Diego Rivera’s dream of creating an anthropological museum to show his collection of pre-Hispanic objects was only realised post-humously, three decades after the muralist designed its pyramid-like structure in the 1930s. The Anahuacalli Museum, constructed in black vocanic stone local to Mexico City, was built by the revered architect Juan O’Gorman. He also designed the connecting home and studios of Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo, (done in a more typical modernist style), in the San Angel district of the city. Now the Anahuacalli may not be the first setting that comes to mind when one thinks of a setting for the work of Sarah Lucas; but the site proves to a fascinating and logical pairing with recent work by the British artist, including sculptural work as well as cigarette portraits currently on show there.
Lucas was intrigued by the quirky setting for Rivera’s collection, as well as its thematic grouping of objects from every period of Mexico’s history: for example, female figures from various epochs and cultures—pre-Columbian, Aztec, Mayan—are grouped together by formal qualities rather than chronological taxonomy. Inspired by the Oaxacan craftsmen who helped build this revolutionary museum, Lucas made this body of work during a two-month stay in Oaxaca. It was here that she sourced all materials, including cotton from Juchitan; pantyhose and the adobe style bricks that form the pedestals for each Nud; and cigarettes that are seen in the sculptures as well as the portrait of Trotsky and an erotic drawing.
The Nuds series is a recent development in Lucas’ work, in which the artist took her trademark bunny sculptures—made of cotton and women’s nylons—and advanced them to more abstract forms with ambiguous connotations. Moving away from the gender specificity of the earlier work, the Nuds appear more abstract and hark back to earlier twentieth century sculptural masters including Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. In the setting of the Anahuacalli Museum they are breathtaking in their ability to morph from abstract to anthropomorphic as one moves around them. Breasts emerge from toilet bases and elongated forms oscillate between human limbs and handles of vessels. Placed in the centre of galleries packed tightly with anthropological works, the Nuds create a dialogue that brings the ancient works into the present while also situating Lucas’ pieces within the earliest traditions of depicting the human form in three dimensions.
This is the first show of Lucas’ work in Mexico City. The decision to show the Nuds outside of a white cube context and place them alongside the collection of one of Mexico’s most venerated masters was a bold one. The resulting exhibition is nothing less than breathtaking and proves that Lucas has earned her place among the masters, both of previous generations, as well as our own. Click through our gallery of images from the show above.