Sarah Lucas at The Last Newspaper, New Museum

This text was published on the 1st of December 2010 in the issue #9 of THE LAST TIMES, the free weekly newspaper and incremental catalogue of The Last Newspaper exhibition at the New Museum, New York.

SEX SPORT-TRAIT SARAH

Lorena Muñoz-Alonso on ‘The Last Newspaper’ work ‘Fat, Forty and Flab-ulous’ by British artist Sarah Lucas.

A seriously overweight woman pouts and poses across a newspaper’s double-page spread. She frolics, almost naked, apparently feeling sexy. “My borin’ hubby bleats about my weight … Now I want someone who loves feeling’ folds of flesh in the sack”, she is quoted as saying. The story of this woman being offered for sale by her husband was originally published on November 25, 1990 in The Sunday Sport, an infamous English tabloid that specialises in the bizarre, amusing readers with outrageous stories including alien abductions and freakish sexual revelations.

Fat, Forty and Flab-ulous (1990) is a simple photocopy enlargement of these pages, which also include an article ridiculing ‘Arty-Farty Students’ being offered degree courses in Madonna studies, as well as advertising for sex phone lines. Made by Sarah Lucas when she was a 28 year-old emerging artist in London – just two years after the seminal group exhibition Freeze, yet before her 1993 venture with Tracy Emin (The Shop) and perhaps her most renowned work, Au Naturel (1994) – it belongs to a series of works in which she uses British tabloids as her raw material. The act of photocopying the pages of a tabloid and placing the results in the gallery highlighted for the artist, the “hypocritical morality being served up daily to most people in this country”. It was also an indication of what was possible for a young woman artist with limited resources, making work with whatever she had at hand and striving to articulate society’s class and gender anxieties. Already then, Lucas had directed her gaze at Britain’s working class everyday life via her assemblages of found objects (newspapers, kebabs, oranges, mattresses, etc.) – works with a seemingly obnoxious sense of humour. Fat, Forty and Flab-ulous (1990) continues to speak, some twenty years later, about the ‘formless’ outlets of perversion and excess that swarm about in our social and cultural landscape, simultaneously suppressed and served up as mass entertainment.

Visitor taking a picture of Sarah Lucas’ Fat, Forty and Flabulous (1990). Photocopy on paper. Copyright the artist. Courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photo: Latitudes

What was most interesting about Lucas’ work when she first started to exhibit in London, at the artist-run space City Racing and the Saatchi Gallery, was that its irreverence and morality relentlessly challenged the established notions about the kind of art that was expected from a female artist. It wasn’t the explicit and obsessive use of genital symbols or the sexual innuendo that flooded her pieces what made her work risqué. It was its merciless gaze – and the absence of any clichéd feminist message – that made it exciting, funny and, most importantly, truly empowering. She was appropriating the brashness, sarcasm and macho attitudes of her masculine peers, yet without betraying her gender for a second.

Admittedly, Lucas’s apparently anti-intellectual approach doesn’t seem to lend itself too well to theory. Yet as with many of the artist’s subsequent works, Fat, Forty and Flab-ulous brings to mind the ideas explored by the psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva a decade earlier in The Powers of Horror (1980). Heavily influenced by the writings on subversion by Bataille and Lacan, this seminal essay uncovers what lies behind our fascination with the grotesque, the dirty and the obscure: things we are systematically meant to abhor. Lucas unravels such mechanisms and presses all their buttons.

The Last Newspaper is on view from the 6th of October 2010 till the 9th of January 2011 at at the New Museum, New York.

THE LAST TIMES is edited by Latitudes

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About Lorena Muñoz-Alonso

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