Sarah Lucas

Legion of Honor
100 34th Avenue
July 15, 2017–September 17, 2017

View of “Sarah Lucas: Good Muse,” 2017.

The second in an ongoing series of temporary projects at this museum, Sarah Lucas’s exhibition juxtaposes her recent work with sculptures by Auguste Rodin and paintings by canonical European artists from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Rodin’s bronzes and marbles once set the standard for emotionally expressive forms, and Lucas’s sculptures transform figuration into a contemporary exercise in psychology and materiality. Where Rodin is dignified, romantic, and tasteful, Lucas is crass, provisional, and hungrily mammalian. Together, they are sublime.

Cannily installed, Lucas’s work as distributed among the galleries initiates a series of unexpected resonances and clashes. In one gray-walled room, translucent urine-yellow resin toilets from the series “Floppy Toilets,” 2016, glow among high-minded, allegorical bronzes. Titti Doris, 2017, with its boil-like cluster of stuffed nylon-stocking breasts and spindly legs that protrude from an old green chair, serves as a louche rebuke to Rodin’s plaster Anthony of Padua (The Temptation of St. Anthony, ca. 1890), who laments the enticements that lie on his path to exaltation. From a particular vantage, the cast-plaster splayed legs of Pauline, 2015, echo the stockings of the seated lad in Matthias Stom’s oil painting The Calling of Saint Matthew, ca. 1629, on the wall behind it.

Such orchestrations crash the heightened psychosexual valence of this contemporary artist’s sensibility into the virtuosity and stillness of the masterworks on display. Her sculptures—inelegant, wondrously vulgar, glib—are the perfect foil for the chaste grandeur of the Legion’s Beaux arts architecture and permanent collection. Rodin’s capital concerns of Love and Sorrow find their complement in the cigarettes that poke out from the derrieres of many of Lucas’s sculptures—a visual fart in a church for art, reminding us that lofty virtues have a carnal counterpart, even here among the granite columns and polished marble floors.

Bean Gilsdorf