Lot 65: Nicole Eisenman
Jew Drag King
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When Brooklyn-based artist Nicole Eisenman's bold, idiosyncratic work first hit the walls of New York galleries in the early nineties, no one knew how to respond. Was it a feminist revision of art history? A disruptive "queering" of trite scenes culled from popular cartoons and commercial culture? A satirical psychoanalytical take on the monstrousness of public and private human experience? The answer, it turns out, was all of the above and then some. With its unique blend of lucid and imaginative elements, and gloriously awkward merging of the banal with the absurd, her 1992 Bacon-esque portrait Jew Drag King eludes simple categorization. The work is an inversion of mainstream conventions synthesized with counterculture lifestyles, creating a figurative language distinct to Eisenman.
It would seem that Eisenman would not have it any other way. Her potent and decidedly maximalist oeuvre, which includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, collages, installations, and videos, runs the gamut in terms of both subject matter and medium. "I’ve never been able to hone in on one way of doing things," she admits. "For years, it caused me a lot of anxiety, but I’m finally okay with it."
Eisenman's singular voice is bolstered by the rich medley of references to which she alludes in her work. She freely summons a motley mix of art historical allusions, referencing masterpieces created by the likes of Picasso, Munch, Giotto, Goya, Cézanne, and Holbein. Yet, as Massimiliano Gioni, the artistic director of New York's New Museum, stresses, "in her revision, criticism and expansion of the canon of art history, Nicole not only refuses certain positions but also rediscovers and opens up her work to other traditions that have been marginalized or put aside—and whether it is the work of men or women is even less important."
Eisenman is not afraid of convoluting her visual narratives by throwing a proverbial wrench into the sources she references. Additional citations from diverse sources such as Shakespearian dramas, idioms of Social Realism and Neo- Expressionism, and an uneasy mélange of comics, politics, and pornography, create new dimensions within her work. Her 1993 India ink on paper, Bambi Gregor, is an apt example with its irreverent mix of references to Kafka’s unsettling novella Metamorphosis, and Disney's cloyingly saccharine Bambi cartoon, which quite literally transforms the latter into a vaguely sinister, yet no less charming version of itself. (One morning, when Bambi woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed into a horrible vermin, indeed.) Gioni further notes, "she doesn’t passively genuflect" in front of the sources from which she draws, "she resurrects it and camouflages it into our present." Pulling as much from art history as from popular culture, her arresting tableaux allude to a kind of warped sublimity where everyday acts like sleeping, eating, walking, or making love become at once comical, dark, absurd, grotesque, and above all, unsettling.
Lewis, Jacqueline. "Painter Nicole Eisenman Hides Nothing." Cultured, Jan. 2017.
Solway, Diane. "Nicole Eisenman Has Both Style and Substance." W, 21. Apr. 2016.