London

Sarah Lucas

Sadie Coles HQ | Balfour Mews

Matisse may have wanted his art to be “something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue,” but many other modern artists have, on the contrary, sought an art that attains the condition of a bad one. There’s no chance of anyone ever sitting comfortably on the stool in Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, 1913, on Beuys’s Fat Chair, 1963, or on Warhol’s Electric Chair, 1964. Salvador Dalí, who in the ’30s made a sofa based on Mae West’s lips and a stool whose back consists of a pair of predatory arms, decreed that a chair “can be used to sit on, but on condition that one sits on it uncomfortably.”

The furniture in Sarah Lucas’s assemblages energetically occupies this same discomfort zone. The specially commissioned sculptures deftly inserted into the Freud Museum make an effective contrast to their ultracivilized surroundings. From the famous leather couch, swaddled in oriental carpets, and the massed ranks of Greek and Egyptian antiquities, to the Arts and Crafts furniture and packed bookcases, the décor in Freud’s former home speaks of bourgeois coziness and solidity. Lucas’s sculptures, by comparison, are gauche and wayward, bulls in a china shop. Hysterical Attack (Eyes), 2000, consists of a pair of splayed, flailing legs-cum-tentacles attached to the back of a rudimentary bentwood chair. They and the chair back have been completely covered with photo-collaged human eyes. One would normally associate sitting with contemplative or even closed eyes, but here they are multiplied, keyed up to a state of frantic vigilance.

Bed is no place to relax either, according to Lucas. Upstairs, in the middle of a bedroom, we find Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 2000. A reddish mattress has been strung up from one corner on a freestanding clothes rail like a slab of meat. The mattress is impaled by a fluorescent strip light. This, one assumes, is the “male” portion of the piece. The lower part of the mattress is draped over a large, coffin-shaped cardboard box, which is harshly illuminated from within. Next to the mattress, suspended from a hanger, dangles a bucket with an orange lightbulb inside, surrounded by a pair of bare lightbulbs. This, then, is the work’s “female” portion. All the lights are lit. It might almost be a bleak, low-rent version of the Large Glass, with a mechanomorphic bride and bachelor. Yet there’s something buoyant about the assemblage, too. These airborne contraptions suggest that sex can lift even the most disordered environment. The mattress is on its way to becoming a flying carpet; the bucket, a balloon. Lucas doesn’t simply wallow in deprivation. She also believes in the transubstantiation of junk.

Concurrently, at Sadie Coles HQ, Lucas offered “The Fag Show,” a series of works in which domestic items ranging from vacuum cleaners to garden gnomes are hermetically sealed inside a sort of raffia-work made from unsmoked cigarettes. The suggestion seems to be that, whether we smoke or not, we are all prone to obsessions and addictions that threaten to suffocate and swallow up the world. The most compelling of these works is Oral Gratification, 2000, which consists of a bentwood office chair with a pair of cigarette-covered rugby balls protruding from the chair back. Even at work, the sitter would feel these globular growths, at once erotic and grotesque, jabbing at his or her back with their combined promise of pleasure and cancer.

James Hall