Sarah Lucas

Penis Nailed to a Board


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Not on display
Sarah Lucas born 1962
Cardboard, wood, paint and newspaper
Displayed: 405 x 335 x 100 mm
Presented by Sadie Coles in celebration of the new Tate Modern and Sir Nicholas Serota's 70th birthday 2016


Penis Nailed to a Board 1991 is a two part collage work made of cardboard and newspaper. It is composed of a box which houses twelve cubes, one of which is larger than the rest; these are painted black on the sides and on the top face of each has been applied a photograph of a man taken from a newspaper story. On the top of the box, the artist has collaged a page from a tabloid newspaper which features an exposé about ‘sex games’ played by a group of fifteen professional British men; the news story is titled ‘Penis Nailed to a Board in Sex “Game”’, giving the work its title. The collaged sheet has been altered by the artist so that it features seven blank squares, suggesting that the cubes inside the box should be placed on top of these squares as part of an additional ‘game’ staged by the artist. The work is to be displayed on a plinth or in a vitrine. This work was first exhibited in Lucas’s first solo exhibition, also entitled Penis Nailed to a Board, which was held at City Racing gallery in South London in 1992 and is widely credited as being a turning point in the artist’s career.

Lucas works across sculpture, photography and installation and is perhaps best known for her sculptural works which include domestic materials such as furniture, food and clothing. The use of tabloid newspapers is a continuing theme throughout the artist’s career, as is her interest in the vernacular language typical of the British tabloid press in its often highly sensational and salacious depictions of sexuality. Penis Nailed to a Board is a very early example of Lucas’s use of newspaper cuttings and practice of naming her work after tabloid headlines. Lucas continued to work with tabloid newspapers throughout the 1990s, examples of which are also in Tate’s collection: Sod You Gits 1990 (Tate P78205), Seven Up 1991 (Tate P78206), Shine On 1991 (Tate P78208) and the larger scale We Score Every Night 1992 (Tate P78207).

Lucas made two other works using this title, again in 1991: Penis Nailed to a Board (Sex and Martyrdom) 1991 and Penis Nailed to a Board (Early Version) 1991 (both private collection). This version is the most developed work of the three, linking Lucas’s two-dimensional work with her sculptural practice.

Further reading
Yilmaz Dziewior and Beatrix Ruf, Sarah Lucas: Exhibitions and Catalogue Raisonné 1989–2005, London 2005.

Linsey Young
March 2016

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