A new exhibition titled Ordinary Things by the artist Sarah Lucas’ (b. 1962) opens at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds this week. If you are familiar with her work you can expect something unconventional and extraordinary to be on view. Many past exhibitions of Lucas’ work have focused on her as a central player within British art in the 1990s. Ordinary Things offers a counter position: this exhibition of thirty sculptures turns to the sculptural rather that the sensational, positioning Lucas’ work within an art historical lineage that addresses the materials and processes of sculpture. From ‘Big Fat Anarchic Spider’ (1993) to ‘NUDS’ (2009-2010), to ‘Unknown Soldier’ (2003) and ‘Jubilee’ (2012), via ‘Suffolk Bunny’ (1997-2004), ‘Au Naturel’ (1994) and ‘Penetralia’ (2008), Ordinary Things identifies Lucas’ consistent questioning of the definition of sculpture. Lucas works with the ‘ordinary things’ that form our surroundings and assumptions.
Sculpture is formed of a narrow and specific history, concerned with processes of making and informed by the ways in which human beings use objects to attempt to make sense of the surrounding world. Lucas’ sculptures are built on the art historical idea of what a sculpture might be – an object, defined by gravity, space, the human body and naturally found forms. Ordinary Things locates Lucas’ works firmly in this history, with the works pointing to the canon of sculpture, ranging from third century Italian votives, Bernini’s classical statuary, the figures of Henry Moore and the natural materials of Barbara Hepworth, to the Arte Povera strategies of Mario Merz and the found objects of Robert Filliou. Her works also recall the knotted bodies of Orlan from the 1960s and the dolls of Hans Bellmer and Oskar Kokoschka, as well as the surrealist figures of Pablo Picasso, Robert Gober and Louise Bourgeois, Cycladic torsos and archaeological artefacts. Ordinary Things is a consideration of the ways in which Lucas uses the sculptural languages of the figure and the cast. Made by her own hand, her objects are produced through the languages that surround them, materials that are ready at hand, and sculptural procedures and traditions, taking in cutting, welding, moulding, handling, stuffing, assembling; monumental, ready-made, formal, quick-build, representational and abstract.
Lucas’ sculptures are made of and from the human body – a decaying and sensible object that requires maintenance and care. ‘Au Naturel’ (1994) is a portrait of a couple on a bed, a man represented by a cucumber and a pair of oranges and a woman by a pair of melons and a bucket. Both vulgar compositions are constructed from materials and vernacular slang that are commonplace, their ‘human’ component made from organic matter that needs to be replaced as inevitable decay sets in. In the seven ‘NUDS’ (2009-2010) here on display, limbs can be seen wrapping around each other in knotted couplings and solo acrobatics, the cellulite-marked flesh formed from ‘natural’ tights stuffed with fluff and stiffened by wire, the delicate surface bruised and wrinkled as the bodies perch on their breeze-block supports.
Sarah Lucas is currently the host of Situation at Sadie Coles HQ in London, a project running throughout 2012 that channels the spirit of the artist-led exhibitions of the late 1980s and 1990s with which Lucas and her contemporaries launched their careers. Since the 1990s Lucas’ work has been exhibited internationally in solo and group presentations. Recent solo exhibitions include NUDS (Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli, Coyacan, Mexico, 2012), Spirit of Ewe (Two Rooms, Auckland, New Zealand, 2011) and NUDS CYCLADIC (Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, 2010) and recent group exhibitions include Modern British Sculpture (Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2011), British Art Show 7: In the Days of the Comet (Nottingham Contemporary; Hayward Gallery, London; Tramway, Glasgow; Plymouth Museum, 2010-11) and The Surreal House (Barbican Art Gallery, London, 2010).