Way beyond the white cube

Sarah Lucas, Situation, Whitechapel Gallery, 2013

Sarah Lucas, SITUATION: Absolute Beach Man Rubble, Whitechapel Gallery, 2013

When it comes to exhibitions I’m usually all in favour of white space and plenty of it. I want to see the work and I want the installation of the work to be as unobtrusive as possible. If I’m spending time looking at the plinths or the frames or the way things are positioned then that’s less time spent looking at the art. Sometimes though the way the work is shown can become part of the show in a good way. Thinking back, there have been a few shows at the Whitechapel Gallery recently where that’s been the case (indeed, I wrote about two – the Gillian Wearing and Gerard Byrne exhibitions – a while ago for MostlyFilm) so I guess it should have come as no surprise that the Sarah Lucas show there late last year – which I caught just before it closed – was, let’s say, not the most minimal of installations.

Sarah Lucas – SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble – Whitechapel Gallery, London – 2013

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Lucas show that could be accused of being underhung and SITUATION: Absolute Beach Man Rubble was no exception. What made it different to other Lucas exhibitions, I suppose, was its scale. As a major retrospective covering two decades of Lucas’s work, this is a big exhibition and the space is packed with work; objects and images vie for our attention and often seem in conversation with one another. This is a show where at times one risks literally stumbling over a work one hasn’t spotted while heading for whatever has caught our attention across the space.

Sarah Lucas – SITUATION: Absolute Beach Man Rubble – Whitechapel Gallery, London – 2013

There are penises and tins of spam, seats made of MDF and breeze blocks (some for sitting on, some acting as plinths), toilets aplenty (some of which I wrote about yesterday), crushed cars and strange forms made from tights. There are also works cast in bronze – and odd move for Lucas perhaps, but one that works well for me – but of those, I think, more later…

Sarah Lucas – SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble – Whitechapel Gallery, London – 2013

I think a lot of what I’ve always liked about Lucas’s work is as much the grungy aesthetic as the confrontational nature of the work. The work is funny but it is also serious and often really not very nice to look at. A journey through Sarah SITUATION: Absolute Beach Man Rubble is everything one might expect but in what might at first sight seem like the chaos of the install there’s also a logic. Downstairs is almost a sculptural obstacle course as we venture from toilet to giant penis and beyond; the first space we come to upstairs large scale photographs of penises in the form of milk bottles, beer cans and the like, are everywhere. Finally, the large upstairs space, though none the less challenging in terms of the work, provides a sudden respite of light airiness.

Sarah Lucas – SITUATION: Absolute Beach Man Rubble – Whitechapel Gallery, London – 2013

While the journey wasn’t always a comfortable one, Lucas made me laugh and grimace and, at times, feel a little bit sick. Good work!

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