New Museum kicked off its big fall season last night with a huge, career-spanning exhibition of one of the UK’s most influential living artists, Sarah Lucas. The show, titled Au Natural after one of her most famous assemblages, encompasses all of the museum’s three main floors and features more than 150 sculptural pieces, photographs, installations, and videos. Provocative, clever, and engaging throughout, it’s the first retrospective of Lucas’s work seen anywhere in America, and it runs into the new year. Expect enthusiastic crowds and lots of stockings, cigarettes, and penises.
Early in her career, in the late 1980s, Lucas ran with a crew known as the Young British Artists, a loosely associated, semi-notorious group that included the likes of Damien Hirst and Angus Fairhurst, all of whom used found objects and everyday materials in ways calculated to shock, amuse, and subvert expectations. Lucas’s primary interest has always been gender, identity, and sexuality, and Au Natural brings together dozens of her most seminal expressions of the human body: bizarre, erotic, confounding.
And then there are the cigarettes, which make frequent appearances throughout her work, sticking out of (sculptural) buttholes, sticking out the artist’s mouth, papering cans of beer, rendered as Christ on the cross, and, in the case of one of the new pieces Lucas created specifically for this exhibition, a destroyed Jaguar. Tights and stockings, too, are everywhere, usually bulging with filler and shaped into grotesque or suggestive forms. The swinging chair of stocking-boobs is already an Instagram hit, and one of great rooms in the show is dominated by Lucas’s Bunny Gets Snookered series, in which strange leggy creatures slouch on and around a pool table.