Think 1990s YBA and what artworks come to mind? A pickled shark, a bawdy story tent, a head made of frozen blood… and a photo of Sarah Lucas looking defiant with a limp cigarette in her mouth. Or better yet, her bent, worn mattress with anthropomorphically inserted fruit and veg with metal bucket. Mostly, her pieces distill the human body down to a sexualised and/or consumed object. The key to Lucas’ work is that it’s beautifully uncomplicated in concept and execution. Nothing is superfluous. Regardless of whether you like the work or not, it’s impossible to not get it. That simplicity is what makes each work powerfully memorable as an image.
SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble at Whitechapel Gallery is a fully considered three-room installation that weaves the entire oeuvre onto itself to create a full-on, brilliantly funny, and in-your-face kind of endeavour. Photos and collages are blown up and made into Warholian wallpaper onto which other works are hung. Sculptures are combined, or positioned in near-overlapping proximity, or supported by stuff that might or might not be new sculpture. The interesting restraint to this new amalgamation is that individual works retain their identity courtesy of the museum wall tag. One example of this layering effect in the first gallery is the back wall, which is covered with an enlarged and repeating pattern from Soup (1989). Originally a photo collage measuring at 152.5 x 122 cm. (60 x 48 in.), it’s an image of an unidentifiable creamed soup adorned with about three dozen penis glans. Size matters in this show, and so the image is scaled up so that the glans are around the size of a human head. Framed and hung right of center over Soup is the iconic Eating a Banana (1990). Just off to the right, the sculpture Mechanical Wanker (1999) rests on a slick-looking table made of breeze (cinder) block and MDF. And this is just the back wall of the first gallery.