A Celebration in Dallas: Nicole Eisenman at One Night Only
Quietly nestled in The Cedar’s neighborhood, just south of downtown Dallas, is a humble shotgun style historic home. Within the past few years this private residence has functioned as a flex space, an arts incubator of sorts, hosting private events with renowned outsider and folk artists and other community focused creatives. The house is operated and managed by a cohort of neighborhood designers and artists, one of which is conscientiously preserving the character of overlooked structures and houses in The Cedar’s, with this shotgun residence being a shining example of his efforts. - Arthur Peña, Dallas Contributor
Currently, my curatorial project One Night Only resides in this inviting, domestic space. The purpose of ONO is to be an inclusive endeavor during divisive times, a mission that carries urgency within the current political moment and one that is tailored to the cultural context of Dallas. On a recent Friday night, ONO would continue to bridge communities and foster networks with new work and a site specific installation from Nicole Eisenman, the artist’s first solo presentation in Texas in 20 years.
The event welcomed invited Dallas artists and musicians, international gallerists, neighbors, curators and collectors, along with anyone they brought to the celebration. This kind of intersection is a rare event in this city, not to say it doesn’t ever happen but I think within Dallas we’d like to think it happens much more than it actually does. In this instance the overlap is made easy by the fact that the hugely successful 10th annual Dallas Art Fair was in full swing and brought nearly 100 exhibitors to town and collaterally, into a part of the city they may not have otherwise seen and, along with everyone else, all were fishing for a cold beer in a trash can in the front yard.
Nicole couldn’t make it to the celebration; a current project in the studio kept her back in Brooklyn. Through multiple FaceTime visits she was able to reveal her hand throughout the home and the show, guiding the installation as a way to offer her energy in lieu of her presence. The first step in this process was the hacking apart of a pristine white pedestal by Sam, an energetic artist himself who just recently became Nicole’s studio manager/assistant and whose attention to detail was obviously in sync with hers. As Sam carved out chunks from each side, the static white block was transformed into a scuffed up, enduring table. Placed in the back room, the table was cleaned, prepared and set for its occupant.
I wasn’t there when Egg Eater was removed from its crate, I merely entered into its new home, greeted by its jarring shapes and raw materiality. Conceived of for this space, Nicole saw Egg Eater as the inhabitant of the house. There is an empathy with Egg Eater that rests in its visually slow read and the unfolding of its form. Cast in aluminum from a Styrofoam model, the sculpture gives us our cue with a mound of yellow paper pulp that has been mixed with resin and plopped on top of a piece of toast. The title does the rest of the work: a hat wearing head emerges, hunched over, preoccupied with its meal to even notice we’re there.
Egg Eater is hungry. So much so that the entire house and into the front yard is covered with yellow paper pulp, literally filling the cracks and ledges of the home. “Oh, let’s put some on the fence!” says Nicole. “I was thinking maybe on the tree as well,” Sam responds. “Yes, that’s great. I want people to see it while they’re walking up to the house. It welcomes them in.” And so it does, guiding us through the front room, that is now full of wooden blocks, each with a different colored frame.
These works, dubbed Wudcutz™, are actually the master blocks that were used for prints in collaboration with Brooklyn based 10 Grand press. The prints are in multiple private and public collections (such as MoMA) and have ingenious variations; yet here are the blocks, stained with the patina of aesthetic experiments and presenting themselves as autonomous objects. Like the house, they swell with details of a life lived, now settled into their temporary home, they are co-hosting the celebration.
Tiffany, Wooden relief, stained and in a custom artist frame
Wood blocks used for print collaborations with 10 Grand Press Image Dimensions: 23 15/16 x 20 x 3/8 inches. Framed Dimensions: 28 15/16 x 25 x 1 3/4 inches. Kevin Todora / Anton Kern Gallery
Foghorn, Wooden relief, stained and in a custom artist frame. Wood blocks used for print collaborations with 10 Grand Press Image Dimensions: 24 1/2 x 18 5/16 x 3/8 inches
Framed Dimensions: 29 1/2 x 23 5/16 x 1 3/4 inches. Kevin Todora / Anton Kern Gallery
Each is a friend of Nicole’s or loved one and surrounds us. Tiffany happily rides a horse through the mountains, Josh and Grace smirk warmly at arriving guests while flanking a block of Nicole kissing her beloved bird Foghorn, who passed last year. This gentle moment is shared with Latia and Thinker, both tucked into the opposite corner. During installation Sam was unsure of which way the two should be facing and after he sent a few hanging options, Nicole gave a rang. “The one crying (Latia) needs to be on the left so the one with the moon (Thinker) is looking at her. He’s listening. That’s what he’s there for.” The tenderness permeates the space, heightened by the intimacy that domesticity brings.
Latia, Wooden relief, stained and in a custom artist frame. Wood blocks used for print collaborations with 10 Grand Press Image Dimensions: 24 1/2 x 18 5/16 x 3/8 inches
Framed Dimensions: 29 1/2 x 23 5/16 x 1 3/4 inches. Kevin Todora / Anton Kern Gallery
Thinker, Wooden relief, stained and in a custom artist frame. Wood blocks used for print collaborations with 10 Grand Press Image Dimensions: 24 1/16 x 17 15/16 x 1/2 inches
Framed Dimensions: 29 1/16 x 22 15/16 x 1 3/4 inches. Kevin Todora / Anton Kern Gallery
I had met Nicole in person only once in 2011. She was invited to do studio visits during my time at RISD, her alma mater. The routine was standard: students put forth names of artists and with the backing of the faculty, an honorarium is offered, a hotel is booked and the visiting artists agree to an evening lecture with the next day full of graduate student studio visits. After the lecture, one of the students would typically offer up their residence to host a dinner. For Nicole’s dinner she suggested a restaurant that was directly under the graduate painting studios in downtown Providence. As we sat, all nineteen of us, she announced that we could order whatever food and drink we wanted, she would be taking care of the bill. During her final FaceTime walk through of the show at ONO she was curious about the amount of expected guests. “Be sure to get a lot of beer and tequila for them. Let’s make sure everyone has a good time!”
Egg Eater may be distracted by its meal but it is not alone. Its back is turned to the smallest room in the house; a bathroom whose door has now been screwed shut, a dim light peeking out of a weathered peephole. The discreet nature of the work subverts and heightens expectations of what is to be witnessed. It was this piece that Sam came to Dallas from New York to specifically install. The idea for the peephole and work as a whole was a way for Nicole to put an inhabitant in every room.
Beyond the door awaits one of the Wudcutz™ depicting a woman, legs spread, finders inside of herself and laying in what appears to be a very large puddle. She is faceless, lost in her own world, showing herself to us and with Nicole’s permission we are allowed to look. Carved out to appear worn, the hole is jarring and presents a rupture between the viewer as a voyeuristic participant onto the direct exhibitionism of the female figure. The initial read takes a moment to settle and once it does, she pushes you back only to pull you forward. How could she not?
Invited guests were beholden to the private on full display. Similar to going through someone’s bathroom drawers or wandering through a stranger’s house at a party looking at pictures of people you do not know. Like the secret celebration that is One Night Only, the piece embodies a sense of mystery and discovery, rewarding the participant for their enthusiastic curiosity.
In an exchange on social media Nicole expressed her wishes to have had been at the celebration. “You were there,” I responded. Having the opportunity to be alone in the house with her work, it’s obvious she is still here. And considering that the peephole in the door isn’t going anywhere, Nicole may actually never leave.
The celebration at One Night Only for Nicole Eisenman occurred on the night of Friday, April 13th and was open by appointment through April 25th. Many thanks to Brigitte Mulholland and the entire Anton Kern Gallery team for their support.
Arthur Peña is the current Visiting Assistant Professor in Painting at the University of North Texas. ONO will have continued programming throughout 2018.