NUD CYCLADIC I by Sarah Lucas


This article first appeared as 'A visible means of support' in The Press on 26 September 2014.

'A bit of fluff' is a derogatory description for a young woman noted for her looks rather than her intellect. But what happens when that fluff isn't floating along on someone's arm, but is instead packed tightly into a pair of pantyhose, then arranged in a suggestive contortion on a makeshift gallery plinth? That's the situation confronting us in NUD CYCLADIC 1, a sculpture by renowned English artist Sarah Lucas, whose works combine humour and provocative imagery to challenge expectations about gender and sexuality. Lucas first came to prominence in the legendary 1987 Damien Hirst-organised exhibition Freeze, and was at the core of the so-called Young British Artist movement of the 1990s.

The physicality of NUD CYCLADIC 1 is inescapable, but it sidesteps comfortable taxonomies – exuding an uninhibited sexuality that sits somewhere between classical sensuality and in-your-face eroticism. Like many of Lucas's photographs and sculptures – which have previously co-opted mattresses, buckets, cucumbers and even fried eggs – it uses everyday materials in a cheeky, punning shorthand for the human form. As suggested by the numbered title, NUD CYCLADIC 1 is the first of a sculptural series created for an exhibition at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens in 2010. Cycladic culture flourished on the islands of the central Aegean during the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC) and surviving artefacts encompass a huge variety of pottery, marble figurines and vessels, bronze tools and weapons. The best-known objects from this period, however, are highly stylized, and strangely modern, marble representations of the naked female form. Lucas has clearly drawn on these influences, whilst continuing to subvert expectations about how the human (and particularly female) body is depicted. Reminiscent of the entwined limbs sculpted by Auguste Rodin, the twisted biomorphic forms of the NUDS series also invite comparisons with 20th-century British sculptors Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

So, just how did Christchurch Art Gallery come to acquire such a significant work by a highly regarded British sculptor? The story is one of multiple and compounded generosities. On 22 February 2011, Sarah Lucas was in Auckland, installing an exhibition that marked the end of her residency at Two Rooms Gallery. On hearing of the devastation wrought in Christchurch by that day's earthquake, she insisted that the proceeds of any works sold from the exhibition should go towards supporting the recovery of the arts in the city. Her gallerists in Auckland and London also agreed to donate their commissions to the same cause. Soon afterwards, collectors Andrew and Jenny Smith offered to purchase one of Lucas's works for Christchurch Art Gallery in a third gesture of solidarity. NUD CYCLADIC 1 is the work we chose (three others from the NUDS series have since been acquired for the collection of the Tate Gallery in London) and it will be on display when the Gallery reopens in December 2015.