Venice Biennale Spotlights Gender With Sarah Lucas Exhibition

Sarah Lucas, Gold Cup Maradona, British Pavilion 2015. Photo by Cristiano Corte © British Council

On view in Venice through November 22, is this year’s installment of the 56th Biennale exhibition.  And on show is one of the most prolific artists of a generation, Sarah Lucas.

Sarah Lucas’s presentation at the British Pavilion of the Biennale is brash and bombastic. Many critics have dismissed the show as profane. But the former YBA (Young British Artist) star, who made her name in the 1990s, with the exhibition, “I Scream Daddio,” provokes and cajoles. At the entrance to the pavilion is an outrageous phallic-shaped yellow-painted bronze object, a soaring protuberance some fifteen feet high. This piece, Deep Cream Maradona, somewhat resembles one of Jeff Koons’s “balloon dogs,” but with far more mischievous intent. The pavilion’s interior is painted in a similar bright yellow, which Lucas says was inspired by an egg yolk. There’s a preponderance of custard yellow throughout the exhibition. “The whole show should be a dessert,” Lucas remarks in an interview recorded for the occasion by the British Council, which was one of the show’s sponsors.

Self Portrait with Fried Eggs 1996 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P78447
Self Portrait with Fried Eggs 1996 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P78447

Lucas, born in London in 1962, has established an international reputation for hyper-sexualized sculptures often using everyday household items. Her work often comments on domestic violence and feminist issues. A key piece in the exhibition, “I Scream Daddio”, is a real washing machine in white, whose window has been fitted with a yellow plastic bucket, so the altered object now resembles a fried egg. This wacky gesture, in the Dada/Surrealist vein, adds a touch of humor to balance the show’s more ominous imagery. A number of mangy black “cats” with engorged teats, for instance, haunt the space.

Sarah Lucas, Gold Cup Maradona, British Pavilion 2015. Photo by Cristiano Corte © British Council
Sarah Lucas, Gold Cup Maradona, British Pavilion 2015. Photo by Cristiano Corte © British Council

The dominant sculptural objects are formed from plaster casts of female figures, bifurcated and shown only from the waist down—a number of them were cast from Lucas’s own body. In the interview, the artist refers to them as “topless muses,” the opposite of “busts.” Hung on one wall is a collaged painting with rows of circular images showing the women’s “tops”—heads and torsos. Into some of the plaster figures’ anal or vaginal openings, Lucas has inserted a single cigarette. The “cigarette butt” image alludes to the idea of penetration without explicitly showing the sex act. It may be another of Lucas’s rather perverse gestures, but the artist casually explains the addition as simply the use of her trademark material, since early in her career she made a series of cigarette-covered sculptures.

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There is an intense psychological dimension to Lucas’s endeavor, regardless of her best attempts to sabotage the weighty seriousness of the work with silly or sophomoric-seeming gestures. While quite a few of my friends and colleagues did not appreciate this exhibition, for me, “I Scream Daddio” is everything a Venice Biennale presentation ought to be—provocative, demanding, well-realized and unforgettable.
Original Article by David Ebony