Sarah Lucas, "The Old In And Out," Sept. 12-Oct. 17, 1998, at Barbara Gladstone Gallery, 515 West 24th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
English bad girl Sarah Lucas hit it big a few seasons back with very crudely funny assemblages of vegetables and fruits laid out on mattresses to ape male and female genitalia. Cantelopes, bananas, you get the idea. It was one of my favorite shows. Now, Lucas is back with new work. Times have changed, has Lucas?
You Know What is a plaster cast of the bottom half of a female figure sitting on a table. A cigarette is sticking out of her vagina. But I've got to stop myself. In my boredom, I sin against formal art criticism too often and associate works of art with current events. It took everything I had, having just read the Starr Report (with the "kinky" cigar anecdote), not to exclaim, "That tastes good!" Coincidence? Of course! Yet also a deep cross-cultural connection -- Sarah and Bubba are kissin' cousins, many times removed.
The large photo, It's Never Straight Up and Down, is an icon of penis envy. Crushed beer cans set perpendicular to each other are lodged in the crotch of a woman. They give her the equipment she desires. But it must also be said that the can playing the "balls" is really crunched up good -- some grrrl power-busting is going on here too.
Stars Here We Come (1998) reduxes the beer-can ball-bust as an item on a shelf, a news clip of an atomic bomb explosion provides the commentary behind. Could Lucas be saying that beer and testosterone leads to nuclear war? Is she Doctor Strangelove's daughter? Stay tuned.
If Sarah thinks beer-drinking will make her a real guy, Laugh? and Summer, two photographs, are her baptism. But the all-shook-up foam flow of Laugh? especially had a warm-beer nausea to it that suggested a drunk's second-case guzzling. A frat boy (girl) excess fills the space. Lucas' photos speak to the moment in their casualness and nonchalance but not in their content.
The Old In Out does not refer, as it should, to sexual intercourse in an English-pub sort of way, but to an installation of nine cast-polyurethane sculptures of toilets. This idea is not new. Rachael Whiteread and John Ahearn both currently claim the casting technique, and recent art history knows many toilets (Mike Bidlo's five-year project based on Duchamp's urinal opens at Shafrazi next week).
Lucas' photograph, Human Toilet Revisited (1998), is a picture of a starlet (Sarah?) sitting on a toilet, an in increasingly popular image designed to turn away idealization of the female form. (As a teenager, a girl I liked let me see her throw up, hanging over a toilet seat. I knew then that she did not love me -- that we would "just be friends.")
Printed on the inside of a found toilet is a found graffito -- Is Suicide Genetic? (1996). Note the date, not the message. This grunge cry-for-help is now a whisper from another era, just a few very long years ago, when mourning Kurt Cobain was all the rage. In the fall of 1998, cries are muted by "good-times" sleepwalking, and it smells like ancient history.
In the main gallery, Lucas has set two burnt-out cars covered with cigarettes called Life's a Drag Organs (1998). In one the seats and in the other the outer body are upholstered in Marlboros (just as one of the toilets was in Nature Abhors a Vacuum). Though the upholstery is nice and neat, it exudes a nasty trouble-with-teens smell that is unpleasant. Perhaps Lucas is making an anti-smoking comment, or condemning Amerikkka, fascist nation of Marlboro Man macho, but I doubt it.
There is too much grunge posturing in Lucas' handling of cigarettes to allow serious discussion. And she has made what is, I am sure, a completely inadvertent tribute to Al Hansen's cigarette collages of a generation ago or more (now on view, as it happens, at both Thread Waxing Space and Emily Harvey Gallery on Broadway).
All in all, while Lucas' show at Gladstone a few seasons back felt "right now," this show feels like something from "back then." Right this minute it seems old. But maybe if the stock market keeps falling and everybody starts venting their anger again, by closing date it will be back up to the minute.
ROBERT MAHONEY is a New York art critic.
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