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Sarah Lucas at Henry Moore, Leeds

The Henry Moore Institute in Leeds is staging an exhibition of work by the sculptor Sarah Lucas.
‘Ordinary Things’ looks at Sarah Lucas’ work from a more straight forwardly sculptural, formal position than the one with which she is often viewed due to her ‘brit art sensation / mate of Tracy’ career path.
The exhibition leaflet describes ‘Ordinary Things’ as a ‘consideration of the ways in which Lucas uses the sculptural languages of the figure and the cast’. In some ways it is looking back at an historical view of sculpture as blobs on plinths and seeing how far Lucas’ work has used that tradition and learned from it.
There are a couple of shelves in the back room which are full of maquettes and wee sculptures. These are very nice. My friend John Holland described Henry Moore’s own maquettes in a recent article on the abstract critical website, and I was reminded of the good fit between these and the hosting organisation.

I saw Au Naturel the first time round in 1994. The piece is a mattress against the wall with a man and a woman laying on them. The woman is represented by a bucket and some melons but the man is represented by a cucumber and two oranges. The bucket and melons are a perfect fit but surely there is just such a rich vocabulary for male genitalia she could have drawn from. I quite like the bathos of the male; his bits and bobs don’t have a correlating slang word which perversely gives the female more clout, but I think I have invented that response myself.
A few years after I first saw Au Naturel, I remember going to Sadie Coles HQ and seeing a life sized photo of Sarah Lucas, looking like Sharon Stone in the Quick and the Dead. I can remember feeling a surge of power dominating the space, created I think by my sense of the fusion of the personal strength of both curator and artist. I named my daughter Sadie in part in memory of that potent experience, in the hope that the name might impart some of that raw female power.
On my way to the exhibition I was remembering a piece Lucas had in the Sensation exhibition called bunny girl which was a pair of nylon tights stretched over a chair. It was slight and clever and painful without being mawkish or adolescent. I thought it was one of the best things in the show. There was lots more new work here also made from tights. I was expecting a more wide ranging and maverick intelligence to be evident through use of materials but I think that this was a result of the very tightly curated nature of the show. I look forward to the retropsective planned at the Whitechapel when it comes.
When I was at art college Sarah Lucas was paired with Tracy Emin. Of the two I felt Sarah Lucas was by far the most inventive and seductively sophisticated. Although I felt at the time that Emin was doing something which probably needed to be done, there is always the risk when you tread too close to the idiot savant role that you end up with too much of the former. Sarah Lucas felt more like a safe pair of hands.
I would be interested to see responses to this blog from the sculpture students. I am no sculptor and this is blog is most certainly a personal response to the exhibition. It would be great to hear a sculptor’s perspective.
The exhibition runs until 21 October and admission is free. The institute is just up from the train station.

Posted by author: Emma Drye
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3 thoughts on “Sarah Lucas at Henry Moore, Leeds

  • I have always had a similar feeling about the Lucas/Emin comparison. Emin may be the more important artist during her lifetime but I wonder if her work will have the staying power without that important element of her art that is Emin herself. Lucas’ work may well be less of the moment, in the moment (if you see what I mean!) but may well have better longevity.
    This does not mean that I think one is better than the other but some work speaks more to its time than others and some more of its time.

  • thanks Peter, I feel better knowing you agree! especially after Jim and I blogged about the same exhibition (symbolists) with such spectacularly different results! Not that we disagreed, just different perspectives. We did it without realising but it was quite an interesting idea of Jane’s to post them both.

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