Sarah Lucas will unveil POWER IN WOMAN, an exhibition In spring 2016 at the Sir John Soane’s Museum. Three sculptures will be displayed in the North Drawing Room, each depicting a female figure in cast plaster. These works were first shown last year as part of Lucas’s acclaimed commission by the British Council for the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, I SCREAM DADDIO. The custard-yellow colour scheme of the Venice exhibition was inspired in part by the walls of Soane’s drawing rooms. Lucas’s contemporary bodies will here be set in a powerful dialogue with the Soane’s intimate spaces and extensive collection of classical casts.
This marks the first UK exhibition of Lucas’s works from the Venice Biennale, and it is made possible with the support of the Art Fund. This is a very rare occasion on which a living artist has situated works amid the Soane’s multi-layered collections. Over the course of two decades, Lucas has become recognised as one of Britain’s most significant contemporary artists. Spanning sculpture, photography and installation, her work has consistently been characterised by irreverent humour and the use of everyday ‘readymade’ objects – furniture, food, tabloid newspapers, tights, toilets, cigarettes – to conjure up sexual puns and corporeal fragments.
The three sculptures that will appear at the Soane derive from a series of ten bodies in cast plaster, collectively titled the Muses, for which Lucas used various friends as models. Each presents the female body as literally ‘topless’ – a pair of legs arrested at the waist, adopting a range of poses from the coy to the confrontational. The figures of Yoko and Pauline are seated, poised or relaxed, on chairs. The naked body of Michele lies on a desktop, legs apart, in both an echo and a subversion of the tradition of the reclining female nude.
In form and material, Lucas’s sculptures mirror the classical plaster casts that Soane accumulated over his life, and which fill the Colonnade and Museum Corridor at the rear of the building. As in these antique examples, Lucas condenses the body into a dramatic gesture. And yet her Muses are also strikingly real: “Soane’s plasters are casts from the marble originals”, she has explained. “Mine, on the other hand, are cast direct from the woman in question using the rough and ready method of making a waste mould by applying plaster bandage directly onto the body. The mould doesn’t survive … There’s very little room in the process for refining the figure or otherwise idealising it.”
A symbol of daily life (and of death) is implied by the cigarettes which have been implanted in each figure, slyly puncturing their elegance. By placing the figures on items of furniture, Lucas returns to the use of everyday objects that has defined her career. The traditional plinth is replaced by the stuff of reality – in a juxtaposition of classical form and furniture that reflects the make-up of the Soane itself, where antiquities pervade personal spaces.
This is only the second occasion on which the British Council has toured a British Pavilion exhibition in the UK. In 2014 Jeremy Deller’s exhibition for the British Pavilion, at the 55th Venice Biennale, undertook a national tour visiting three museums and galleries in London, Bristol and Margate. The tour, supported by the Art Fund, was the first of its kind for a British Pavilion exhibition, and enabled the public to see the British-Council commissioned work, adapted specially for each venue.
Top Photo: P C Robinson © artlyst 2016