Historically speaking, eggs have been a fertile subject for artists. Chardin, Cézanne, and O’Keeffe placed them in still lifes, and Greuze spilled them on the ground in a painting on view at the Met right now. They’re on the walls of Pompeii, and Kippenberger made a boatload of work on the subject, quipping at one point, “Justice hasn’t been done to the egg, justice hasn’t been done to the fried egg.” Though that was before the English artist Sarah Lucas posed in 1996 for a photograph with two sunny-side eggs across her breasts, creating one of the more iconic artist self-portraits of the few decades.
Last night at the New Museum in New York, Lucas, who has also included eggs in her sculptural work, revisited them on a grand scale in a staging of her generously participatory piece One Thousand Eggs: For Women. It involves precisely that: 1,000 eggs for women to throw against a wall to make a painting that will be on view in her retrospective when it opens at the museum on September 26. “It’s absolutely not about making a mess,” the 55-year-old artist has said of the work. “It’s about being really neat and making the most beautiful egg painting.”
When I hopped off the elevator on the third floor of the museum, about 45 minutes into the performance, the designated wall was already shimmering—bright yellow yolks dripping down its expanse, wonderfully spread across the full field. It looked a bit like a Pat Steir “Waterfall” or one of John Armleder’s exuberant efforts. Shells smashed violently apart as throwers, including artists Martine Syms, Nicole Eisenman, Diamond Stingily, and Megan Marrin, took turns launching projectiles. The remains piled up in mounds on the floor, like a partially finished Marcel Broodthaers sculpture.
“I was aiming as high as possible and I wanted to hit the beam to see what kind of ricochet I could get going,” the Detroit-based art dealer Bridget Finn said when I asked about her technique. New York dealer Bridget Donahue concurred, calling from behind, “Aim high!” The eggs were going quickly, and a few throwers warned that egg had gotten in their hair.
As its title suggests, the piece is intended only for women, but men were “encouraged to attend in drag or dressed as giant phalluses,” as a museum spokesperson put it, and a few in various states of crossdress, including designer Ricky Clifton, took turns tossing. (Unable to arrange a loan of Maurizio Cattelan’s rabbit-penis costume on such short notice, your trusted reporter also opted for that approach.)
The New Museum’s artistic director, Massimiliano Gioni, who co-curated Lucas’s retrospective with Margot Norton, was sporting berry-colored lipstick and watching from the side with his wife, Cecilia Alemani, as some of the last eggs were handed to throwers. Their son Giacomo was perched on his shoulders. “I thought it was going to last much longer,” Gioni said. “One thousand eggs—they went very fast!”
He looked up to his son and asked, “Gigi, do you want to say something to the press?” The question of the moment was: Did Gioni fils throw? “Yeah!” Giacomo said, pointing to a distant point on the wall. “One up there!” Was it fun? “Yes!”
Lucas stood front and center, right next to the box of eggs, grinning from ear to ear. “Every time you do it, it’s different,” she told me. “Different people, different circumstances.” She’s staged the egg-throwing piece twice before, in Berlin and Mexico, both times around Easter. “Easter kind of works,” she said.
Just then, a group of women let loose eggs at the same time, and they popped loudly against the wall. Lucas let out a huge laugh. “It’s kind of like fireworks, isn’t it?” she said.