“It doesn’t matter if we hate what we are looking at so long as we can really see it. Nobody ever said you have to like art- certainly not all of it- that would be insane. But you do have to see it- not talk about it or watch it on TV. Nothing replaces the act of seeing”
I had only recently read the above quote in the catalogue to Tracey Emin’s exhibition She Lay Down Deep Below The Sea while visiting the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate, so when one of the first things that I was confronted with in Sarah Lucas’ exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds was an art work, a famous one, containing a stained old mattress not unlike the one which Emin uses in her sculpture The Disappearing Lake, it came straight back to haunt me. That’s because Sarah Lucas is an artist who I really don’t see. Visiting this exhibition was my first serious attempt to have a good look and I still didn’t see. Much of what I was looking at seemed to me to be ugly, vulgar and one dimensional. I’m not saying it is that way, only pointing out that I couldn’t see it. I wasn’t offended and I am certainly not accusing it of being bad art, that is not my job as a simple gallery punter, I just had no idea what was going on. Yes I could see sexual imagery. I can see that melons can be breasts and cucumbers can be penises, and the writhing stuffed tights could be parts of bodies but it all seemed just a bit empty, no life, no soul, no subtlety. There was a very large pale pink block in the shape of a tin of spam, with the obvious title next to it on the wall, and I stood there looking at it wondering why. It’s a distinctive shape, yes……. but why? Art doesn’t have to be beautiful, although it’s nice when it is, but it does have to be interesting. This seemed to me to be neither.
I did try, and I did get my reward. There is a really great piece, a triumphant pair of platform boots on a plinth, which as a former seventies teenager I liked a lot. That seemed to say something to me about the power of being a woman, the glory of dressing up, and the fun of the past. They have life and movement as though the legs of the wearer are still in them. I could have done with a few more pieces like that. I’d have chosen it for the poster too.
I’m sorry Sarah, not that you will be worried. I did try.