Celebrated New York artist Nicole Eisenman's paintings, drawings, prints collages, and sculptures are packed with emotional rawness and dark humour. They combine feminist and queer activism, overt sexuality, and punk culture, with appropriations and parodies of Western art history and popular culture.Read More
Through her works spanning over three decades, Eisenman addresses issues relating to gender, race, socio-economic inequality, and violence. Her images, however, should not be simply regarded as political activism; rather, she speaks from her own experiences and emotions only. In Eisenman's interview for the catalogue of Al-ugh-ories (2016, New Museum, New York) she explained she couldn't 'claim to have a voice for anyone other than myself'.
Nicole Eisenman was born in Verdun, France, but spent her childhood in the leafy affluent suburban setting of Scarsdale, New York. Taking an early interest in art at high school, Eisenman went on to study fine art at the Rhode Island School of Design. During her studies, she spent an influential year in Rome, where she became enamoured with Renaissance painting.
After graduating in 1987, Eisenman immediately moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where, rooted in the flourishing local art scene, she experimented with various mediums.
Nicole Eisenman's early drawings and paintings, which combined dark humour with strong views on popular culture and a knowledge of Western art, drew the attention of Ann Philbin. The former director of The Drawing Center in New York encouraged Eisenman to focus on expressing her own views and experiences.
Exploring female tropes across art history, comics, and pornography in ink drawings, gouache on paper, and paintings, Eisenman's first major art world debut came at the 1995 Whitney Biennial. She contributed an imposing mural, Self-Portrait with Exploded Whitney (1995), depicting herself painting on a solitary wall amidst the rubble of a collapsed Breuer building with men fleeing the scene.
Throughout her two-dimensional works, Eisenman typically presents expressionistically rendered figures in groups, pairs, or alone, that are painted in unnaturalistic tones of sickly white, yellow, blue, brown, or red.
The visually distinct palette and texture of each figure in Nicole Eisenmen's Biergarten at Night (2007)—one of her many mural-like 'Beer Garden' pictures, which underpinned her earlier work of the 2000s—shows the influence of the unnaturalistic fauvist palette. Meanwhile, the crowded yet disconnected subject matter echoes the paintings of French urban impressionists like Renoir.
Towards the late 2000s, Eisenman expanded her subject matter beyond crowded scenes to create smaller, humorous individual works like Going Down the River on the USS J-Bone of an Ass (2017), painted crisper but with a similarly unnaturalistic palette.
In recent years, Nicole Eisenman's sculptures, which began with a series of masks in 2017, have gained increasing attention. One of her more iconic pieces, first shown at the Whitney Biennial in 2019 and titled Proccession (2019), is a sculptural installation featuring subverted references to revered and nationalistic imagery of European art, like Emanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware, and Rodin's The Thinker—the latter now reduced to a prostrate figure billowing infrequent puffs of steam from the rear.
Starting with Sketch For A Fountain (2017) for Skulptur Projekte Münster, Nicole Eisenman has presented a series of public sculpture projects involving a parody of the familiar male iconography seen in public fountains. Around rectangular pools, Eisenman sardonically places a selection of lethargic and unkempt, grotty-looking male figures—roughly sculpted in a manner evoking the figures in her paintings. The water feature element of these works consists of multiple leaks springing unceremoniously from various limbs.
Eisenman has received growing recognition for her distinctive, defiantly figurative practice in recent years, receiving a Guggenheim Grant in 1996, the Carnegie Prize in 2013, and the esteemed MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2015. In 2018, she was nominated into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The following year she participated in the 58th Venice Biennale.
The artist's work features in several major public collections, including New York's Museum of Modern Art; The Whitney Museum of American Art; The American Academy of Arts and Letters; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; Denver Art Museum; the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles; and the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany.
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