Expanding her unique visual language of pantyhose, stuffing, and chairs, to include concrete, bronze, and steel, that Lucas has employed since her rise to international prominence in the mid-nineties, the works in this show demonstrate the artist’s powerful ability to transform utilitarian materials into conceptually complex objects that pose urgent questions about gender, sexuality, and identity. A concurrent exhibition of new works from this seminal series are on view at Sadie Coles HQ, London from March 16 through May 10, 2020.
Throughout her career, Lucas’s works have dealt candidly and humorously with the body while grappling with themes such as a sex, death, and the notion of Englishness, and the Bunnies masterfully capture these core elements of her practice.
Comprised of stuffed pairs of tights placed ungracefully on chairs, the figures are meant to evoke splayed legs, highlighting the awkward, absurd, and vulnerable positions and situations these figures inhabit. While the Bunnies signify Lucas’s earliest examples of works that use stuffed stockings to create anthropomorphic human forms, Lucas began to expand their scope by creating a body of work entitled NUDS, which consists of abstract knots or contortions out of similar materials while also introducing gold-hued bronze and concrete. The NUDS started to take the shapes of slouching humanoid forms placed atop concrete brick pedestals transforming the suggestive knots into recognizable bodies. In this installation, Lucas has merged these contortions, also adding shoes into the mix, to create plump and luscious figures both de Sadean and mod. Each lump and seated torsion of perverted fun and twisted discipline is an affective and narrative turn: these are sweetened-up honeys, haus fraus out for a thrill, hens gone mad.
Installation view at Gladstone Gallery. Courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels
The exhibition consists of several sculptures made from stuffed tights and found objects, alongside an equal number of works in bronze and concrete. First conceived in 1997, Lucas’s Bunny sculptures evoke female nudes reclining on chairs in states of abandon and vulnerability. Employing the same everyday materials, the soft sculptures in HONEY PIE develop this formula through anatomical contortions, flamboyant footwear and chairs of eclectic shape and size. Bright colours applied to the figures’ limbs give them the appearance of a surrealist chorus line, at once exotic and comedic. Lucas has elevated the works on a series of plinths that reinforce their individualism, resetting the balance of power between sculpture and viewer.
Lucas’s soft sculptures are mirrored in five bronze and concrete works. Employing the same figure-chair composition, these stand in striking contrast to the fleshiness and bold colour of the soft figures – as if animate bodies have transmuted into statues or icons. Cast from soft prototypes, the hard sculptures consist of polished bronze anatomies – extruded, tubular forms with high-gloss surfaces – each posed on top of a chair rendered in concrete and metal. “They’ve got more of a ghostly quality – like something left over from another age,” Lucas has stated. “It’s a mixture of the hard and the soft, and the colourful and the austere.”
Lucas has arranged the sculptures within a cruciform structure of concrete and MDF that splits the gallery into quadrants. In their style of presentation as much as their rhyming forms, the works look back to earlier shows such as Bunny Gets Snookered at Sadie Coles HQ in 1997 (where the Bunnies were scattered around a snooker table) or NUDS in 2009, where she first began to use plinths in the form of breeze block stacks. In the new show, plinths in various shades of yellow compound the painterly aspect of the sculptures.
In contrast to the literal debasement of the original Bunnies (most of which were placed on the floor), the plinths raise the works to eye level or higher, amplifying the swagger and exuberance of Lucas’s cast of characters.
These attributes are reflected in the works’ titles. DORA LALALA resembles a contortionist winding her legs into a bow; SUGAR consists of a bouquet of breasts on nimble pink legs. The chairs and shoes are themselves multifarious in design and import – from the scrolling campery of an ironwork seat to the hyperbolic femininity of platform boots. At the same time, Lucas’s soft and hard muses continue to channel themes that have defined her work from the beginning – whether the anthropomorphic charge of found objects, the objectification of the female nude, or the elusive line between comedy and abjection.