“The task of the artist is to make the human being uncomfortable,” said Lucien Freud. If so, Sarah Lucas’s series of “NUDS” can’t be accused of missing the mark. Through the simple device of stuffing fluff into skin-coloured tights over a wire skeleton, she has created objects capable of inducing a genuine, visceral recoil. With an obscene bulge here and an anus there, they are difficult to parse, perhaps the tangled limbs of a deformed baby, or the writhing intestines of some huge, sick animal.
Whatever they may be, perched unhappily on piles of breeze blocks, the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds city centre is currently displaying them for your edification, as part of the Lucas retrospective “Ordinary Things,” running till 21st October.
Lucas’s fame came from less subtle work. “Au Naturel” is a shabby mattress slumped against a wall, with fruit and veg positioned to form male and female sexual organs, complete with a large rusty bucket for a vagina. Her place among the so-called Young British Artists was cemented in 1997, when “Au Naturel” appeared in the blockbuster show Sensation at the Royal Academy. It sat alongside other notorious works, including Damien Hirst’s pickled shark (a.k.a. “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”) and Tracy Emin’s tent (a.k.a. “Everyone I’ve Ever Slept With”).
Of the various ordinary things Lucas has turned into sculpture over the last two decades, it is tights which are her greatest source of success. Stuffed with shredded newspapers, they form the more playful, but still somewhat disgusting, “Big Fat Anarchic Spider” as well as the Alice-band-wearing mutant “Octopus.”
Tights feature too in another justly celebrated sculpture, “Suffolk Bunny.” Here a small, faceless prostitute figure is clamped to an old chair, with splayed legs and bunny ears morphing into long flopping penises.
Penises (flopping and otherwise) are aplenty in this show, whether growing mushroom-like from a wooden stump in “Tree Nob,” or protruding from another chair in “Eve,” another repulsive melange of limbs, furniture, and genitals, with the added complication of appearing at breast height. But alongside these weird contemplations of the human form are various contrasting thoughts and textures, such as the tragic, inedible “Pie”: a Fray Bentos ready-meal cast in concrete.
Other exhibits are more cryptic. What are we to make of the pair of concrete boots either side of a glowing neon tube entitled “Unknown Soldier”? And then there’s the large pink block which I circled several times perplexedly, before spotting the name-label on the wall: “Spam.”
Sarah Lucas, Ordinary Things is showing at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, until 21 October. Free Entry.