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“Your syphilitic mouth sucks the slugs from the irradiated cocks of your cohorts / This gives a bad name to syphilis, if I mention it in relation to you.” So wrote Bernadette Mayer in her poem, To a Politician (2005). This text serves as an ancillary statement for and atmospheric introduction to Dark Light, a 2018 solo exhibition by Nicole Eisenman. On the night of the opening, Eisenman and Los Angeles-based artist, Math Bass, utilized an installation composed of meretricious home furnishings as a set to read Mayer’s poem to attendees. Although written 13 years ago, this searing critique of bombastic sadism is even more illuminating in this present stormy climate.
In drawings surrounding this garish set (now splattered with high-gloss black enamel), there are buttholes and piles of shit, and numerous depictions of Donald Trump with a slug-shaped hairpiece. Additionally, there are bountiful iterations of two images that make up the exhibition’s largest works—Heading Down River on the USS J-Bone of an Ass and the titular Dark Light (both from 2017, both oil on canvas, and both over 90 square feet). The former is a melancholic illustration of a jaundiced fifer, a snow-skinned sailor, and a stocky bigwig floating down a toxic waterfall in a jawbone boat. The latter more crudely limns a group of dark and drowsy dudes in a pickup truck led by a camo-clad ding dong, engulfed in a plume of exhaust and shining a black and blue flashlight into the future. In an adjacent framed drawing (Urge to Become a Thing Destroyed, 2017), the truck’s fumes spew out to create a swastika.
Throughout the exhibition, Eisenman searches for light in the midst of darkness, yet all that can be seen is a sluggish milieu. However, it’s not just Trump that Eisenman targets. She roasts corporate types and the MAGA maniacs with deserved fire and fury alike. Missing from her magnifying glass, though, are the folks she has previously painted in plenitude—those who could be considered “coastal elites.” Are liberal arts liberals not complicit in America’s current schism?
Nicole Eisenman: Dark Light runs March 17–April 21, 2018 at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects (6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232).