Sarah Lucas, in The Encyclopaedic Palace, Central Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale, 2013
I’m a firm believer in the idea that art can come from anywhere and be made of anything. And that means that just as an artist can turn everyday materials into art, so they can also choose to materials that have been the stuff of high art for centuries. But, to state the obvious, there’s a bit of a difference between nylon tights stuffed with kapok and bronze. Sarah Lucas has been working with tights for nearly two decades now. Her Bunny sculptures of the late 1990s and the more recent Nuds – often oddly sexual abstract forms – can be both funny and a bit disturbing. Either way, I like them a lot.
Bunny Gets Snookered #10, 1997
So what happens when Nuds meet bronze?
If I’m honest, I’m generally more than a little sceptical about artists shifting their practice to what might be seen as ‘high art’ materials, especially when this takes the form of making slick works that don’t seem to serve their practice well in other ways. Though I like some of them well enough as objects, as I’ve said elsewhere, I’m distinctly underwhelmed by Paul Noble’s marble sculptures for instance.
So why do Sarah Lucas’s bronzes work for me?
In all honestly, I’m not sure I really have an answer. Maybe it’s that when I first encountered them in Venice they shone in the sunlight in their little courtyard: an oasis of calm on my hurried journey through the Central Pavilion. Maybe it’s the preposterous solidity of the sculptures given that their origins as tights stuffed with kapok remain all too visible. Maybe it’s the self-assured way they occupy the space.
Or maybe it’s that, like much of Lucas’s work, for all the questions they raise about gender and the body, they quite simply make me smile.