddy appearance of Lucas’s assemblage work is certainly in stark contrast to Rachel Whiteread’s monumentality, Damien Hirst’s clinically Minimal vitrines and the virtuosic neo-pop painterly styles of Gary Hume, Fiona Rae and Chris Ofili. It is also at odds with the vestigal elegance and frailty of Tracey Emin’s work, despite the close links shared by Lucas and Emin early in both their careers, and – despite the similar range of mediums that Lucas deploys – the slick, professionalised use of photography, video and film of Sam Taylor-Wood or Jane and Louise Wilson.

Lucas’s work in these media seems as idiosyncratic and of a piece with her “exemplary lack of style” as in any other. Yet if Lucas’s work does have a tendency to seem out of place in group shows, as Kent points out, this is a pointer to the work’s key strengths: its ‘insiduous’ quality, its makeshift construction and its rich associations.

Part of this initial perception of slightness arises from the way that Lucas’s makeshift, associative approach is coupled with a broad humour, her stock-in-trade being the kind of bawdiness that might, nevertheless, seem as much at home in a Samuel Beckett play as a Sid James-era Carry On... film. By framing her knobs and knockers in assemblages that seem consciously to evoke a kind of Waiting For Godot or Endgame universe of things passing far beyond the consumer pale of contemporary culture, Lucas deserves credit for having approached something of Beckett’s own fusion:

Estragon: What about hanging ourselves?
Vladimir: Hmm. It’d give us an erection.
Estragon: (highly excited) An erection!
Vladimir: With all that follows. Where it falls mandrakes grow. That’s why they shriek when you pull them up. Did you not know that?
Estragon: Let’s hang ourselves immediately!
[Beckett, 1956]

If Beckett’s hanging erection is just one more sign of futility in the wasteland, an absolute rejection of transcendence, Lucas’s assemblages would tend to implicate it in its own fate. The strength of these assemblages is that they use the penis as both an embodiment of patriarchy to be mocked and subverted, and as a victim of the poverty of imagination produced by the very patriarchy that privileges it. The erection, in Lucas’s assemblages, is a double-edged sword, variously, and often simultaneously, a political abstraction (patriarchy), a cultural sign (the phallus), and a kind of oddly anthropomorphic victim of the imbalanced culture produced by its own exclusive dominance.

The mattress from which Au Naturel is made, for example, already fished from the rubbish-heap, becomes more decrepit the longer it exists. As the melons, oranges and cucumber decay and are replaced, their tell-tale stains spread into the dingy fabric surrounding them, the unmistakable marks of bodily fluids produced by the decay of vegetables rather than the grappling of human bodies. Such stains evoke frustration, a reading reinforced by the way in which – like Duchamp’s Bachelors eternally cut off from their Bride in The Large Glass, endlessly masturbating into machinery – Au Naturel’s cucumber stands permanently erect on the opposite side of the mattress to the scuffed metal bucket that turns towards it. Sexual availability on both sides is countered by a complete denial of actual contact. Au Naturel, with its continual need to be replaced as its components decay, its absolute refusal to allow contact between the two figures it implies, collapses an image of death and alienation into an almost touching comic intimacy.

The Old Couple (1992) is a similarly frustrated double act as two grotty chairs stand slightly apart, one seat bearing a permanent (and surprisingly youthful-looking) erection cast in wax, the other a set of open false teeth, aggressively threatening to bite into it, much as Lucas chomps into her banana in her self-portrait, Great Dates (1990 -1), or consumes a meal of sausages and bananas in her Sausage Film (1997). The use of castration imagery is reinforced by the male figure in the Smoking Room installation of 1996, comprised of a banana and a mug. Yet another assemblage, One Armed Bandits (Mae West) (1995), consists of a single chair dressed in vest and underpants, a wax cast of a hand and arm (resembling one of Bruce Nauman’s body sculptures of the 1970s) poised to take a masturbatory grip on an unlit candle. This figure is accompanied by an old-fashioned chain-pull toilet, cistern and all, a representation of masturbatory fantasy so unequivocal as to become startling.

Get Hold Of This

The public mythology concealing such behaviour is displayed in Get Hold Of This (1994/5), a series of repeated obscene gestures cast from hands and forearms (again with a nod to Nauman) and arrayed on cardboard boxes, as though to mockingly grant these mutely aggressive ‘phwooars’ with a desultory status as culture by supplying them with notional plinths. They might be imagined lined up against the tiny pink finger of Receptacle Of Lurid Things, its refusal a riposte to the size of the erections claimed by these raised fists and forearms, the virile aggression of the public display contrasted pathetically with the stunted wax candle about to indulge itself in One Armed Bandits (Mae West). If the associations generated imply a vulnerability as much as a mockery, so be it.

In Bitch (1994) and Bunny (1997) the objects of these displays are shown, stripped to the reductive cues of sexual submission that underlie them. In Bitch, a pair of melons hang in the chest of a torn T-shirt, stretched over the legs of a table, like dead weights. Between the other two legs hangs a vacuum packed kipper. In Bunny, meanwhile, a pair of scrawny flesh-coloured tights are stuffed with grey kapok, splayed open, and G-clamped to a chair. The key to both assemblages is their explicit sexual content coupled with their negative erotic charge. Bitch might appear as unequivocally submissive as Allen Jones’ Table (1969) – an obvious model for Lucas’s assemblage – but Lucas’s absolute refusal to give the figure any erotic aura whatsoever, literally reducing the crotch-shot of pornographic imagination to its two dead weights and pre-packaged meat, violates both viewer and figure with roughly equal force. As Jerry Saltz says of Bitch, the presence of the assemblage is that of:

… a cold, hard, dead kind of blowup doll much bigger than you. “You want to fuck this thing?” Lucas seems to be asking. “Be my guest”. [Saltz, 1995]

If Bitch invites a sexual reading only to throw it back, Bunny is violated to a degree that refuses even to invite that reading. The scrawny tights imply anorexic legs, while the lumpen grey kapok showing through their mesh resembles nothing so much as the skin of a corpse. The title, referring to Hugh Hefner’s soft-porn Playboy empire with its hostesses dressed as rabbits, draws equally on the slang expression ‘at it like rabbits’, a popular shorthand for sexual availability. By applying these associations to this abject figure, drained not only of sexuality but of any sign of life, Lucas conflates the cultural assumptions that produce sexual assault with the apparent aftermath of the assault itself. That this figure also seems anorexic in appearance adds another level to its impact. This reading is reinforced in Bunny by the bluntly makeshift construction in which a G-clamp, quite literally, keeps the figure in its place.

Bunny

When Bunny found itself placed at The Royal Academy’s 1997 Sensation exhibition in front of Jenny Saville’s monument to self-contained female flesh, Shift (1996/7), the contrast was both stark and instructive. Beside Saville’s canvas, with its six female bodies taking up every square inch of the vast space with their luxuriantly un-available flesh, forming a (literally) impenetrable visual field, Lucas’s Bunny acted as a kind of counterpoint, a metaphor for the poverty and failure of imagination of most culturally sanctioned sexual fantasy. The works together seemed to offer a blunt choice: Saville’s self-sufficient and imperfectly human women. Or Bunny, pinned into place, isolated, dead, and abjectly available.

Keinholz Illegal Operation

Such works are not, of course, unprecedented. Ed Keinholz’s series of tableaux depicting prostitution, from Roxy’s (1961- 62) to The Rhinestone Beaver Peep Show Triptych (1980) and The Hoerengracht (1984 – 88), deal in similar ideas, and the figures populating Roxy’s (‘Cockeyed Jenny’, ‘Five Dollar Billier, and ‘Miss Universal’, among others) are portrayals of the same abject and degraded sexuality evoked by Lucas’s Bunny and Bitch. The two Lucas constructions would certainly seem at home in Keinholz’s installation, and the approaches of the two artists occasionally seem remarkably close in aesthetic and formal terms, and in the subjects chosen.

Keinholz’s Back Seat Dodge ’38 (1964), for example, had a clear echo in Lucas’s installation The Law (1997), which featured as its centrepiece “a Ford Capri humping up and down on hydraulic pumps, as if someone was making love inside it” (15), and both works share the voyeuristic “combination of innocence and abjection” noted in Keinholz’s work by Rosetta Brooks (16).

Keinholz Back Seat Dodge 38

Lucas’s work echoes Keinholz’s on a number of levels, from its ‘junk’ aesthetic to its concern with sex, humour and disturbance. Keinholz’s While Visions Of Sugar Plums Danced In Their Heads (1964) depicts copulating figures in a ‘real’ room, their enormously enlarged heads containing peep-shows of Barbie and Ken dolls performing sexually explicit acts. Like Lucas’s interest in the causes and effects of masturbatory fantasy, Keinholz’s interest in the gap between the lumpen copulation of his cast plaster figures and the gaudy plastic ‘perfection’ of their Barbie and Ken fantasies expresses not only a political point about the limits placed on imagination by a consumer culture, but equally a human tragedy where unmet expectations and lowered horizons plunge intimate relationships headlong into farce.

Jane Doe (1960), an early Keinholz work comprising a mannequin’s head on a table covered with a bridal skirt again seems pertinent to Lucas’s concerns. In order to experience the work we must open three drawers filled with symbolic objects and framed with mink stoles. Rosetta Brooks describes the viewer’s necessary interaction with the work. Keinholz has:

…deliberately transformed the viewer into the aggressor by requiring that we open the cabinet. To do this, we must pull up her dress, acquainting ourselves with the woman’s most intimate, secret possessions and symbols of her life. We must violate her pristine virginity – symbolized by the wedding gown – and penetrate her. [Brooks, 1996]

Likewise, Lucas’s representation of the female body in Two Fried Eggs And A Kebab and Bitch invite the viewer’s complicity in reading these abject forms as female bodies, and it is precisely this kind of implication of the viewer that is absent from Lucas’s panels derived from The Sunday Sport.

As another artist drawn to immediacy, surface clarity and the cultivation of a non-specialist audience, Keinholz seems an exemplary presence within the body of Lucas’s work. Besides the examples already mentioned, Lucas’s general aesthetic is close to Keinholz’s in feel and atmosphere. The notional figure of Keinholz’s The Illegal Operation (1962), for example, is as obliquely anthropomorphic as Lucas’s tables and chairs, while his ‘circle jerk’ of government and commerce around a pork-barrel in My Country ‘Tis Of Thee (1991) is as explicitly masturbatory as Lucas’s candles and toilet-bowls. The excremental Turgid TV(1969) and its companion piece, Cement TV (1969), have their counterparts in Lucas’s The Law, and the number of specific parallels that might be drawn seems more than merely coincidental.

Keinholz’s career, of course, was marked by a clear and specific set of social and political intentions, and his work stands as that of a satirist, albeit one whose satire contains a surplus of aesthetic content. Lucas, as we have seen, appears far more ambiguous about her role, refusing a straightforward readings in favour of a more oblique and ambivalent attitude to her often similar subjects. Keinholz may have been capable of the cheerfully obscene humour of The Psycho-Vendetta Case (1960), with its luridly detailed buttocks and anus in a portable box, but Keinholz’s moral is clear, making a direct political point against the death penalty in a specific case. The historical reference is to the case of Caryl Chessman, executed in 1960 after circumstantial evidence linked her to a kidnap. The title’s oblique allusion to Sacco and Vanzetti, draws an explicit parallel between the Chessman case and another miscarriage of justice. Sacco and Vanzetti were anarchist activists, Italian immigrants who, in 1927, were wrongly executed for murder. The Psycho- Vendetta Case dramatises Keinholz’s view of the public’s relationship to media coverage of such cases, requiring the viewer to look into a periscope to complete the work. As Keinholz explains:

… when you look in there … it says “If you believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, stick your tongue out. Limit three times”. And you realize while you’re reading that you’re lined up exactly with [the] ass. [Keinholz, quoted in Crow, 1996]

Representing the ‘arselicking’ of authority in terms both literal and scathing, The Psycho-Vendetta Case is a particularly blunt example of Keinholz’s usual practice in which each work follows a simple, easily interpreted code of symbolism and directs all its resources into persuasion. Yet the significant point is that Keinholz never falls into the trap of assuming his audience’s views in advance, and so avoids the dogmatism often present in work claiming accessibility.

Despite the central flaw of Lucas’s Sunday Sport images in this sense, with their dependence on an assumed liberal viewpoint, elsewhere in her work Lucas’s insistence on oblique meanings, and on the viewer’s own reading of the object in question, creates a similar resonance, though one that is crucially not directed, as Keinholz’s is, towards any particular end-destination. As Carl Freedman describes it in a 1995 Parkett overview (characteristically entitled Bollocks):

The self -construction of identity remains, to some extent, predicated upon a degree of external force, not least the desires of the media/consumer complex for controversy (frisson) and authenticity (faith). Lucas knows all this, disguising and revealing as the situation dictates, making things slippery with visual and verbal puns. If one thing can be fixed amongst all this shifting interplay, then it is Lucas’s unshakeable belief in the validity and value of her own particularity. [Freedman, 1995]

Like Keinholz’s, then, Lucas’s art is rooted in the individual vision of the artist herself in a way that is socially conscious, albeit in very oblique ways, and insists on the act of creation as the core of the work. Lucas, in other words, relies on the autonomy of the object within its particular contexts to create its own meanings and resonances for the viewer: “Once you make an object”, she has said, “then it has a life of its own” (17).

Notes:

1: Lucas, quoted in Jan van Adrichem, Where Does It All End? (Parkett 45: Barney/Lucas/Seigner,1995).

2 :Lucas, quoted in Sarah Kent, Shark Infested Waters: New British Art of the 1990s from the Saatchi Collection (Zwemmer, 1994).

3 :Advertisement in circulation March – April 2000. See Vogue (UK edn, April 2000, p.178).

4:Lucas, quoted in Kent, Shark Infested Waters, 1994.

5 :Gordon Burn, Sister Sarah (Guardian Weekend, November 23, 1996).

6:Julian Stallabrass, High Art Lite: British Art in the 1990s (Verso, 1999).

7:Pulp, featured on Different Class (Island Records/Island Music Ltd, 1995).

8 :Julian Stallabrass, High Art Lite, 1999.

9 :Sarah Kent, Shark Infested Waters, 1994.

10:Kent, ibid.

11 : Lucas quoted in Kent, ibid.

12 :Andrew Renton/Liam Gillick (eds), Technique Anglais: Current Trends in British Art (Thames & Hudson/One-Off Press, 1991).

13:Filthy Words & Phrases (dir. Tim Etchells/Hugo Glendinning, 1998).

14:Lucas, quoted in van Adrichem, Where Does It All End?, 1995.

15 : Rosanna de Lisle/Annabelle Auerbach, The New Establishment (Independent On Sunday, August 31, 1997).

16:Rosetta Brooks in Keinholz: A Retrospective (ed: Waiter Hopps, Whitney Museum of Art, 1996).

17:Lucas, quoted in Collier Schorr, The Fine Line Between This and That (Parkett 45: Bamey/Lucas/Seigner,1995).

Tinguely La Vittoria

PART 3:

“I depend on the idea that art can’t be taken away from me by financial or material limitations … I can sit and eat dinner and move the food around on my plate to mean something”.

Sarah Lucas, 1995

Close to Lucas’s general approach, perhaps, is Jean Tinguely’s La Vittoria (1970), an immense, self-destructing penis erected in front of Milan Cathedral to celebrate ten years of Nouveau Realisme, the French neo-Dada movement founded by the critic Pierre Restany in 1960. Tinguely’s work (1), with its celebratory secularism, makes a more streamlined, less complex statement than much in Lucas, but Lucas herself has (consciously or unconsciously) referenced it several times, most clearly in Things (1992), a penis constructed in wire with live matches built into the structure. La Vittoria was built in secret and veiled right up to the moment of its immolation, sending out sparks and flames into the night sky as the gold plastic grapes, bananas and pine-cones decorating its testicles were consumed. In a BBC2 documentary, TX: Two Melons And A Stinking Fish (2), Lucas was filmed igniting a version of Things in a minaturised re-enactment of Tinguely’s more monumental event.

That Tinguely’s intentions were primarily secular and celebratory, the penis intended to signify sexual freedom of expression, seems clear, but the erect penis of La Vittoria could also be read as symbolic of the patriarchy of the church on whose steps it was destroyed, and so appropriated as a proto-feminist work. In Lucas’s case, the same ambiguity exists, but at a further remove, so that Things could be read as anything from a ritualistic destruction of the patriarchal phallus, to a representation of male orgasm, to a pun on the word ‘hot’ as a term for sexual desirability, to a joke, to a deliberate act of self-conscious mischief. Or, in the manner of Lucas’s approach as a whole, all of these meanings might be contained within the single act as a complex of associations and imagery. The oblique approach of Lucas’s work to meaning, and her general refusal to explain it publicly, has meant that the relationship of her work to feminism, on the one hand, and to a more formal kind of work on the other, has been a fraught one with many, often mutually incompatible, claims made.

A case in point would be the responses to a series of gender-ambiguous photographic self-portraits made between 1990 and the present, which show Lucas posing as a kind of archetypal tabloid version of working-class male virility and ‘hardness’ while nowhere affecting to disguise her own gender. These images are to a degree aesthetically conventional, part of a tradition of cross-gendered role-playing and androgynous self-presentation that runs through much of twentieth-century art. From Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, smoking a cigarette in a top hat, to Marcel Duchamp’s repeated incarnation of Rrose Selavy in the decade between 1930 and 1941 (“Insouchant, mocking, a bit of a slut, perhaps, with her talent for elaborately salacious puns” (3), in the words of Duchamp biographer Calvin Tompkins), to Claude Cahun’s relentless self-transformation and documentation between 1911 and 1939 (4), which exploded not only male/female identifications, but at times even human identity in Cahun’s quest for transgression, all act as referents within Lucas’s series.

Cahun Self 1927

More recently, the obsessive self-imaging of Francesca Woodrnan (5), or the systematic deconstruction of fixed identity of Cindy Sherman (5), work to place Lucas’s self-portraits still further into dialogue with a tradition. In relation to these, it becomes clear that Lucas’s project centres on the appropriation of a variety of specifically male postures, and Lucas has described the origins of these images herself:

I went out for a drink one night with a friend of mine who’s a bit of a sexist, and we were arguing about something and I said, ‘Well, OK, I’m gonna sit like this‘. I spread my legs and I could see it made him uncomfortable. I like that kind of thing. Nobody thinks of it in words and nobody bothers to work it out literally, but everybody reacts to it. It’s very subtle. It’s something very casual, which I think is important to art and to what I do. Also, at one point, I asked myself what I wanted art to be. I thought that dressing was fairly near the mark in that it has an intention and there is something important at stake. But it’s free-flowing, it has nuances… [Lucas, quoted in van Adrichem, 1995]

In relation to feminist readings, acknowledged as a source by Lucas (particularly the debates around sex, pornography and misogyny initiated by writers like Andrea Dworkin) there is a split between a reading that sees Lucas’s appropriation of traditionally male behaviour as intrinsically empowering, the earned surplus of feminism’s success, and the more theoretical feminism of critics like Sarah Kent, who has described Lucas’s procedure as a critical ‘mirroring’ process in the service of an ongoing critique of representation (7). For Kent, Lucas’s work is concerned with:

…monitoring the sexism and misogyny routinely found [in mainstream culture]. Her main subject is the female body as a subject in fine art and popular culture, especially the tabloid press. [Kent, 1994]

Yet this more theoretical approach is often conflated with what Kent calls “aesthetic terrorism” and “a pillaging of mainstream culture” (8), the evocation of Lucas as a kind of ‘barbarian at the gates’ of bourgeois culture:

Lucas uses her work as an offensive weapon, a way of saying ‘Up Yours’ to the masculine mainstream. Receptacle of Lurid Things (1991) is a plaster cast of her middle finger raised in what would, on the streets, be a gesture of abuse. Sitting atop its pedestal this tiny pink monument, a diminutive version of Cesar’s gigantic thumb, seems ludicrously small yet fiercely defiant. Directed at the art world, the gesture mocks the equation between creativity and virility. This may be only a finger, but it too can stand erect. [Kent, 1994]

Yet in trying to join these two readings, Kent appears deeply uncertain about where Lucas’s critique actually lies, or even if there is a critique at all. In defiance of, or in an appropriation of, the masculine mainstream? Is Lucas directing an aesthetic terrorism at the art world, or appropriating the discourse of fine art to make a critique of misogyny both inside and beyond the usual frame of that discourse? Is Lucas, as Kent implies above, mocking the equation between creativity and virility, or claiming that virility for women, too (“This may be only a finger, but it too can stand erect”)?

It’s unsurprising that Kent seems confused, since Lucas herself appears highly ambivalent about many of her chosen sources. Lucas’s comments on Allen Jones’ Table (1969) are instructive in this context. Jones’s fetishistic construction, derived as much from The Avengers as de Sade, displays a woman as a piece of sexual furniture, and the piece has a frisson of kinkiness rather than a real erotic charge. Yet Table is an emblematic work, with a history of catalysing opposition among feminist artists, most notably when its presence in an Allen Jones retrospective at the Tate triggered the counter exhibition Women’s Images Of Men in 1980. Lucas has claimed to admire the work for its “unequivocal message” (9), and her use of its form as the basis for both Two Fried Eggs And A Kebab (1994) and Bitch (1994) might be read with equal conviction as homage or critique.

This ambiguous position is at least partially summarised in Lucas’s comment to Kent that “I use sexist attitudes because they are there to be used. I get strength from them” (10). The tendency to conflate the ‘responsible’ critique identified by Kent with public statements implying that ‘it’s all just a laugh’ become even more slippery when Lucas’s persona finds itself simultaneously taken literally and defused by sympathetic critics, and it should be borne in mind that, as Julian Stallabrass points out:

…like Gavin Turk, Lucas has created an artist who happens to be called ‘Sarah Lucas’ .. .In publications about Lucas, her image dominates … There is…a blurring of the persona with Lucas herself… [Stallabrass, 1999]

A profile by Gordon Burn in The Guardian contains a classic example of this simultaneous defusing and blurring of Lucas’s persona with her ‘real’ self, first quoting an unidentified “woman who knows her”, who comments that “her femininity shines through … she’s totally like a woman in every way” (11) and later preparing the ground for an easing of this “spoiling-for-a-knuckle-confrontational” artist into the standard ‘feminine’ role of insecurity and self -doubt :

Her conviction is contained by a natural sweetness that the people who don’t know her never see … They see the acerbic bitch of the art; the you-could-have-knocked-me-down-with-a-starting-handle street tough. They see her as trivial or vulgar. which she knows. She knows she’s not as articulate as she could be, probably should be. It’s typical of her well-concealed worritable nature that she’s already trying to get her articulate bit together… [Burn, 1996]

Burn’s comments frame Lucas within a continuum of insecure ‘nice’ girls and acerbic ‘bitches’, reassuring us that the art and street toughness are only a public persona. Deep down, with people who know her, there is “natural sweetness”, a “worritable nature”. Lucas is feminine and safe, after all. Heidi Reitmeier, in a largely critical 1998 essay on Lucas (12), is rightly sceptical about this, pointing out that:

For all the work put in by women artists over the past twenty-five years or so in attempting to redefine the image of femininity, we still see the astonishing arrogance of writers like [John] Roberts and Burn rubber-stamping acceptable degrees of transgression. Not only that, but reading these contemporary deployments as pseudo appropriations or methods of assertion marks the feminist as a humorous rebel, and reduces the work to trite clichés which demand attention only because of how loud one is shouting rather than what one is shouting about. [Reitmeier, 1998]

Yet as Lucas herself implies, this defusing of the persona presented in the images begins to unravel their content, which is at least partially based in the collapsing-into-absurdity of stereotypical male/female identifications. By appropriating not only the trappings of male identity, but the specifically misogynistic elements of that identity, the sexual identity that underwrites a range of socialised masculine and feminine behaviour is undermined at its source. If a woman can appropriate this role, then the exclusive masculinity invested in it collapses into absurdity. Yet even this, based on the sense that Lucas is appropriating masculinity, seems suspect in terms of the work’s intentions. As Lucas points out, responding to a question (13) about the use of ‘masculinity’ in her work:

I suppose I’ve always worn the same sort of clothes, like jeans, and been kind of boyish before I was even into art, but I don’t think I consciously intended to look masculine. In still images maybe I look more masculine than when I’m moving about… The first self-portrait I made with me eating a banana started out from something I thought would be funny… I just took the pictures and then one of them was really, really strong and it turned out that I looked quite masculine, in fact people might not know whether it was a boy or girl... [Lucas, quoted in Putnam, 2000]

Sarah Lucas

It may be, then, that Lucas’s self-portraits are less about specific male and masculine traits, and more about the large grey area between the behaviours and dress codes that identify gender. Lucas’s comments on dress as an analogy for art reinforce the sense that her self-portraits are intended to remain equivocal images, neither male nor female, in a way that reflects the complexity of lived, rather than theoretical experience, within the formal conventions of the art object:

I wanted art to be natural, something to do with how you present yourself. Making art in the first place, one way or another, is going to become part of your identity. Even if you make abstract art, for people who know you at the very least it’s going to be part of your identity that you make abstract paintings. In the same way that you have to put something on, or even if you don’t put something on, you can’t avoid the fact that you’re making some kind of statement. [Lucas, quoted in Putnam, 2000]

Kent’s assertion that Lucas’s primary theme is “the female body” also seems debatable, and Lucas’s numerous, almost ubiquitous, representations of the penis make it clear that the male body is at least as central to her concerns. Taking this symbolically-loaded prop as an empty cipher that retains a vestigal potency, Lucas’s ‘penis’ sculptures, like her self-portraits, both acknowledge and resist traditional feminist and populist readings.

When Lucas’s gender-ambiguous self-portrait bites into a banana in clichéd mock-fellatio style against a wall of topless models from The Sunday Sport in Great Dates (1992), for example, or a wax cast of Lucas’s grinning/snarling mouth clenches a crumpled, unlit cigarette in its teeth in Where Does It All End? (1995), these seem to be blatant castration images. Elsewhere, the penis is mocked, or rendered comic in a turning of the tables that represents it (like the nipples, lips and pudenda of the female silhouettes that populate Tom Wesselmann’s Great American Nudes series) as a bathetic and schematic version of itself, and if Two Fried Eggs And A Kebab set out to illustrate the implications of the slang reductiveness of its title‘s view of the female body, Got A Salmon On (Prawn) (1995) returns the favour to the male body: a row of naked groins in garish polaroid colour conceal their penises behind cans of spurting lager, reducing the single most potent symbol of patriarchy to a kind of comic spectacle.

In Get Off Your Horse And Drink Your Milk (1995), in contrast, a similar set of male groins sport homely, domesticated bottles of milk and digestive biscuits in place of erections, the title’s allusion to the legendary machismo of John Wayne shrunk from the ‘Conquest of the West’ to little more than ‘milk and cookies’, the stuff of childrearing, comfort and domestic warmth. The collapsing of an imperial, phallic symbolism into a domesticated and (literally) nurturing intimacy is a complex metaphor for contemporary masculinity as an identity simultaneously potent, emasculated and taboo.

While readings of Lucas’s work have tended to define its meanings in terms of the standard classifications of a contemporary ‘politically correct’ academic discourse, or in the lad-ette/Girl Power terms of mainstream media culture, it is clear that within these frameworks, feminism is aligned with middle class, art with institutional power, masculinity with the tabloid press. These terms of debate limit the responses available, and as with the primitivism already discussed, tend to mean that the choice lies solely between politically-correct puritanism or uncritical acceptance of consumerism and the pleasures offered by ‘incorrect’ material. Yet it is the very rejection of this dualistic framework that gives Lucas’s work its charge, and this sense of openness, Lucas’s refusal to take a clear position, demands a response capable of registering the complexities set up in the work itself. As Lucas explains to James Putnam:

I think there are layers of meaning [in the work] and there might be a lot that’s hidden. I feel that one of the reasons why the directness can be said to be provocative is because you don’t necessarily know precisely what’s meant which is what happens with the self-portraits. Because their gender is sometimes ambiguous, you’re not quite sure what’s intended, what gives them power…the directness gives the way in. [Lucas, quoted in Putnam, 2000]

Veiled Erotic

When Man Ray photographed Meret Oppenheim standing nude and smeared with black ink beside the wheel of a printing press in Veiled Erotic (1933), one of a series of images on which the photographer and artist both collaborated, the joke was that this essence of femininity, this ‘surrealist muse’ raising her arm to her brow, surreptitiously sported an impressive erection. The wooden handle of the printing press protrudes unmistakeably from Oppenheim’s groin, thus blurring not only her own gender but a central opposition within Modernism that equated the geometric/mechanical with masculinity, and the organic/natural with femininity, the latter usually requiring containment within some framework supplied by the former.

Nancy Spector has argued that “the Surrealists’ much-touted revolution of the mind was mapped on the female body” (14) and goes on to argue that the work of female Surrealists like Oppenheim cuts across this mapping in interesting and contradictory ways, blurring distinctions between male and female, self and other, art and life. Oppenheim’s use of multiple identities, from the substitute penis that slyly disrupts Veiled Erotic, to Ed Schmid’s cross-dressed portrait of 1936, to Oppenheim’s constant use of masks and other disguises, combine, according to Spector, in “a subversive commentary on culturally determined sexual iniquity”. Lucas’s own ‘subversive commentary’, then, can be seen as arising from a similar exploration of the grey areas between rigid definitions and oppositions. Surrealism, Spector argues, attempted to map its ‘revolution of the mind’ on the territory of the female body:

…its metaphors…erotic. its attitudes misogynist. Woman was venerated. but only in as much as she played the designated role – femme-enfant. hysteric or muse – thought necessary to transport her male counterpart to the heights of aesthetic ecstasy. [Spector, 1996]

In this light, Lucas might often be seen to be mapping something similar on the penis itself. Yet this ‘mapping’ conforms only inconsistently to the standard readings of orthodox feminism, though a similar critique of representation is present as one element within the work. Unlike Oppenheim’s sly appropriation of the wooden handle of the printing press, a plausible enough substitute for the erection it depicts, Lucas’s representations of the penis tend towards the ludicrous and farcical. Whether reduced to the literalised ‘knob jokes’ and slang ciphers of the put down and the brag, transformed into their cultural substitutes (such as the can of lager or the clenched fist) or exposed as vulnerable (as in the tiny pink finger on its enormous pedestal, or the ‘milk and cookies’ underlying the myth of John Wayne) all of Lucas’s representations carry implications of the reduction of women to ‘melons and kippers’.

What resists a straightforward feminist reading in the work can be illustrated in Headstone For Tracey (1993), a sculpture comprising a blatantly phallic concrete bollard inscribed “Fuck me while I’m sleeping”. Hinting at the violence of the act described, this inscription is also ambiguous, since as Lucas has pointed out, someone can say ‘fuck’ ten times in three sentences and never mean exactly the same thing twice: the ‘fucking’ could just as easily be taking place in the head of the viewer. The ambiguity muddies the statements, but also works to resist the reduction of women to victims by allowing the violence, exploitation or degradation to emerge from the work without necessarily comprising its sole objective.

By using the penis as a kind of reductio ad absurdum of partiarchy as an idea, the work functions symbolically rather than metonymically, allowing its associations to broaden. Because there is not a fixed ‘message’ in the work, but instead a complex series of allusions, the work becomes far more insiduously memorable than it otherwise might. If we place Lucas’s representations of the penis beside a painting like Magritte’s La Folie du Logis (1948), with it’s birds’ egg testicles supporting a burning candle in a straw nest, we note an emphasis in both on something other than the visual pun, or the straightforward statement.

In the case of the blow-ups of spreads from The Sunday Sport, the work seems compromised by the way its anti-aesthetic appearance reads as a straightforward ‘anti-art’ statement, making the images (despite Lucas’s stated intention to create an “embarrassment effect” that would violate the privacy in which these images are usually consumed) read as approvals of their subject-matter that reinforce existing class-prejudices within the gallery context. Elsewhere in her work the same kind of combination of makeshift assemblage with oblique messages works to focus attention on the objects themselves, and what they might signify. The cobbled-together appearance of these assemblages (retaining, in Lucas’s words, “the crappy bits round the back” (15)) becomes central to their meaning. In the work on sexuality, the combination of shoddy abject form with abject sexual content is an effective one, and relates to the strategies of artists like Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Sue Williams and Kiki Smith, drawing on the theories of ‘abjection’ formulated by writers like Bataille (16) and Kristeva (17) that have been usefully summarised by Simon Taylor:

Scatalogical assemblages, body-fragments and base materials – dirt, grunge and the traces of sexual difference – have defiled the white cube of the gallery space… This body of production often incorporates what Lacan terms ‘imagoes of the fragmented body’, which is to say images of castration, mutilation, dismemberment, dislocation… Representing an oppositional practice…this insurgent materialism in art asserts the claims of the body, sensuality and difference over and against societal repression and its institutional architecture. [Taylor, 1993]

While Taylor clearly overstates the political impact of this practice, and shows even in this extract a certain abstracted bloodlessness to the theorising of abjection in art (not least because, rather than ‘defile’ the white cube, the base materials used seem arguably more dependent on the context it provides than any other art) it remains the case that when used to express ideas relevant to abjection itself, as representations of unconscious, sexual and conflictual states, the use of abject means can be highly effective.

When Two Fried Eggs And a Kebab literalises a reductive view of women, the cheap materials and shoddy construction used underline the poverty of imagination that produces such a view. Sarah Kent has drawn attention to the equation involved between woman and food, both in her traditional domestic role of preparing meals to be served up on tables, and in her role as an object to be consumed both sexually and visually within culture as a whole. Lucas herself stresses the double qualities present in the image by referring to the piece as “a conversation between the ideal and the actual” (18), between the sexual availability of the consumable female body, reduced to its genitals and breasts, and the role of that body in performing domestic labour. The table becomes a kind of stage on which these polarised versions of femininity collapse into each other and result in an abject presence.

By making an assemblage that is itself abject and cheapened to represent this process, Lucas introduces a level within which its equations can, however obliquely, be added together and read. Two Fried Eggs And A Kebab makes productive use of its status as art to enter into dialogue with the tradition that produced it, implicating the viewer’s received ideas about the terms on which art makes use of the female body to ground both its formal concerns and its ideals of beauty. This implication is ambiguous to the degree that female passivity might be as responsible as male prejudice, the one feeding on the other, and while referring directly to works as diverse as Magritte’s Rape, Allen Jones’ Table and Tom Wesselmann’s Great American Nudes, the points are general as well as specific to these works. One precursor worth singling out is Meret Oppenheim’s Le Festin (1959), an installation that literalises the female-body-as-table to present a mannequin surrounded by knives, forks and food, as though it is the centrepiece of a cannibal feast. As Renee Riese Hubert explains:

…this mannequin cannot escape cannibalisation. Her body has become a domain of both order and disorder, invaded as it is by food, which occupies and almost eclipses her genitals. Oppenheim practices surrealist displacement insofar as the white cloth serves at once as a sheet, a shroud and as table-linen. Whereas her well-rounded breasts surpass the accompanying fruit, her pubic hair appears to cover her forehead… By means of this cornucopia, where sex and food become interchangeable […] Oppenheim opens a gap between the male object of desire and the woman artist who assembled it. [Riese Hubert, 1991]

Meret Oppenheim Festin

In partially closing the distance between the woman artist and male desire on the ground of the appropriated misogyny of the slang title Two Fried Eggs And A Kebab, acknowledging both its invention and its negative effect, Lucas continues the “conversation between the ideal and the actual” on terms that open Oppenheim’s ‘gap’ into a chasm. If Le Festin might still be viewed with pleasure, as an object of desire, the sexual content of Two Fried Eggs And A Kebab incorporates the effects of objectification at a level so literal it becomes deliberately repellent. The female body is presented as everything traditional desire dictates – submissive, reduced to sexual cues, silent, consumable – but renders the desire it embodies as an abject presence.

Yet the feminist connotations of Two Fried Eggs And A Kebab are less orthodox than this might imply, not least because the formal reconfigurations of the female body within Modernism clearly appeal to Lucas’s sense of what art means. There is an energy and inventiveness in the work of Picasso or de Kooning that is echoed by Lucas’s broader transformative approach to her materials. Just as Picasso makes an ape’s head out of a toy car, or hangs a bicycle seat and handlebars on the wall to create a bull’s head, so Lucas, making the best of limited materials, is interested in the means of developing an aesthetic that is not dependent on institutional support:

I was thinking the other day about prisoners. I like the idea that art can’t be taken away from you, even if you only have poor materials. So if you were locked away as a prisoner, there’s still some things you can do and you can formulate and visually manifest, and I like that very much … [Lucas, quoted in Putnam, 2000]

Heidi Reitmeier, critical of Lucas’s relation to feminist art practice, sees her as an artist who has been suspiciously easily absorbed and promoted by the male establishment:

Presently, we have Lucas as the deviant, able lass who says what she wants when she wants. The victory for twenty-five years of feminism is made in her image… However, not only is the focusing on and highlighting of Lucas a bit disconcerting…someone, somewhere along the line has got it all backwards. For all that she has been presented as the hard stare of British femininity, it’s starting to look as if she is a personality concerned much more with the personae and practices of Fine Art. The bluster about her phallus-wilting self-sufficiency might be masking the fact that she is a traditional artist, with rather traditionally formal and traditionally avant-garde concerns. [Reitmeier, 1998]

While Reitmeier’s general point on Lucas seems mistaken, she is right to raise the question of Lucas’s concern with ‘fine art’, and her “rather traditionally formal and traditionally avant-garde concerns”. It is precisely this decision to make art, and to see the convergence of art and life in terms that rest on the impulse towards transformation of the immediate environment with the materials available, that gives real significance to Lucas’s statement that “in a way I’m romantic about art”. As the idea of the prisoners implies, the act of creation transcends its immediate context, a notion that runs counter to the assumptions of current art-theory.

Duchamp Female Fig Leaf

This doesn’t mean that Lucas believes in a Peter Fuller-style metaphysics, but that she does appear to see the practice of art as, in whatever limited way, a redemptive one, a way of holding on to the “unshakeable belief in the validity and value of her own particularity” described by Freedman. As a strategy of resistance in a culture undergoing the commercialisation of personal space, this seems viable, and in the terms of Richard Huelsenbeck, she continues to insist on “room for the creative man”, so to speak. In Peter Burger’s formulation, the retention of culture as “a free space where alternatives to what exists become conceivable” is crucial. Lucas’s work chooses to engage with, rather than entirely dismiss, the traditions that produce it, and far from being ‘post-modern’ or disjunctive with those traditions, its range of reference indicates that her work is closer to a ‘mannerist’ strain of modernism than it is to any ‘post-whatever’ severance with modernist approaches.

Lucas is consistently at her most effective when in dialogue with an aesthetic discourse, working across rather than against the avant-garde traditions she inherits, and it is within that discourse that that she makes her most viable interventions. Figleaf In The Ointment (1991), for example, consciously echoes Marcel Duchamp’s Female Fig Leaf (1950) in a twist on a classic Dada provocation. Duchamp’s bronze plug, apparently shaped to fit a vagina, finds itself remade as a pair of white plaster-casts taken from the artist’s armpits, complete with the hair torn out in the process.

Lucas’s ‘fig leaves’, like Duchamp’s, invert the function implied in their title, revealing the body parts they exist to hide. In Lucas’s case, a double bluff is at work: the armpits imply the vagina (those pubic hairs; the equivalent suggestion of moisture) and the ‘fig leaf’ of the title may allude to its mystique, even as the work flaunts a decidedly ‘unfeminine’ aspect of female physicality. While Duchamp’s Female Fig Leaf toys with a complex set of ideas grouped around the opposition of positive and negative, inside and outside, hidden and revealed, all the standard components of the feminine, Lucas’s Figleaf In The Ointment exposes these oppositions as, literally, tricks of the body. Why be aroused by the pubic triangle, but not the armpits? (20). In casting from her own body to produce a Duchampian ‘readymade-aided’ with intent to wrong-foot the viewer, Lucas demonstrates a clear affinity with the currents derived from Surrealism within post-war art.

Another work of the same year echoes Man Ray’s Gift (1921). 1-123-123-12-12 (1991) comprises a pair of Doc Marten boots with razorblades inserted into their toes, an allusion to the football ‘firms’ of the 70s and 80s and their links to far-right Nationalist groups like the National Front and Combat 18. Man Ray’s small monument to threatening uselessness becomes, in Lucas’s hands, replete with overtones of casual violence.

Duchamp Fountain

It is Lucas’s most easily noticed, and dismissively applied ancestor who casts the most light on the exact nature of her project, however. Lucas’s installation of a fully-functioning flush-toilet at the ICA in London under the title The Great Flood (1996) drew widespread comments linking the work with Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) and citing the use of outmoded shock tactics as the work’s sole raison d’etre. Yet to look more closely at Lucas’s The Great Flood in the light of Fountain itself uncovers a more complex relationship, and a more insiduous and associative kind of oppositional strategy, than the simplistic use of ‘shock tactics’ might imply. Originally made for Contemporary Fine Arts and installed at their gallery in Berlin, The Great Flood clearly does relate to Fountain, the now iconic ‘Readymade’ rejected from the 1917 Independents Exhibition in New York. Calvin Tompkins describes the origin of Duchamp’s work:

Walter Arensberg, Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp went shopping for this item a week or so before the exhibition opened, after a spirited conversation at lunch. They went to the showroom of the J.L. Mott Ironworks at 118 Fifth Avenue, a manufacturer of plumbing equipment, where Duchamp picked out and purchased a flat-back, “Bedfordshire”-model porcelain urinal. Duchamp took it back to his studio, turned it upside down, and painted on the rim at the lower left, in large block letters, the name R. MUTT and the date, 1917. Two days before the official opening, this object was delivered to the Grand Central Palace, together with an envelope bearing the fictitious Mr. Mutt’s six-dollar membership and entry fee, his fictitious Philadelphia address, and the work’s title: Fountain. [Tompkins, 1997]

Two things become clear about Fountain that confound simplistic, dualistic readings of the object. The first, implied even in the bare description provided here by Tompkins, is that the work was certainly intended to be rejected: without the potential rejection of the selectors’ jury (of which Duchamp was a member) no challenge would have emerged from the submission of the piece, and none of the subsequent debate made possible. The second is that Fountain, in Tompkins’ words, is a more “insiduously subversive artefact” than even its supporters might credit. For all Duchamp’s later remarks denying the aesthetic content of his Readymades, it is clear that self-contradiction and paradox are the essence of Duchamp’s work, and neither Fountain, nor Duchamp’s denial of aesthetic content, can be excepted. As Tompkins explains:

…like Bicycle Wheel, it confounds Duchamp’s own description of a readymade through its very real esthetic qualities [ … ] and it does not take much stretching of the imagination to see in the upside down urinal’s gently flowing curves the veiled head of a classic Renaissance madonna, or a seated Buddha or, perhaps more to the point, one of Brancusi’s polished erotic forms. There is a cryptic note in Duchamp’s Box of 1914 which reads: ‘One only has: for female the public urinal and one lives by it’. The urinal, an object with female attributes that serves as a receptacle for male fluid, thus becomes – even more provocatively than Brancusi’s Portrait of Princess Bonaparte – a symbol of the sexual comedy that underlies all Duchamp’s mature work. [Tompkins, 1997]

With this in mind, it seems more pertinent to see Lucas’s The Great Flood in terms of her interest in “sexual comedy”, coupled with an institutional critique. The historical connection between the two works is less facile than it might first appear. As Tompkins points out, after Fountain Duchamp moved into the escalating complexities of The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (1915 – 23), Tu’um (1918) and Étants Doneé (1947 – 69), works in which the associations of Fountain outlined by Tompkins become central, and subject to an elaborate private mythology. It is therefore logical to see the sexual content of these later works as implicit in the Readymades. If Duchamp’s urinal is “that object with female attributes that serves as a receptacle for male fluid”, it is clear that Lucas’s exploration of the cultural representations of female sexuality (the kebab and kipper invoked to transform the female body suggested in the form of Fountain to a “receptacle for male fluid”) this temperamental parallel places a layer of meaning onto Lucas’s engagement with Duchamp it might be easy to miss.

Lucas Nature Abhors a Vacuum (1998)

These clues to a sexual reading of both Duchamp’s Fountain and Lucas’s The Great Flood lead back to the masturbatory connotations of the flush toilet in One Armed Bandits (Mae West), and the criticism implied here seems obvious enough. Yet The Great Flood goes further and inverts the strategy of Fountain. If Duchamp’s object, as seems clear, was created with the sole intention of exposing the limits of taste among the selection panel of a ‘progressive’ open exhibition and, by extension, of his time, Lucas’s creation of a similar object for exhibition in the highly selective, professional context of a private gallery and the ICA’s major Assuming Positions show of 1997 would tend to indicate that similar exposures – this time relating to the institutionalisation of the avant-garde, and the commercialisation of art, both significant markers of the limits of taste in our own time – might be intended. By signing her toilet in gold ink, rather than Duchamp’s functional black, and exhibiting it in mainstream contexts with enthusiastic institutional support and widespread media coverage, the work’s meaning seems closely related to the contrast between the acceptability as art of The Great Flood and the now iconic rejection of Fountain. Even the title’s reference to the Noah story from the book of Genesis, which itself acknowledges the status of Fountain as the source of contemporary avant-garde stategy, implies an act of judgement, received with hubris.

Particularly in the context of the Assuming Positions show at the ICA (which featured advertising as well as art and challenged the viewer to tell the difference, in a kind of emblematic approval of the commercial colonisation of art) the masturbatory implication of The Great Flood seemed to demonstrate that the institution itself, as though blithely pinning a ‘kick me’ sign to its own back, was happy to accept anything, irrespective of the object’s own built-in, carefully referenced sarcasm about that acceptance. Unlike Burger’s naively replicated ‘stove pipe’, Lucas’s toilet carries not only an awareness of the bankruptcy of shock tactics and anti-art gestures, but also a sense of the potential for symbolic meaning. Even without the masturbatory symbolism, or the iconographic links to Fountain, the placing of a functioning, plumbed-in toilet at the heart of a major art exhibition with pretensions to the ‘cutting edge’ has a fairly self-evident significance.

When Jonathan Glancey, for example, describes recent British art as a subversive, shocking force that will nevertheless become accepted in due course, he displays the kind of complacency about our culture’s reception of the new, and its demand for easily containable rebel postures, at which The Great Flood seems aimed. “Art moves forward”, he writes (21), “and nothing short of a new Hitler or Stalin is likely to stop it”:

Van Gogh lived and died in poverty, but today his paintings are among the most expensive in the world. If he had lived in the age of mass-media, he would have been a star from the moment he cut off his ear. Just imagine the Sun headlines, the Big Breakfast interviews, the on-the-couch sessions with Anthony Clare, patrons fighting over Sunflowers … [Glancey, 1997]

What Van Gogh, in Glancey’s complacent fantasia, would not achieve wealth and acclaim for are his qualities as a painter, the actual canvases in this scenario becoming little more than souvenirs of the media sensation, no more significant than the shirts and furniture that would surely be auctioned at Sotheby’s, just as Andy Warhol’s cookie jars were collected as avidly as his paintings and prints, and at the same inflated prices, after his death.

Art as corporate research; art objects as celebrity knick-knacks and mementoes. These have always been by-products of art practice, but as the cycles have increased in their speed of turnover and work is gutted for advertising campaigns on its way out through the studio door, the convergence of art and marketing and the capitulation of artists to the demands of corporate interest should not be read, as they so often are, as signs of democratisation. It is this assumption that the hype and the art, the commercial and the creative are synonymous that The Great Flood appears to challenge. The context that produced this capitulation is a specific one, as Stallabrass argues:

…the fact that art has become more overtly like business has been due to the gradual, long-term withdrawal of state funding. Museums and galleries have become increasingly run on business lines, judged primarily by the numbers who are channelled through their halls […] Art has followed the changing character of its institutions: the avant-garde has fallen away for, as in fashion, there is an expectation of novelty but no longer of development. The dissolution of a generalised, universal politics implicit in much modernist art gave way first to a divisive and atomised identity politics, and more recently – in a move from atomised identity to the atomised exercise of that identity – to an art of pure consumer choice. [Stallabrass, 1999]

This background of cuts to state funding of the visual arts and art education, general cut-backs in public services, the imposition of student debt, increasingly intrusive and authoritarian benefit rules and the low wages paid for casual and part-time work (all of which hit artists, affecting the least privileged hardest) has made it inevitable that the art produced in Britain by all but the sons and daughters of the comfortable middle-class over the last twenty years has developed a pragmatic shell, a sense of contingency and insecurity that is echoed elsewhere in the job-markets. That this has led to the “act of conscious bad faith” described by McRobbie seems entirely comprehensible, and as the economics of real opposition become untenable, it follows that even artists who might be capable of realising such opposition consider their career opportunities more important than their idealism. That this sense of containment has entered the consciousness of artists is illustrated by Lucas herself, in a description of the development of her own makeshift aesthetic:

I’ll use anything I can. I depend on the idea that art can’t be taken away from me by financial or material limitations…I can sit and eat dinner and move the food around on my plate to mean something. [Lucas, quoted in van Adrichem, 1995]

Like Lucas’s remark about prisoners, this concern about the possibility for making art being taken away sounds strange in an advanced Western democracy, but rings true to the effect of censorship created by the threat of real poverty in large sections of contemporary Britain. In this light, Lucas’s insistence on being free to “formulate and visually manifest” resonant objects from the materials around her, and her expectation that such objects will speak for themselves, place her general conception of the artist’s role closer to Picasso’s than to Warhol’s, not least in the work’s tendency to prioritise visual ingenuity and material resourcefulness over conceptual purity.

If the densely allusive and ambiguous nature of Lucas’s work, with its constant referencing of earlier avant-garde strategies, indicates a kind of ‘mannerist’ phase of modernism, it is also the case that visual invention and imaginative transformation remain its core justification, providing a point of entry to the work’s ‘hidden’ associations. In a context where viable responses to the colonisation of personal and cultural space by commercial interests are necessary, Lucas’s attempt to retain this kind of space for what Freedman has called the “validity and value … of particularity” seems important.

Notes:

1: Pontus Hulten (ed.), Jean Tinguely: A Magic Stronger than Death (Thames and Hudson, 1987).

2: TX: Two Melons and a Stinking Fish (Broadcast BBC2, November 30, 1996).

3: Calvin Tompkins: Duchamp: A Biography (Chatto & Windus, 1997).

4: Claude Cahun, born Lucy Schwob in Nantes, 1894, a photographer, writer and assemblage artist involved with the Breton surrealist group from the 1920s. See: Doubling: Claude Cahun’s Split Self in Mary Ann Caws, The Surrealist Look: An Erotics of Encounter (MIT, 1997).

5: Herve Chandes (ed.), Francesca Woodman (Scalo, Zurich, 1998).

6: Rosalind Krauss, Cindy Sherman: 1975 – 1993 (Rizzoli, New York, 1993).

7: Sarah Kent, Shark Infested Waters: New British Art of the 1990s from the Saatchi Collection (Zwemmer, 1994).

8: Kent, ibid.

9: Lucas, quoted in Kent, ibid

10: Lucas, quoted in Kent, ibid.

11: Gordon Burn, Sister Sarah (Guardian Weekend, November 23, 1996).

12: Heidi Reitmeier, What are you looking at? Moi? in Duncan McCorquodale/Naomi Siderfin/Julian Stallabrass (eds.), Occupational Hazard: Critical Writing on Recent British Art (Black Dog Publishing, 1998).

13: Lucas, quoted in James Putnam, Beyond the Pleasure Principle: Sarah Lucas at the Freud Museum (Freud Museum/Sadie Coles HQ, 2000).

14: Nancy Spector, Performing Identities in Jacqueline Burckhardt and Bice Curiger (eds.), Meret Oppenheim: Beyond the Teacup (Independent Curators Inc., New York, 1996).

15: Lucas, quoted in Kent, Shark Infested Waters, 1994.

16: Georges Bataille: Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927 – 1939 (edited and trans. Allan Stoekl), (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1985).

17: Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (trans. Leon S. Roudez), (University of Columbia Press, New York, 1982).

18: Lucas, quoted in Kent, Shark Infested Waters, 1994.

19: Lucas, quoted in Jan van Adrichem, Where Does It All End? in Parkett 45:Barney/Lucas/Seigner,1995.

20: Salvador Dali poses a similar question in William Tell And Gradiva (1931), depicting a man rubbing an outsized tumescent penis in a woman’s armpit. See Michael Raeburn (ed.), Salvador Dali: The Early Years (Thames and Hudson, 1994).

21: Jonathan Glancey, Why This Woman Is A Work Of Art (The Guardian, June 21, 1997).

Duchamp Etants Donees
PART 4:

“Some of the best things have been accidental and quite flippant sometimes. But I’m quite a thinking person and it’s taken a long time to build up to the stage where I’ve really sort of let rip a bit…”

Sarah Lucas, 2000

When I began this essay, it was as a response to Sensation, and the odd impact of Lucas’s work in that context. In the three years since, Lucas has developed her concerns and techniques, and while Is Suicide Genetic? (1996), Car Park (1997) and The Fag Show (2000) are all continuous with the work already discussed, each seems to point towards an extension of the existing vocabulary of Lucas’s work. As Yilmaz Dziewior, writing on Lucas in the international survey Art at the Turn of the Millennium put it:

At the beginning of her career she was regarded as a feminist artist, but her installations ‘Is Suicide Genetic?’ and ‘Car Park’ demonstrate her interest in a wide range of social problems, such as genetic engineering and the social causes of vandalism. Lucas once said in an interview that her work is about the possibility of describing the world, a claim borne out by the diversity of her themes. [Dziewior, in Grosenick/Reimschneider, 1999]

That there is a historical ring to the words “at the beginning of her career” indicates that the controversies of Sensation are beginning to recede, despite the furore created by the show’s transfer to New York, where Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary (1996) became the focal point of a battle between Christian and Liberal factions over the painting’s perceived blasphemy and anti-Catholicism. New York Mayor Rudi Guiliani threatened to withdraw funding from the Brooklyn Academy if it went ahead with the exhibit in a repeat of the censorship versus state funding debates that had earlier focused on Robert Mapplethorpe and Andreas Serrano, though the show eventually opened on schedule, and reportedly drew similar large audiences as its British version.

Yet despite these continuing rumbles in the media based on perceptions of the group’s cohesion and shock tactics, on the whole the tendency to lump together the new British artists gathered in Sensation is breaking down as, on the one hand, individual reputations within the group are assessed in isolation from the group (Chris Ofili and Gary Hume have had semi-retrospective shows, while both Michael Landy and Damien Hirst have been allocated space in the Tate’s main galleries) and on the other, figures marginalised or excluded by the exclusive concentration on the collection of Charles Saatchi and the graduates of Goldsmith’s College have begun to emerge. Stephen Pippin, Cornelia Parker, Steve McQueen and Cathy de Monchaux, for example, have all received Turner Prize nominations, while figures marginalised in Sensation, like Yinka Shonibare, have increased in visibility.

Cathy de Monchaux
As recently as 1998, Heidi Reitmeier could legitimately complain that the embracing of Lucas’s ‘laddishness’ in both the art and mainstream press was being used by critics as a pretext to exclude other women, such as Kerry Stewart and Cathy de Monchaux, who seemed more subtle or engaged. Yet, as I hope this essay has shown, this assimilation of Lucas’s work was largely superficial, not least because the simplistic reading of her work as containable within the ‘foul-mouthed bad girl’ mould had a tendency to neutralise its complex associations. When Reitmeier suggests Cathy de Monchaux as a woman artist whose challenge may be less assimilable, the terms in which de Monchaux’s interventions are described seem entirely compatible with Lucas’s strategies:

It is not possible to dismiss de Monchaux’s work on grounds other than those that address the tradition of sculpture, and yet it is impossible to ignore her overt queries about the role and position of women… [it is] an astute strategy, one that not only subverts male artistic technical competence, but subverts a traditionally male canon of works and symbols with humour, patience and infinite subtlety rather than tittilation, violence or shock… [de Monchaux rejects] the decision to underpin her work by some rhetorically facile political ambition. You must talk about her practice as Art… [Reitmeier, 1998]

In both cases, it is the insistence on the centrality of art that seems significant, since in recognising that the power-relationship between art and popular culture has shifted, both artists perceive that the kind of atomised identity politics of personal confession, and the challenge to art’s autonomous space on the terms of commercial and utilitarian discourses have become compromised. In the past the oppositional charge of attacks on fine art was largely gained by the assumed cultural authority of art itself, and the role of high culture in supporting an economic and social status quo. In a changed environment, where cultural authority is reserved primarily for the commercial, the populist and the utilitarian, the polarity of the original strategy may be productively reversed. That the insistence on reading artworks as art carries this kind of charge, even inside the museum, is itself an indication of the extent to which cultural space has already been colonised.

In Lucas’s case, this demand for the work to be read as art attempts to extend its reach beyond the museum, and in Islington Diamonds (1997), one of two works comprising an installation entitled Car Park (1), the demand on the viewer is to read life as art, uncovering a complex set of associations with real political consequences. This is made explicit in the class references made in the piece. Consisting of a dark blue Nissan Bluebird with its windows smashed through, the vehicle seems chosen for its broadly middle-class, conformist associations. These are implicitly linked with the gentrification of Lucas’s home-patch of Islington, a formerly working-class area of North London more recently perceived as the spiritual home of New Labour, and a place of expensive restaurants, delicatessens, selective schools and holidays in Provence and Tuscany. The process of gentrification, having pushed the working class population to the margins, has bred the kind of real resentment that results in the scene of vandalism depicted in the gallery.

Yet far from confining itself to illustration, the work encourages the viewer to follow its associations through, from the title’s allusion to the jewel like appearance of the shattered glass of the car’s windscreen and side-windows onwards. This reference to wealth draws the ownership and the assault on property together at the level of symbolism. Not only are the ‘Islington diamonds’ (a North London slang term for the shattered glass found on pavements after cars have been broken into, according to Lucas) symbolic of the economic iniquity that produces the act of vandalism, the act of vandalism is itself symbolic, since the act is directed at the car as a symbol of the middle-class, and the ‘diamonds’ produced by smashing the windscreen extract symbolic wealth (the diamonds themselves, and the ensuing repair-costs) from what the vandal may perceive as an agent of economic colonisation.

Demanding not only that we read its symbolism according to the rules of art, but those rules in terms of the social circumstances that ground the work, Islington Diamonds enlists the kind of contemplation traditionally reserved for works of art in the service of a larger social awareness. As a means of transforming the viewer’s perception of similar scenes in the external world, the attempt to fold different codes of thought into one-another depends on the ‘open’, autonomous space of art. This is built into the work’s own equation, since only when read as art is it also clear that the act of vandalism carried out in the gallery by the artist must necessarily be an act of creation. Once this is grasped, the same paradox might be extended to stock business phrases like ‘wealth-creation’, which (through the very speculative development and gentrification from which the work arises) has destructive effects. Significantly, as Julian Stallabrass points out, the work of artists like Lucas is often implicated in this process:

Gentrification and the celebration of urban debasement are closely connected: gentrification is the result of economic speculation, the attempt to profit from an area that has fallen into decline… The first of the new residents to move in [are] often artists and other cultural workers, galleries and other businesses where a little urban excitement might help… [Stallabrass, 1999]

For Lucas, herself displaced from the Islington of her upbringing to an East End currently going through a similar process of gentrification, partly fuelled by the glamour attached to art like her own, the closed loop of symbolic allusion embodied in Islington Diamonds is a powerful one, and the work insists on its own demystification. Read as art, following the train of association set up in the work, Islington Diamonds inevitably leads the viewer to its own complicity in the complex it describes.

The Fag Show

In The Fag Show, a different kind of insistence on art is in operation, building on the formal vocabulary of Lucas’s earlier work, but taking its primary cue from Is Suicide Genetic? (1996), a construction involving a protective motorcycle crash-helmet made of cigarettes on the seat of a burnt, upholstered chair. The Fag Show comprises a diverse array of objects put incongruously together, ranging from vacuum-cleaners to garden gnomes, unified only by being coated in a layer of unsmoked cigarettes. The usual immediate puns are clear: the vacuum-cleaners, aside from referencing Jeff Koons, suck in impurities much as the smoker does, making their presence immediately appropriate. It is also clear that Lucas’s use of cigarettes inevitably brings to mind Damien Hirst’s use of smoking as another way of representing the symbolic life-cycles of the flies in A Thousand Years (1990), which move from birth to death before the viewer’s eyes. Cigarettes have long had a similar resonance in Hirst’s iconography, as he explains during an interview with Gordon Burn (2):

Cigarettes are such clinical forms… They are like pills. They have a purity before you smoke them. They’re expensive, dangerous. From the point you light one to when you stub it out, it’s death. [Hirst, quoted in Burn, 1996]

Represented in other Hirst works by butterflies and expired pharmaceutical drugs, and culminating in the cigarette-butt as memento mori in pieces like Dead Ends Died Out, Explored (1993), the cigarette carries with it a history, even within recent British art, and the longer traditions to which this iconography relates are outlined by Richard Klein in Cigarettes Are Sublime, tracing the image of smoking as a flirtation with death back through existentialism, Italo Svevo’s The Confessions Of Zeno, Jazz photography, film noir and the symbolist poetry of Mallarme (3). Lucas’s cigarettes draw reflexively on the same complex of associations but, as Lucas explains, it is the look of the intact cigarettes en masse as well as the iconography of smoking on which these works depend :

…when I put lots and lots of [cigarettes] together in my recent work, I made a new discovery about how they look… We may think that we’re living in a certain amount of space and that we think of the air as not being stuff. But when you look at everything under the right kind of microscope you discover that everything is actually solid. When you make something completely covered in cigarettes and see it as solid it looks incredibly busy… a bit like sperm or germs. [Lucas, quoted in Putnam, 2000]

Objects that dematerialise in the act of smoking, the notion of the cigarette as a means of representing the intangible is clearly present, but in Lucas’s case the intangible being referenced is literal rather than (as in Hirst) a way of visualising an abstraction. The effect is characteristically ambiguous. If the cigarette is capable of representing literal space, as the cigarettes become tubes of ‘solid air’ awaiting release, they also map out the mental space that the act of smoking creates, a mental space implied in Lucas’s description of the origins of these works:

…it goes back to when I’m sitting here in my studio, on my own, smoking. I’ve got these cigarettes around so why not use them? I do that a lot with materials, I might use something just because it’s there, hanging around. [Lucas, in Putnam, 2000]

This hanging around, alone, smoking, is emblematic of a kind of concentration and personal space that seems central to Lucas’s project. Yet in the act of obsessive creation this is inevitably shadowed by the knowledge of the cigarette’s carcinogenic properties. As Max Kozloff pointed out regarding Surrealism, however, referring to the movement’s “lyrical or cancerous urgency” (4), cancer as a metaphor is more complex than the straightforward signification of death from which Hirst draws his symbolism, and the idea of cell-replication running out of control, visually present in the cellular arrangements of the cigarettes, may also refer to the ‘cells’ of mental space latent in the unsmoked cigarettes. Just as the factory or office worker’s ‘fag break’ is used as a time to do nothing, to momentarily suspend being a cog in the machine and enact a kind of Duchampian infra-mince rebellion, the concentration of these ‘cells’ of wasted time in The Fag Show, and the implicit link to ‘cancerous urgency’, combines into a complex statement. As with Islington Diamonds, the need for autonomous space where the contemplative rules of art apply is central to locating these associations in the work.

The social and symbolic concerns of Islington Diamonds and The Fag Show do not mean that Lucas’s interest in sexual material has been discarded. Produced in tandem with The Fag Show, Beyond The Pleasure Principle (2000) is a series of new and old works selected to be installed at The Freud Museum at his former home at 20 Maresfield Gardens, bringing the sexual concerns and ‘hidden associations’ of Lucas’s work to the fore. In an interview conducted to mark this installation, James Putnam mentions Freud’s “addiction to cigars which he claimed to need for his work”, and suggests that the parallel between smoking and what Freud termed “the ‘primal addiction’, masturbation” may be significant to a reading of The Fag Show (5). Lucas’s response acknowledges the sexual connotations of the work:

Talking about this whole libido thing, I suppose there is this obsessive activity of me sticking all these cigarettes on the sculptures […] Yet when you think about it in a different way, if you were a kind of prisoner all that kind of obsessive activity could be viewed as a form of masturbation. It is a form of sex, it does come from the same sort of drive. And there’s so much satisfaction in it, in the same way that there is in the subtler aspects of sex, in that you’re hitting the mark. [Lucas, quoted in Putnam, 2000]

Where the masturbatory connotations of The Great Flood seemed critical, here the emphasis appears to have shifted, offering masturbation as another metaphor for personal space, non-productive time and – perhaps significantly in relation to the creation of art – autonomy. The engagement with Freud, as Lucas acknowledges, encourages a kind of ‘psychoanalysis’ of the work, though not necessarily a psychoanalytic reading in the accepted theoretical sense. This can work both ways. Several of Lucas’s pieces refer to representations of women and in this context, among Freud’s personal effects and furnishings, the presence of Lucas’s work ensures that the writing-chair in Freud’s consulting room takes on an unmistakeably feminine shape without alteration, working to blur the boundaries of her intervention by seeming to draw out the unconscious drives contained within the house itself.

Lucas Beyond the Pleasure Principle

In terms of Freud’s effect on Lucas’s work, the spherical ‘breast’ shapes made of cigarettes that pair off throughout The Fag Show – printed on wallpaper, held to Lucas’s chest in photographs, or hung in a brown brassiere – draw explicitly on the Freudian suggestion that the sucking action involved in smoking relates to infantile experiences of breastfeeding, making Lucas’s literalisation of this analogy, in combination with the temporal and spacial analogies, read as ambiguously and as richly in associations as anything in her work to date. They also clearly relate to the melons and fried eggs of earlier assemblages in their legibility and humour, but as Lucas herself points out, acknowledging her work’s debt to Freud:

I think that stuff Freud wrote about jokes and their relationship to the unconscious is totally relevant to me. If everything happened through premeditation you wouldn’t get anywhere that you didn’t know about before you started. When you’re making work a lot of the best things happen that way, through those kinds of slips… [Lucas, quoted in Putnam, 2000]

With this complex mix of humour, refusal of premeditation, and openness to chance within the creative process, we seem to come full-circle. Beginning with Lucas’s apparent temperamental affinities with Surrealist effects and attitudes filtered through a contemporary sensibility, in The Fag Show and Beyond The Pleasure Principle the work seems to be in transition, more confident in its insistence on being read as art and in its belief in “the validity and value of [its] own particularity”. As Lucas points out, “some of the ideas have actually been a long time coming” (6).

In an essay examining the contexts and myths of recent British art, Simon Ford analyses the claims of various commentators who have argued for an “oppositional relationship between the artists and the gallery system” during the 1990s. Dismissing the claims, Ford goes on to argue that:

What these commentators are really trying to construct is a reading of the work that ‘markets’ it as avant-garde, even though the [artists] exhibit few, if any, oppositional intentions [ … ] the mainstream’s need for an avant-garde is too strong to be wished away, therefore mere traces of subversion found within the [work of young British artists] are necessarily exaggerated out of all proportion… [Ford, 1998]

Yet Ford’s definition of “oppositional” rests on the same avant-garde myths his piece questions, and while he shows clearly how the oppositional myths of recent British art serve speculative commercial interests, his argument does not acknowledge the possibility that the strategies of oppositional practice may be shifting. Precisely because the traditions of the avant-garde have been absorbed by commercial concerns and translated into a kind of ‘rebel-hipster fashion’ useful in selling jeans and bottled beers, the question of the meaning of particular acts becomes central. If styles and attitudes can be appropriated and used to give ‘edge’ to marketing campaigns, the insistence on meaning must become central. This implies that any new avant-garde must reverse the polarity of earlier interventions. As Lucas has defined the nature of her own work:

It’s a bit like ‘Escape from Alcatraz’; you have to get a nail-file if you can get hold of one, saw the bars through. You have to use what you’ve got, and either it does the job or it doesn’t. It is articulating your way out of something. [Lucas, quoted in Grosenick/Reimschneider, 1999]

If artists begin to work in ways that justify autonomy, “articulating [a] way out” rather than insisting on a compromised use-value for art itself, the principle of public, economically unproductive space may begin to re-establish itself against the wholesale colonisation of culture.

The shift in emphasis from conceptual purity to visual ingenuity and material resourcefulness that Lucas’s work embodies, combined with its insiduously allusive memorability and its insistence on creating its own autonomous contexts, indicates that something of this reversal may be underway. As Reitmeier argues with regard to Cathy de Monchaux’s feminism, or as this reversal occurs in the work of a group like Forced Entertainment, whose combination of strategies and emphasis on a particular sensibility rather than fixed forms and styles are echoed in Lucas, the first steps seem to have been made. It might not be much, but like the ‘cells’ implied in Lucas’s The Fag Show, the threat of replication is clearly latent.

Notes:

1: Yilmaz Dziewior (ed.), Sarah Lucas: Car Park (Oktagon Verlag/Museum Ludwig, 1997).

2: Gordon Burn, Hirst World (Guardian Weekend, August 311996).

3: Richard Klein, Cigarettes Are Sublime (Picador, 1993).

4: Max Kozloff,  Surrealist Painting Reconsidered in Renderings: Critical Essays on a Century of Modern Art (Studio Vista, 1970).

5: James Putnam, Beyond the Pleasure Principle: Sarah Lucas at the Freud Museum (Sadie Coles HQ/Freud Museum, 2000).

6: Lucas, quoted in Putnam, ibid.

Claude Cahun

Select Bibliography:

Ball, Hugo (ed: John Elderfield, trans. Ann Raimes): Flight Out Of Time: A Dada Diary (University of California Press, Berkeley and London, 1996).

Bataille, Georges (ed and trans. Allan Stoekl): Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927 – 1939 (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1985).

Beckett, Samuel: Waiting For Godot (Faber & Faber, London, 1956).

Breton, Andre (trans. Richard Seaver/Helen Lane): Manifestos of Surrealism (University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1969).

Burger, Peter (trans. Michael Shaw): Theory of the Avant-Garde (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1984).

Burkhardt, Jacqueline/Curiger, Bice (eds): Meret Oppenheim: Beyond the Teacup (Independent Curators Inc., New York, 1996).

Buskirk, Martha/Nixon, Mignon. (eds): The Duchamp Effect: Essays, Interviews, Round Table (MIT/October Books,1996).

Caws, Mary Ann: The Surrealist Look: An Erotics of Encounter (MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. and London, 1997).

Caws, Mary Ann/Kuenzli, Rudolf/Raaberg, Gwen (eds): Surrealism and Women (MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. and London, 1991).

Chandes, Herve (ed.): Francesca Woodman (Scalo, Zurich, 1998).

Crow, Thomas: The Rise of the Sixties: American and European Art in the Era of Dissent (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1996).

Day, Gary/Docherty, Brian (eds): British Poetry 1900 -1950: Aspects of Tradition (Macmillan, London, 1995).

Debord, Guy (trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith): The Society of the Spectacle (Zone Books, New York, 1994).

Dziewior, Yilmaz (ed.): Sarah Lucas: Car Park (Oktagon Verlag/Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 1997).

Etchells, Tim: Certain Fragments: Contemporary Performance and Forced Entertainment (Routledge, London, 1999).

Etchells, Tim: Endland Stories (Pulp Books, London, 1998).

Grosenick, Uta/Reimshneider, Burkhardt (eds): Art at the Turn of the Millennium (Benedikt Taschen, Cologne, 1999).

Hapgood, Susan: Neo-Dada: Redefining Art 1958 – 1962 (Universe Publishing/American Foundation of the Arts, Scottsdale, 1994).

Hirst, Damien: I Want To Spend The Rest Of My Life Everywhere, With Everyone, One To One, Always, Forever, Now (Booth-Clibborn, London, 1996).

Hopps, Waiter (ed.): Keinholz: A Retrospective (Whitney Museum of Art/OAP, New York, 1996).

Huelsenbeck, Richard (ed. Hans J. Kleinschmidt): Memoirs of a Dada Drummer (University of California Press, Berkeley and London, 1969).

Hulton, Pontus (ed.): Jean Tinguely: A Magic Stronger Than Death (Thames and Hudson, London and New York, 1987).

Instutute of Contemporary Arts Amsterdam: Wallace Berman: Support The Revolution (ICA Amsterdam/OAP, 1992).

Janus, Elizabeth (ed.): Veronica’s Revenge: Contemporary Perspectives on Photography (Scalo, Zurich, 1998).

Kent, Sarah: Shark Infested Waters: New British Art of the 1990s from the Saatchi Collection (Zwemmer, London, 1994).

Klein, Naomi: No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (Flamingo, London, 2000).

Klein, Richard/Nahas, Dominique/Schaffner, Ingrid: Pop Surrealism (Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut, 1998).

Klein, Richard: Cigarettes Are Sublime (Picador, London, 1993).

Kozloff, Max: Renderings: Essays on a Century of Modern Art (Studio Vista, London, 1970).

Krauss, Rosalind: Cindy Sherman: 1975 – 1993 (Rizzoli, New York, 1993).

Kristeva, Julia (trans. Leon S Roudez): Powers of Horror: An Essay On Abjection (University of Columbia Press, New York, 1982).

Madoff, Steven Henry (ed.): Pop Art: A Critical History (University of California Press, Berkeley and London, 1997).

Matthews, J.H.: The Imagery of Surrealism (Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, 1977).

McCorquodale, Duncan/Siderfin, Naomi/Stallabrass, Julian (eds): Occupational Hazard: Critical Writing on Recent British Art (Black Dog Press, London, 1998).

McRobbie, Angela: In the Culture Society: Art, Fashion and Popular Music (Routledge, London, 1999).

Motherwell, Robert (ed.): The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology (Belknap/Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. and London, 2nd edn 1981).

Putnam, James: Beyond the Pleasure Principle: Sarah Lucas at the Freud Museum (Sadie Coles HQ/Freud Museum, London, 2000).

Raeburn, Michael (ed.): Salvador Dali: The Early Years (Thames and Hudson, London and New York, 1994).

Renton, Andrew/Gillick, Liam (eds): Technique Anglaise: Current Trends in British Art (Thames and Hudson/One Off Press, London and New York, 1991).

Rosenthal, Norman et.al: Sensation: Young British Art from the Saatchi Collection (Royal Academy of Arts/Thames and Hudson, London and New York, 1997).

Stallabrass, Julian: High Art Lite: British Art in the 1990s (Verso, London, 1999).

Tompkins, Calvin: Duchamp: A Biography (Chatto and Windus, London, 1997).

Whitney Museum of Art: Abject Art: Repulsion and Desire in American Art (Whitney Museum ISP Papers no. 3, 1993).

Woods, Gerald (ed.): Art Without Boundaries 1950 – 1970 (Thames and Hudson, London and New York, 1972).

Essays, articles and periodicals:

Bowie, David: It’s Art, Jim, but as We Know It (Modern Painters, Autumn 1997).

Brooks, Rosetta: Jane Doe and Backseat Dodge ’38 in Keinholz: A Retrospective (Whitney Museum of Art/OAP, 1996).

Burn, Gordon: Sister Sarah (Guardian Weekend, November 23, 1996).

Burn, Gordon: Hirst World (Guardian Weekend, August 31, 1996).

Burrows, Wayne: Stitch This!: Interview With Tracey Emin (The Big Issue in the North, November 1997).

Collings, Matthew: The New Establishment (Independent on Sunday, August 31, 1997).

Connor, Steven: British Surrealist Poetry in the 1930s in British Poetry 1900 – 1950: Aspects of Tradition (Macmillan, London, 1995).

Ford, Simon: The Myth of the Young British Artist in Occupational Hazard: Critical Writing on Recent British Art (Black Dog Press, 1998).

Freedman, Carl: Bollocks in Parkett 45: Barney/Lucas/Seigner (Parkett-Verlag AG, Zurich, 1995).

Glancey, Jonathan: Why this Woman is a Work of Art (Guardian, June 21, 1997).

Kent, Sarah: Young at Art (Time Out, October 7 -14, 1998).

Kozloff, Max: Surrealist Painting Reconsidered in Renderings: Critical Writings on a Century of Modern Art (Studio Vista, London, 1970).

Reitmeier, Heidi: What are you looking at? Moi? in Occupational Hazard: Critical Writing on Recent British Art (Black Dog Press, 1998).

Riese Hubert, Renee: From ‘Dejeuner en fourrure’ to ‘Caroline’: Meret Oppenheim’s Chronicle of Surrealism in Surrealism and Women (MIT Press, Cambridge Mass. and London, 1991).

Saltz, Jerry: She Gives as Good as She Gets in Parkett 45: Barney/Lucas/Seigner (Parkett-Verlag AG, Zurich, 1995).

Schorr, Collier: The Fine Line Between This and That in Parkett 45: Barney/Lucas/ Seigner (Parkett-Verlag AG, Zurich, 1995).

Spector, Nancy: Performing Identities in Meret Oppenheim: Beyond the Teacup (Independent Curators Inc., New York, 1996).

Sumpter, Helen: Naughty But Nice (The Big Issue, September 8 -14, 1997).

Taylor, Simon: The Phobic Object: Abjection in Contemporary Art in Abject Art: Repulsion and Desire in American Art (Whitney Museum of Art, ISP Papers no. 3, 1993).

van Adrichem, Jan: Where Does It All End? in Parkett 45: Barney/Lucas/Seigner (Parkett-Verlag AG, Zurich, 1995).

Woollen, Peter: Thatcher’s Artists (London Review of Books, October 30, 1997).

One Response to “Sarah Lucas”

  1. 112mirabela October 8, 2009 at 12:56 am #

    OH! Great reading, thank you for sharing.

    My best!

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