Witness the Power of Nicole Eisenman’s Observational Eye

The artist marries art history and contemporary life in a major London show.

Nicole Eisenman, The Triumph of Poverty (2009). Photo courtesy of Leo Koenig Inc., New York.

Nicole Eisenman’s first major retrospective in the U.K., at London’s Whitechapel Gallery, contains over 100 works spanning some 30 years, although its impressive scope feels even wider, stretching across the history of art. Take a painting like Coping (2008), which is filled with individual vignettes in a manner reminiscent of Breughel, or Fishing (2000), where the symmetrical composition and arrangement of figures calls to mind a High Renaissance altarpiece. Elsewhere, Sloppy Bar Room Kiss (2011) has the same painterly, expressionistic approach to everyday modern life that was popularized by artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Brooklyn-based French-American painter and sculptor is adverse to giving interviews or offering any kind of oversimplifying explanations for these scenes, which can often be monumental in size and littered with references. What comes through clearly enough in the work, however, is her boldly biting yet always humorous critiques of contemporary socio-political issues including identity, war, economic downturn, and technology.

Throughout the show are scenes that celebrate lesbian life and love in downtown bars, parks, pools and domestic settings, but even a moment of intimacy shared in a work like Morning Studio (2016) contains a darker undercurrent. Eisenman uses a prominent computer screen to draw attention to the ways in which the prevalence of technology interferes with our everyday lives. She may often quote the past, but Eisenman’s keen observational eye always pulls these references back into the present.

Sculptural heads highly typical of Eisenman’s practice appear throughout the show, often appearing in large assortments of jumbled objects. Site-specific murals made by the artist between 1992 and 2003, but since destroyed, have also been revived for the first time thanks to a new animation film produced in collaboration with fellow artist Ryan McNamara.

Nicole Eisenman: What Happened” runs through January 14, 2024. Check out more works from the show below.

Installation view of “Nicole Eisenman: What Happened” at Whitechapel Gallery in London closing January 14, 2024. Photo: Damian Griffiths, courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery.

Nicole Eisenman, Beer Garden with Ulrike and Celeste (2009). Photo: Bryan Conley, courtesy Hall Art Foundation.

Installation view of “Nicole Eisenman: What Happened” at Whitechapel Gallery in London closing January 14, 2024. Photo: Damian Griffiths, courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery.

Nicole Eisenman, Sloppy Bar Room Kiss (2011). Photo: Robert Wedemeyer, courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles.

Installation view of “Nicole Eisenman: What Happened” at Whitechapel Gallery in London closing January 14, 2024. Photo: Damian Griffiths, courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery.

Nicole Eisenman, Econ Prof (2019). Photo courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Installation view of “Nicole Eisenman: What Happened” at Whitechapel Gallery in London closing January 14, 2024. Photo: Damian Griffiths, courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery.

Nicole Eisenmann, Morning Studio (2016). Photo courtesy the artist and Anton Kern Gallery, New York.

Installation view of “Nicole Eisenman: What Happened” at Whitechapel Gallery in London closing January 14, 2024. Photo: Damian Griffiths, courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery.

Nicole Eisenman, Fishing (2000). Photo: Bryan Conley, courtesy Carnegie Museum of Art.

Installation view of “Nicole Eisenman: What Happened” at Whitechapel Gallery in London closing January 14, 2024. Photo: Damian Griffiths, courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery.

Nicole Eisenman, Coping (2008). Photo courtesy Whitechapel Gallery.

Installation view of “Nicole Eisenman: What Happened” at Whitechapel Gallery in London closing January 14, 2024. Photo: Damian Griffiths, courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery.

 

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