London

View of “Sarah Lucas,” 2012.

View of “Sarah Lucas,” 2012.

Sarah Lucas

Situation

View of “Sarah Lucas,” 2012.

There’s the briefest phase during early puberty when one’s hapless ignorance of firsthand sex is combined with an obsessive curiosity for all its obscene details, weirdly accompanied by a childish revulsion toward the whole stinking business. This is that awkward age when the frankest of questions (“What is cunnilingus?”) find their way to the dinner table, followed by the inevitable “Do you guys do it?” and the equally inevitable squeals of horror if even the most liberal of parents attempt a response. Terror and hilarity mix in fine proportion, fueling more queries, fits of laughter, and tactless curiosity, and quickly veering toward real knowledge thanks to the energies of some forgettable local teenager.

Sarah Lucas’s sculptures—all cracks and bulges, surrogate cunts, nipples, tits, and dicks—seem to exist forever suspended in that fleeting preteen moment of wide-eyed initiation into the hideous delights of sex. Looping tubes of panty hose filled with pillow stuffing intertwine in ecstasy, their mottled surfaces able to suggest all at once fine marble, uncooked sausage, and dimpled thighs (Nud 27, 2012). Stuffed, boneless legs and clenched butts straddle chairs (Make Love, 2012), while a colony of nylon breasts (with alarmingly flimsy nipples provided by panty-hose tips) proliferate like a cancer over a bulbous hanging chair (MumMum, 2012). As seen in “Make Love” and “Miss Jumbo Savaloy,” the first two of four back-to-back exhibitions at Situation, a yearlong project space devoted to Lucas’s work (and located above Sadie Coles HQ), what makes Lucas’s work extraordinary is the contradiction between the puerility of her subject matter and the sophistication of her sculptural language, so knowing about weights and counterweights, shadows and shades, solids and voids. She succeeds on the very terms of classical sculpture through her miraculous ability to animate lifeless matter with believably living energy. Lucas is remarkably attentive to surface quality and variation, from dimpled scrotumlike chicken skin, to the rough weightiness of cinder block, to the hardened plaster of a human-size missile suspended from the ceiling and painted the exact sickly pink color of dental cement, somehow suggesting both a giant dildo and a lifetime supply of tooth-rotting bubble gum. With its attached mechanical arm forever jerking off, Miss Jumbo Savaloy, 2004, creates an incessant, gentle rocking whose noise makes conversation difficult. But who cares? This is sex without talk.

The cheap double entendres (a lumpen cat composed solely of phallic and breastlike protuberances, hunched atop an ironing board, is titled Pussy, 2012) and sudden reversions to childhood (such as Tit Teddy #2, 2012, a grotesque panty-hose-and-stuffing toy, flopped and forgotten on a sill) return us again to the giggly, uneasy transition of early adolescence. Lucas’s is a world where everything appears as yet another unwashed erogenous zone, a universe solely populated by phallic symbols and available mammaries, where sophomoric Freudian psychologizing can run amok. We are left forever wondering, with some embarrassment, whether it is our or the artist’s dirty mind animating all the nylon, pillow stuffing, stretched T-shirts, and foodstuffs. Is it just me, or do those two fried eggs suspended above a raw chicken arse, all dangling from an abortion-serviceable wire hanger (in Untitled, 2012), look like that slut I saw you with last night? Lucas proves herself the most gifted British sculptor of her generation, her lightness of touch intact as her familiar language soars to virtuoso heights of confidence and inventiveness, with no end to the orgy in sight.

Gilda Williams