Sarah Lucas: Happy Gas | Tate Britain

The most shocking thing about Sarah Lucas’ Tate Britain retrospective is the news, contained in the show notes, that she’s 60 years old. There’s something of the eternal bolshy teenager in this artist - in her eyeroll-inducing earnestness and sledgehammer literal-mindedness on one hand, but, on the other, in her vim and vigour, her sincerity and charm.

My favourite of the show’s four rooms was the parade of Bunnies, which Lucas has been making since the 1990s. “It turns out, surprisingly you may think, that a saggy tit is very expressive,” the artist says. Mainly using tights filled with stuffing, these soft sculptures wind and flop over and around chairs, clad in skyscraping high heels.

Sarah Lucas ‘Honey Pie’ (2020) Honey Pie (2020)

Lucas owes an obvious debt to pioneering feminist artists like Louise Bourgeois, as well as her fellow Brit Art enfants terribles turned grandes dames Tracey Emin and Gillian Wearing. But there’s something unique about her off-kilter view of sexuality and the body. Her art is fearless, just like a teenager is fearless.

The same can’t be said for the Tate curators, who put these fragile soft sculptures behind a rope with at least six feet of leeway between them and the exhibition-going crowds. It’s a shame - all the more so given that the Bunnies, as objects, are so charming and interesting. We all smiled in this room, like we’d just been huffing some happy gas. We want to get closer, but can’t.

That safety-first attitude couldn’t be further away from what Lucas is driving at with her art, of course.

Sarah Lucas: Happy Gas is at Tate Britain (London). 28 September 2023 - 24 January 2024