Friday, March 29th, 2013

Maximum Gross-Out, Model Form: Sarah Lucas and Antony Gormley

Report from… London

Sarah Lucas: Situation Classic Pervery at Sadie Coles HQ Off Site, December 1, 2012 through March 2013

Antony Gormley: Model at White Cube Bermondsey, November 28, 2012 to  February 19, 2013

Installation view, Sarah Lucas: Situation Classic Pervery at Sadie Coles HQ Off Site, London, December 1, 2012 through March 2013
Installation view, Sarah Lucas: Situation Classic Pervery at Sadie Coles HQ Off Site, London, December 1, 2012 through March 2013

In Terry Southern’s 1969 cult classic “The Magic Christian,” eccentric billionaire Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers) explains to his adopted son, Youngman (Ringo Starr), “sometimes it’s not enough merely to teach, one has to punish as well.”  Two exhibitions currently on view in London teach and punish as well: Antony Gormley’s Model at White Cube and Sarah Lucas‘s Situation Classic Pervery at Sadie Coles each follow the artists’ working process in a way that is less pedantic and more gritty.  And it’s important to remember that Seller’s Guy Grand is a classic pervert anyway: punishment as a “Fifty Shades of Grey” pleasurable episode of paddling and pinching.

Situation Classic Pervery is another installation in a series of Lucas projects (Situation Franz West, Situation Rose Bush, Situation Make Love, etc.) to inhabit the second floor of the gallery.  In each she chooses a basic theme and creates an environment populated with an occasional finished piece, but more often strewn with odd bits and pieces that are seminal parts of Lucas’ artistic vocabulary.  Toilets stand about, sometimes piled in the corner, but also outfitted with dainty cushions. A witty and seductive Untitled (tit chair) (2012) re-purposes as cushioning a multitude of yummy-looking artificial tits made from stuffed hose, a classic Lucas statement of both feminist defiance and self-abnegation in line with her Human Toilet Revisited (1998, not on display).

But the process of creation is not always pretty.  She toys with disturbing undercurrents, regardless of whether the viewer can stomach the results.  The freedom that lurks in this room is of a different variety than the perhaps more utilitarian frame of mind of an artist preparing for a staid museum exhibition. Soup is an entrancing wall mural of penis tips emerging from their foreskins, dotted over a background of bean soup—with a gleam and consistency chosen for maximum gross-out potential.  A similarly double edged work is an endearing “field-trip” vignette-a projection across the room features Lucas visiting a goat farm.  She seems to be wearing a coat of goat fur and her demeanor is one of cheery amusement as the goats jump and frolic around her and the farmer, but the references to perversity-bestiality, devils, satyrs, and the animals’ eventual fate as food and clothing, are all implicit within the context of the show.  Situation Classic Pervery has an unnerving brilliance as it skips mischieviously between clever DIY aesthetic and a profoundly poetic subtext.

 Antony Gormley, Model, 2012. Weathering steel,  16’6” x 106’9” x 44’6”. Courtesy White Cube

Antony Gormley, Model, 2012. Weathering steel,
16’6” x 106’9” x 44’6”. Courtesy White Cube

Antony Gormley’s Model at the new and imposing White Cube in Bermondsey is just as concerned with the humanity of the artist’s subject, but less with our proclivities and secretions than would be the case in Lucas.  Instead the focus is on formal concerns.  The artist’s model, himself, which features so prominently in earlier projects such as Angel of the North, (1998) and the various Event Horizon  installations (2007-2012) has been reconfigured as a series of rectangular volumes with a pixellating effect.  These stolid, rust-color figures populate the gallery, attempting to negate the eponymous white cube.  One pair, Hinge II (2011) stands in the courtyard in front of the gallery, while others skulk in corners and sprawl across the massive entry hallway that stretches from the front door to the screening rooms at the back.  They have several rooms to themselves and grow progressively larger—striking curious poses that range from Michelangelo’s slaves to Degas’ dancers to Toltec Chacmools.

An entire room devoted to the process of generating Model, (2012) a giant, walk-through funhouse cum sculpture, is as rigorous, meticulous, and repetitive as a first year architecture final review.  Gormley presents every aesthetic step in the formulation of his golem, from a single block to spidery and nimble human form.  Amusingly, the largest rectangle of the composition becomes the knob–on that point both Lucas and Gormley would agree.  Though Gormley has embraced the new age of the 3D printer, a host of materials is on display—delicate bass wood matrices as well as blue foam carvings, for instance.  This army of little creatures has a market stall air about it, tempting the viewer to handle the works, a quality that is all but impossible in his giant steel works.

But tactility may be the new thing for Gormley: one exits The Model Room with a naughty hankering to touch the art, and down the hall, after completing a safety waiver, you climb in the foot of the sleeping giant.  Again the experience is about form: the body as house for living in.  It relates to a claustrophobic feeling we all get once in a while, thinking of ourselves as an even smaller person looking out through the windows of our eyes.  Gormley’s Model has windows too, a little interior stage and dark passageways as well, and is all about feeling one’s way-the steely resonance of the footsteps and the cold smooth metal that has to be touched, simply to avoid banging one’s head in the dark.  Both the Gormley and Lucas exhibitions come to a “head” with a head:  within Gormley’s leviathan you must retrace your steps after clambering from foot to crown, while Lucas’s (pre-Hirst) “skull” (2000) hangs over the well-upholstered tit chair.  Again delving into the perverse, Lucas has decided to give the dead bloke a set of gold teeth.

Sarah Lucas, Untitled (Tit Chair), 2012.  Courtesy of Sadie Coles HQ, London
click to enlarge