Lot 40
  • 40

Sarah Lucas

50,000 - 70,000 GBP
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  • Sarah Lucas
  • Is Suicide Genetic?
  • helmet, cigarettes, burnt-chair, cigarette packets
  • 100 by 85 by 85cm.; 39 3/8 by 33 1/2 by 33 1/2 in.
  • Executed in 1996, this work is unique.


Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin

Private Collection, Germany (acquired from the above in 1997)

Sale: Phillips de Pury and Luxembourg, New York, Contemporary Art Part I, 12 November 2001, Lot 42

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Berlin, Contemporary Fine Arts, Is Suicide Genetic?, 1996

London, Hayward Gallery, Material Culture: The Object in British Art of the 1980s and 90s, 1997, n.p., illustrated  

Hamburg, Kunstverein, Fast Forward Bodycheck, 1998

Paris, Palais de Tokyo, Fresh Hell: Carte Blanche to Adam McEwen, 2010


Andrew Wilson, ‘Object Lesson’, Art Monthly, Vol. 206, May 1997, p. 3, illustrated

Uta Grosenick and Burkhard Riemschneider, Eds., Art at the Turn of the Millennium, Cologne 1999, p. 328, no. 4, illustrated in colour

Alan Windsor, British Sculptors of the Twentieth Century, Ashgate 2003, p. 131 (text)

Yilmaz Dziewior and Beatrix Ruf, Sarah Lucas: Exhibitions and Catalogue RaisonneĢ 1989-2005, London 2005, p. 92, installation view, and p. 135, illustrated


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate. Condition: This is work is in very good and original condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Dealing with the powerful Freudian concepts of Eros, the life drive, and Thanatos, the death drive, through her characteristically playful vernacular, Sarah Lucas’ Is Suicide Genetic? is an ironic, jocular and even poetic riposte to this archetypal psycholanalytical proposition. Formed of a burnt-out chintz armchair, thick in soot and with its springs singed and tumbling out from underneath, the present work serves as though a haunting relic of a domestic disaster. A pivotal aesthetic device for the artist, she exhibited burnt out cars amongst other charred objects to advance her interest in the broader social issues of violence and vandalism. The rich visual texture of the burnt upholstery in Is Suicide Genetic? is further complicated by the placement of a motorcycle helmet coated with Marlboro Light cigarettes on the chair’s singed seat. In Lucas' work, the cigarette is a conduit for broaching issues of class and offers the potential for release from a sedentary life. The helmet thus literally comes to embody a nihilistic resolve to escape the confines of class. Indeed, at the very heart of smoking’s appeal to Lucas is its affinity with the Freudian concept of the ‘death drive’ – at once self-destructive yet at the same time pleasurable. As the artist describes: “when I first started using cigarettes in art it was because I was wondering why people are self-destructive. But it’s often destructive things that make us feel most alive” (Sarah Lucas quoted in: Matthew Collings, Sarah Lucas, London 2005, p. 108).

Created for the artist’s breakthrough exhibition Is Suicide Genetic?, 1996, at Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin, work dates from a moment in which Lucas's work was fast attaining international recognition at a nascent moment in her career. Indeed, the year after she made the present work Lucas was invited to participate in the epoch-defining exhibition, Sensation, at the Royal Academy in 1997 alongside fellow yBa luminaries such as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Chris Ofili. Last year saw a critically acclaimed retrospective by the artist at the Whitechapel Gallery, London – testament to the artist's pre-eminent place in British and international contemporary art – while other pieces were featured in two of the most important international surveys of contemporary art: the 2013 Carnegie International and the central exhibition of the 2013 Venice Biennale, Massimiliano Gioni’s The Encyclopedic Palace. Lucas is now preparing for the 2015 Venice Biennale where she will represent the United Kingdom with a solo exhibition in the halls of the Giardini’s historic British pavilion.