Kotz, Liz, Artforum International
Nicole Eisenman's figures cavort across page and wall with raunchy perversity. In her stream of recent drawings, gouaches, quick cartoons, and large-scale murals, diverse genres and art-historical references collide with ferocious energy: comic books, history painting, Ash Can School, Pablo Picasso, linear perspective, Saturday-morning cartoons, the hybrid musings of Saul Steinberg. These deadpan samplings populate a Rabelaisian dystopia of the comic, the grotesque, and the orgiastically violent. Yet this fancifully excessive sensibility veers from gritty urban realism to bubblegum. The exuberance of Eisenman's execution makes her morbid hallucinations light-hearted and cartoony: part William Burroughs, part Betty Boop.
In Eisenman's Minotaur Hunt, a mural presented as an installation at New York's Trial Balloon Gallery earlier this year, bulky Amazons hunted down virile Cubist icons amid a throng of spectators who grappled and shoved with spears and swords, as if in a war scene by Uccello. All the tricks of academic illusionism were in play: chiaroscuro, foreshortening, compositional geometry, detail, the depth perspective of Renaissance history painting. The densely modeled figures intertwined and merged in the shadows; a horse reared up among them. Yet a collapsing of spatial depth, and superimpositions of imagery in a kind of cross-historical collage, gave the mural a postapocalyptic quality of sensual overload that jarred as it seduced. Animated by a wry humor and a perverse passion, the barrage of images and juxtapositions was less the product of art-historical critique than the appropriations of a fan.
However densely worked, however large in scale, Eisenman's murals are ephemeral: Minotaur Hunt, and a linked scene titled Penelope in the Pit, were temporary affairs, to be painted over for the gallery's next show. But Eisenman has also made a series of expansively detailed ink drawings that replay her handling of the figure on a more contained scale. In Captured Pirates on the Island of Lesbos, 1992, a gleeful horde of brawny women enact a ritual of mass castration. …