Not every art exhibit needs the weight of a “Guernica” to be called art. But the vulgar visual puns by sculptor Sarah Lucas at Tate Britain abuse the privilege.

Lucas calls her four-decade retro “Happy Gas.” Dirty joke is more like it; although Adrian Searle, art critic for The Guardian, put a more affectionate spin on it, calling the show “gloriously filthy.”

“Happy Gas” is in book form edited by Dominique Heyse-Moore.

I rush to say I haven’t seen this particular display, although I’m familiar with Lucas work when it showed at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery and The New Museum in New York.

Some of those exhibits are in at Tate Britian.

Lucas’ “Bunny” series at Tate calls to mind “Bunny Gets Snookered” in the Gladstone describing a woman’s bottom half slouching in a chair.

The “Bunny series” (a reference to the Playboy Bunny) typifies the work that Lucas had been doing for the last 40 years: constructing bottom halves of female bodies with legs made of pantyhose filled with wool. The legs have the look of pipe cleaners.

I wasn’t going to comment on this retro until I saw a video of Lucas’ talking about what she does at the Venice Biennale in 2015.

My take on Lucas’ work is not in sync with the raves she’s been getting for the Tate show. Ben Luke of the Evening Standard praises it as “intoxicating.”

He also says that Lucas “never resorts to the obvious.” Really, Ben?

You think the slouched figure looking “snookered” is subtle?

Headless and bodiless

My beef with Lucas’ work is not the lack of subtlety. Or even the raunchiness. It’s her taking women’s bodies apart. Leaving only the lower half comes off as Neanderthal.

I get that headless figures put the focus on their action. But without a head, there’s no volition, so what you get are puppets, not people.

Katy Hessel, reviewing the Tate Britain show for The Guardian, had a different take, saying: “I was struck by how far we’ve come in the artistic presentation of the body – a far cry from the sexualized females in old master paintings.”

How can depictions of women without heads without minds – be called progress?

And speaking of puppets, you can see in the video that Lucas’ later figures art, though made differently than those that suggest pipe cleaners, are still disembodied.

Her new batch resembles store mannequins before clothes are hung on them.

Feeling out of sorts

As if to give these half bodies meaning, Lucas displays them with found objects like a toilet bowl. What meaning can this have beyond the obvious – someone throwing up?

If this toilet scene isn’t off-putting enough for you, in the video, you can see some curious add-ons to the half bodies - cigarettes sticking out of front and rear-end orifices. Stand-ins for phalluses, perhaps. I hear the male organ shows up a lot at Tate.

Like Lucas’ earlier figure art shown in New York, chairs seem to play a large at Tate. Ben Luke says the chair give the work “everyday significance.” I’ve never thought there was anything “everyday” about her stuff.

He also says that Lucas is an “unflinching social commentator.” Agreed, although some flinching is called for when I think of her sculpture “Old Couple” created in 1992.

In this work, Lucas used two chairs, one with a set of false teeth and the other with a dildo. A sight gag, a cartoon in 3-D. Schoolyard humor.

Apparently, Ben Luke loved this, saying, “Few artists do disdain better than her.” If “disdain” is the high bar, Sarah Lucas work is a triumph.