In an outstanding recent article, Waldemar Januszczak said pretty much all there is to be said about the current Venice Biennale. You can find the article here. He correctly identifies the whinging, self-absorbed and unattractive nature of much of the ‘art’ represented here. He identifies too the extent to which the current art establishment has become obsessed with the endless repetition of dreary, disengaging video installations. And he accurately recognises that Sarah Lucas’s exhibition in the British pavilion is the outstanding contribution to the official Biennale.
I confess I would never have imagined writing those words. I’ve always found it hard to take Sarah Lucas seriously but a lightbulb went on at the Biennale. We are not meant to take her seriously; rather we are meant to enjoy the humour of it. and there is no context better than the Bienalle to highlight the humour and make it feel like the most welcome antidote to the po-faced self-importance of most of the surrounding contributions.
We also have to welcome the fact that Lucas continues to work as a figurative artist, exploring the male and female form, as well as her cats. I have quoted before from Kenneth Clarke who in his study of the nude in art sees art as an attempt “not to imitate but to perfect”. But that is far from Lucas’s objective. She takes us in the opposite direction seeking to remind us of the ordinariness and in some cases the ridiculousness of the human form with her giant caricatured make nude as penis – the Gold Cup Maradona – and her rough cast partial female forms, relaxing with a cigarette.
Thank you, Sarah Lucas. I’m not sure it is great art, and I’m not sure that wish it to be. But it made us smile which was no small achievement in the circumstances!