Over the course of their career, the painter Nicole Eisenman has proved a master at the construction of new worlds, mixing together figurative rigor with an animated and expressive counter-world, arriving on a body of work that alternatives between lush, cartoonish bodies and meticulous depictions of close friends and sitters. For their first show at Hauser & Wirth in New York, the artist takes this mode to new heights, culling together an expansive range of sculpture, painting and drawing that underscores Eisenman’s ability to both reflect and refract reality in alternate measure.
Untitled (Show) celebrates the interplay between painting and sculpture in Eisenman’s restless, expansive practice. It is their first major solo exhibition at Hauser & Wirth New York, spanning two floors of the gallery’s building on West 22nd St as well as their first show of new paintings in New York City since 2015. The show features a range of paintings on one floor, as well as a a large-scale sculpture, Crazy Cat (2022), a life-size depiction of the artist’s cat Edie, molded out of clay and cast in bronze and weighing nearly 400 pounds, tethered to a real crane covered in paper pulp. Creating a strange and otherworldly negotiation between the artist’s own personal life and an abstracted surreal experience of that life for the viewer, the work underscores themes that run throughout the rest of the artist’s work on view. Throughout, images move between hulking, lumpy bodies and meticulous depictions of reality, each time the human figure changing its dimensionality and detail to serve the nature of the image itself.
Eisenman’s work seems to revel in this approach to the body, and perhaps more broadly to the work at hand. At the heart of the exhibition is Maker’s Muck (2022), a representation of the creative process depicting plaster figure sits hunched over a potter’s wheel, on which a mound of ersatz clay interminably spins. The floor teems with sculptures. Some of the pieces are fully rendered and recognizable: owl, kouros, ketchup bottle. Others are either unfinished or beyond done, i.e. abstracted. The depiction of these varied forms seems to drive at an important point in the artist’s work, that the act of expression seems to shift from work to work, the material and subject evolving through the artist’s continued interaction, but never arriving at the same place twice. Fittingly enough, Eisenman’s most noted collaboration seems to be one they have with the viewer, who is tasked with finishing their stories in her head. ‘Tail End’ (2021), a painting made as a counterpart (or prequel) to 2018’s ‘The Darkward Trail,’ stars a trio of disparate figures on a desert quest.
Throughout, the viewer is presented with a body of work that explores and expresses Eisenman’s practice and interaction with their life as an evolving, fluid process, and one that is well-served by the scale and focus here.
The show closes July 22nd.
– D. Creahan
Nicole Eisenman at Hauser & Wirth [Exhibition Site]