Nicole Eisenman Heading Down River on the USS J-Bone of an Ass, 2017 Oil on canvas 127 1/4 x 105 x 1 3/4 inches (323.22 x 266.7 x 4.45 cm) Courtesy the Ovitz Family Collection, Los Angeles
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The FLAG Art Foundation presents Nicole Eisenman and Keith Boadwee, on view December 12, 2020-March 13, 2021 on its 9th and 10th floors. The recipient of The Contemporary Austin’s 2020 Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize, Eisenman created thematically-linked solo exhibitions for The Contemporary (Sturm und Drang, on view at the museum in Austin, Texas, February 27-November 15, 2020) and FLAG. Eisenman expanded the exhibition at FLAG to include artist Keith Boadwee; their shared use of humor and critical observation questions both real and imagined power structures, upends art history, and lampoons notions of “good taste.”
Nicole Eisenman employs a plurality of styles and visual references in her drawings, paintings, and sculptures to give shape to the many forms of the human condition. At FLAG, Eisenman’s cast of characters are emblematic of the patriarchy—frat guys, paunchy businessmen, and bald eagles—the foundations of which she gleefully undermines through absurdity, caricature, and gallows humor. A concurrent exhibition of upwards of 250 abject drawings by Keith Boadwee dovetails with Eisenman’s presentation. Installed en masse, Boadwee’s works depict a near infinite variety of scatological scenes that assert one’s agency over their body, its functions, messiness, and pleasures.
What unites Boadwee and Eisenman, in addition to a thirty-year-long friendship, is their mutual exploration of representations and sensations that challenge conservative, heteronormative notions of cleanliness, decency, and identity. Boadwee’s relation to such subject matter is career-spanning; in the mid-1990s, he began making paintings by performatively expelling paint from his anus onto canvas; rudimentary floral designs and/or tartan patterns were largely determined by gravity and splatter. As Eisenman wrote in her essayon Boadwee, “[…]The artist is painter/is painting, finally is a tube of paint! Boadwee is subject and object, maker and the made, a self-reflexive circle is complete.” The enema paintings operate beyond shock (and relish in it) and challenge the history of painting and the primacy of the heroic gestural mark. Successive bodies of Boadwee’s work explore similar thematic territory; in photography, the artist and his genitals regularly play dress-up as popular cartoon characters and/or art historical tropes. Though explicit, Boadwee’s imagery created from and/or inspired by his body is never overtly sexualized.
At FLAG, Boadwee’s scatological drawings, all created between 2016-20, are presented in grids, vitrines, and wall-sized vinyls and feature a multitude of characters engaged in absurd situations. Ranging from the everyday to the fantastical to the overtly political, Boadwee’s scenes overwhelmingly employ slapstick humor to diffuse, confront, and demystify this inescapable and universal bodily function. A litmus test of viewers’ personal limits, the cumulative effect of the presentation coupled with the serial exploration of defection cannot be easily dismissed. While Boadwee hammers the same nail repeatedly, Eisenman’s toolkit is a bit broader and examines larger systems that impact an individual’s identity and their perceived public and private boundaries. Her work elucidates awkward, impolite moments with a tenderness that allows her subjects to transcend a punchline.
Eisenman’s practice blends the influence of Western art history and traditional figuration with elements of music, activism, queer sexuality, and humor. Works on view, from 1993-2020, many never exhibited in New York, include recent paintings of lovers and friends, globby plaster sculptures of men at rest, and a selection of drawings that range in subject matter from schticky (Charlie the Tuna and See Saw Sex, both 1993) to apocalyptic (World War Me, 2001, and Suicide, 2004). Eisenman subverts stereotypical gender roles throughout the works at FLAG, from deflating the traditional, heroic bust in a pair of Sleeping Frat Guy sculptures, both 2013, to Cubist Female Innards 1 and 2, both 2019, paintings which place tangles of disembodied intestines and stomachs on pedestals, elevating them to the status of artwork. Eisenman’s full frontal portrait of Boadwee further flips gendered roles by way of the odalisque trope. Here, Eisenman’s depiction of her longtime friend is resplendent; in nothing but red socks, Boadwee is in complete command of his body, his sexuality, and its objectification.
“The design intervention on The FLAG Art Foundation logo,” says Eisenman, “is an acknowledgment of the reality that when an institution mounts an exhibition by queer artists, that institution takes on the responsibility of the stewardship of the artist’s queer ideals. To show an artist’s work is not a passive act, but one that can have meaningful and lasting change if the action is taken to allow for that change. The fallen “L” design represents the ongoing struggle that queer people live with—of making a world that is actively not made for them accessible, livable, and enjoyable. This design is as much about queering the name of the foundation as it is queering an article of hate speech. By turning the word “FLAG” into “FAG,” we are taking a word that people have used against us our whole lives to cut and we are using it now with pride.”