"Nicole Eisenman: Al-ugh-ories”
Nicole Eisenman’s New Museum survey takes me back to the 1995 Whitney Biennial
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An image of Frida Kahlo taking a deep drag serves as inspirational lodestone for this group show of six woman artists who feature cigarettes in their work. If it sounds high-concept, that’s because it is, but the result is a tight meditation on the historical relationship between women and smoking. Once taboo for women, cigarettes became a symbol of female empowerment after World War I. Notwithstanding its lethality, smoking equaled liberation, while marketers spotted an opportunity to target previously untapped consumers. The pieces here run the gamut in terms of responses, from noting the subject’s sex appeal to highlighting its associations with dependency and death. Amanda Nedham creates whimsical animals out of cigarette butts, while Ilse Getz’s Arman-style accumulations and Irini Miga’s lone cig stuck to the wall take a more critical view. The same goes for Celeste Dupuy-Spencer’s Philip Guston–esque canvas, which speaks to desperation and stale odors hanging in the air. Anne Doran’s ’80s-vintage photo-sculpture unpacks smoking’s allure, while Genesis Belanger’s wall reliefs and paintings turn the cigarette into a formalist motif. Today, smoking has been stigmatized once again and not just for women. But as “Frida Smoked” attests, the cigarette’s cultural resonance has yet to burn out.
"Nicole Eisenman: Al-ugh-ories”
Nicole Eisenman’s New Museum survey takes me back to the 1995 Whitney Biennial, which included her wall mural, Self-Portrait With Exploded Whitney. Now buried behind a wall at the Whitney’s old Breuer building, the work depicted the artist after an unknown cataclysm, painting among the museum’s ruins as firefighters pulled survivors from the rubble. Viewed through the prism of 9/11, the scene would seem chilling today, but at the time, Exploded Whitney was taken for an ironic spin on the tear-down-the-system statements common to young artists. In hindsight, Eisenman’s apocalyptic jape could also be construed as a prophecy of a larger collapse, one we may now be experiencing. In that sense, this show couldn’t be more timely. Eisenman channel surfs through art history, melding Expressionism, Surrealism, pop culture and feminism as she dunks her brush into the stylistic wells of Francis Bacon, Otto Dix, Philip Guston and many others. Much of her work displays an affinity for the gallows humor of Weimar art, and considering the hypocritical dream state of contemporary American life—in which the reality-based community has given way to a psychotic break with constitutional norms—you could say that Eisenman’s work represents a sort of Neue Sachlichkeit for the Trump era. Her views become abundantly clear in Tea Party (2011), which imagines our republic as a motley crew of survivalists in a well-stocked bunker. Joining them in limbo is Uncle Sam, who not only wears striped pants p
“Still Lives: Jimmy DeSana and Hanna Liden”
Like similar pairings, this two-person show of photographers from different eras aims to draw parallels between their works, using still life as a theme. But what makes the juxtaposition hum is the way each group of images mirrors the other. Put simply, Jimmy DeSana transforms people into objects while Hanna Liden anthropomorphizes found bits of detritus. DeSana, who died of AIDS in 1990, was a habitué of New York’s downtown scene in the 1970s and ’80s and a familiar of the area’s S&M and punk clubs, where he shot portraits. Most of the images here were taken in suburban Connecticut, and in them, garishly lit models contort, do headstands and perform other gymnastics, all while being abstracted into anonymous, disarticulated elements. Liden, a Swede who came to New York in the early 2000s, balances bottles, cups, flowers and bags (both plastic and paper) in configurations that evoke figures. Items such as sneakers and grocery bags festooned with smiley faces are sometimes added to further associations with the human form. Light on its feet, the show is more diverting than profound. But it does provide the satisfaction that comes when parts add up to a whole.
Upcoming art exhibitions
Andra Ursuta, “Alps”
This Romanian artist’s sculptures and installations frequently (and sometimes controversially) touch upon the intersection of eros and thanatos. But more to the point they deal with the relative value—or lack thereof—of human life as viewed by the powers that be. She caused a stir, for example, with a life cast of herself naked, except for sneakers. Sprawled on the floor like a dead body at a crime scene, the piece depicted the artist crushed beneath some unseen weight, while also being covered by white waxy blobs whose evocation of bukkake porn was unmistakable. More recently, she created a group of white obelisks anthropomorphized with facial features—eye sockets, nasal bones, teeth—taken from human skulls. This show for the New Mu’s fourth floor combines new and old examples of Ursuta’s sly brand of feminist Grand Guignol.
Nicole Eisenman, “Al-ugh-ories”
This two-decade retrospective makes a good case for why Eisenman won a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award” in 2015. One of the premier painters of her generation, Eisenman’s figurative canvases are unique blend of autobiography, fiction, queer aesthetics, feminism, pop culture and references to artists ranging from Giotto to Picasso. Her style collapses realism, Surrealism and Expressionism into bold, imaginative and ambitious meditations on that timeless tale—the human comedy of errors.
“László Moholy-Nagy: The Future Present”
This is the first retrospective in 50 years of this giant of 20th-century modernism. Born in Hungary, Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) became an instructor at the legendary Bauhaus, before his teaching eventually brought him to Chicago. A pioneering painter, photographer, sculptor, filmmaker and designer, Moholy-Nagy was a key innovator in the fields of kinetic sculpture and cameraless photography, and the use of ephemeral materials like light and plastics. He held to the utopian belief that art could change the world by marrying it to technology.
“Bruce Conner: It’s All True”
Conner (1933–2008) is among the most important postwar artists you’ve probably never heard of. A pioneer of the West Coast scene and an early practitioner of found-object assemblage, he delved into rise of consumerist culture and fears of nuclear armageddon during the height of the Cold War. His work encompasses painting painting, sculpture, photography, performance and film. With respect to the last, his 1958 classic, A Movie, employed rapid-edit montages of appropriated TV commercials and movie footage put to an musical soundtrack; the darkly ironic result was startlingly ahead of it time. This show—the artist’s first monographic museum exhibition in New York, the first large survey of his work in 16 years and the first complete retrospective of his 50-year career—brings together over 250 examples of his groundbreaking work.
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