For a recent example of art that’s salable but lacks much of a message, take a look at NUD NOB, Sarah Lucas’s solo show at Gladstone Gallery’s 24th street location. Though Lucas, one of the more well-known and talented artists to emerge from the YBA scene in the 1990s, often makes work described as feminist, I’d be hard pressed to read any such message, feminist or otherwise, into the works currently on view. (Though the press release tries to, describing the show as about “works that both directly and through subtle innuendo, challenge our conception of gender, sexuality, and identity.”) What you’ll find in the show are larger-than-life cast-concrete and cast-bronze dicks and other dick-shaped sculptures—like one of a cucumber, or one of a penis emerging from the hilt of a sword. I overheard one passersby call it the “Penis Show.” That gets the tone right.
There aren’t too many objects in the show (just eight sculptures and two wallpaper works), mostly because the gigantic sculptures take up so much space. Sculptures fall into two categories: They’re either what Lucas calls “nuds,” child-size shiny bronze figures in near-yogic positions, or they’re gigantic bronze or concrete objects; both types have dicks on them or are dick-shaped to some degree. The largest of the latter type, “Florian,” is actually a shiny cucumber, but you wouldn’t know until you look up close. For the most part, the sculptures are just abstract enough to look right at home in any museum or private collection.
On the back wall of the gallery with the cucumber-dick—by the way, I am getting really tired of saying “dick” in this review—we get a wallpaper-print that would make for a pretty popular Imgur meme: an uncooked chicken clinging tightly to a pair of white undies. The wallpaper is aptly titled “Chicken Knickers,” a title that’s no deeper than a description of the work—it is what it is.
Now, yes, this is funny. But it’s just a one-liner, this placement of a grocery-store chicken where a dick could be. Here, irony does not tread so deep. (There’s a grim joke this wallpaper reminds me of, from a Sylvia Plath quote about seeing a penis for the first time: “The only thing I could think of was turkey neck and turkey gizzards and I felt very depressed.”)
For more instances of regular things that look like dicks, enter the back room. We still have a concrete dick atop car parts (this time called “Eros”) and a wallpaper backdrop of Lucas eating a banana. Again, Lucas gives her wallpaper a straightforward title; she calls it “Eating a Banana.” The closest this show comes to a message, I suppose, is that dick-shapes are to be found everywhere, in vegetables, swords, any object all over the world. Taken on its own, there’s nothing too feminist about that.
And with that vague message about the world we live in, we’re left to wonder if Lucas is celebrating the D (as a monumental weapon), if it’s to be reviled (as a cold, dead chicken), or just, well, eaten as a banana. We just know that most of these objects are shiny—they’re meant to be looked at—and that they’re for sale. Nothing more, nothing less than a pile of dicks.