I come from the unique position of being a student outside of the History of Art department. This does not mean to say that I have not consistently found observing art a rewarding experience. In fact, one of my closest friends and I have made a hobby of going to exhibitions in London, our hometown, from an early age. For this reason, art has always felt like an especially personal experience for the both of us. It was our version of adventure. All that was required was to hop on the tube and pick an exhibit; sometimes we’d caught word of a great exhibition online, other times we’d see something advertised on one of the billboards running along the escalator, or languishing on the platform itself, and our destination would be decided.
My piece of art for this blogpost did not come about from an act of spontaneity. Quite the contrary, my friend and I had been gearing ourselves up for this particular exhibition for some time. The exhibition was a retrospective of Sarah Lucas’ work, titled SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble, at the Whitechapel Gallery.
It felt all the more poignant that it was being hosted at Whitechapel Gallery, an institution which we feel a strong sense of kinship to. Its located in the East End of London, and while we aren’t proper Eastenders per se, the places in and around Mile End, Bethnal Green and Liverpool Street have always remained our favourite haunts. Couple this with the fact that Whitechapel Gallery has consistently surprised us with the quality of its exhibitions, (they are largely free to the public too), it’s safe to say that we were beyond excited for Sarah Lucas’ residency.
I’m glad to say that the exhibition didn’t disappoint. What I love about Lucas’ art is that it is both challenging and playful at the same time. For instance, it asks the viewer to reconsider their relationship with the human body. A melon or a fried egg become sexualised objects, and their placement in a new context makes us question the relative attractiveness (or lack of) of our own body parts; be it on a personal level or how this iconography is appropriated in real life. And, on a less serious note, the abstraction of food stuffs, cigarettes and bulbous bags of fabric stuffed with wool are so provocative that they can be enjoyed on a humorous level too.
If you pushed me for my favourite piece of art, I would probably say Self Portrait with Fried Eggs. Lucas has a great body of self-portraits, and they are a great testament to her ability as an artist (with or without a discussion of her larger oeuvre of material). This one in particular, however, is as close to perfect as you can get: her confident stance seated on the chair, her stare into the camera, the eggs dubiously placed on her chest, the black and white tiled flooring. This image is Sarah Lucas through and through. It is bolshie and uncompromising. It is Lucas’ way of telling you that she doesn’t give a f*** what you think about her art anyway.
This being said, sticking with Self Portrait with Fried Eggs would mean ignoring countless other examples of her best work. For who could forget Cigarette Tits, Au Naturel or Pauline Bunny? Make no mistake, I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to see not one, not two, but dozens of Lucas’ works exhibited since I have been going to art exhibitions. For me, though, Whitechapel Gallery’s SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble was, without doubt, the best experience I have had in an art exhibition; and it will always remind me why my friend and I’s longstanding tradition of visiting galleries together in London should never die.
Words by Gemma Power
Cover image: Sarah Lucas’ ‘Self Portrait with Fried Eggs’ 1996