Sarah Lucas @ Whitechapel Gallery

Whitechapel Gallery showcases the first major retrospective exhibition in London of British artist Sarah Lucas, SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble. Carrying the legacy of a late 1980s Goldsmiths graduate, Lucas belongs to the group of visual artists known as YBAs (Young British Artists) alongside the likes of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Gary Hume.

Lucas has exhibited extensively worldwide and in Britain (some indicative solo and group shows include those of Tate Liverpool, Kunsthalle Zurich, Kunstverein Hamburg in 2005, Royal Academy of Arts London in 1997 and 2011, Henry Moore Institute Leeds and Sadie Coles HQ London in 2012-2013, and Venice Biennale in 2007 and 2013). Her career developed in a somewhat different way as she had not received the celebrity status of her peers, at least until now. The controversial body of her work has recently attracted media attention bringing to light her -not so widely known- narrative.

Encompassing Lucas’s earlier works since the late 1980s, the ground floor space at the Whitechapel Gallery is densely populated by tens of sculptures, installations and photographs. The second floor comprises of two separate rooms. The first one contains her iconic Au Naturel (1994) sculpture, encompassed by large scale photographs of nude males, while the second is inhabited by more recent and new works, amongst others her Nice Tits (2011) and the group of gilded sheen of cast bronze figures, exhibited at this year’s Venice Biennale.

Lucas’s impact of iconography and subject matter centred on human nature in its true glory is evident from the very start of her career. The employment of inexpensive materials such as cigarettes, tights, wire, pieces of old furniture and vegetables, is a practice reflecting the Arte Povera movement, whereas the aesthetics related to the imagery of popular and mass culture cross-references Pop Art. Very familiar with the Duchampian readymade, Lucas incorporates elements of it in dialogue with her own cosmos.

The imposing Brancusian and Henry Moore style bronze structures in the upstairs gallery manifest Lucas’s evolved skill and sophistication in the use of her media. And although she is noticeably migrating to more expensive and pristine materials, there is still an analogous account of the same story.

This is certainly not an ordinary exhibition. You either love or hate it. You love it for the mesmerising feeling of confrontation of life in its stripped, grotesque version, where sexuality, seduction and immodesty dominate. Your very own identity is challenged by dealing face to face with headless and faceless humanlike distorted entities. Lucas instead of installing mirrors in the place of heads, she goes a step further by engaging herself as the protagonist of this hedonistic pandemonium. Photographs of herself are omnipresent, starring at you; not with judgment but with empathy and compassion. Her vegetable and other food parallelisms of nudity could probably denote Adam and Eve’s original sin, only Lucas has already bypassed religious clichés; this is the earthly and corporeal hypostasis of her universe, our universe.

You hate it because you fail to engage with Lucas’s raucous humour. You feel provoked and cannot permit your taboos to swing with your hidden desires. It comes as a shock when the raw exposure of eroticism is unveiled before one’s eyes, and you even avoid sitting amongst repugnantly looking artworks. The poeticism of the bronze figures rendering merging bodies not so different from the coiling NUDS downstairs, is a soothing epilogue, even if they are escorted by giant penises. Yes, you can say you hated it when a concealed part of you dares to adore it.