SITUATION, the new Sarah Lucas exhibition at London’s Whitechapel Gallery, is a bit of a shock to the system to say the least. Giant black and white portraits of the artist adorn almost every wall in the first room looming over visitors who already find themselves ducking underneath mobiles and tiptoeing between plinths.
On first impression it feels overcrowded, but as you progress deeper into the room it becomes increasingly apparent that this is how Sarah’s work is supposed to be experienced. Visceral, intense and almost oppressive in the sensory shock it creates, her hold over ideas about gender and the human body is vicelike and unforgiving, so it makes perfect sense that the exhibition recreates that sensation. Only in the moment when you find yourself glancing away from a giant phallic cocktail of vegetables for a moment of respite, do you realise how quickly we recoil from such open attitudes to sexuality.
Because we do suppress any willingness to accept our bodies for what they are – funny, fleshy and carnal. And there’s certainly not a single bawdy euphemism we tend to turn to in refuge that Sarah hasn’t overturned in her quest to reveal this avoidance. The exhibition might well be full of hilarious, weird and uncomfortable sights; fruity boobs, penises a-plenty and more than a handful of kebab vaginas, but the distaste they stir up in us goes a long way to revealing the evasion tactics which are deeply rooted in our culture. It’s worth a second, third and fourth thought before you dismiss her incredible body of work as an unfounded attempt to shock the masses.
SITUATION by Sarah Lucas will run until December 15 at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.