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Nicole Eisenman: What Happened

October 11, 2023 - January 14, 2024

Nicole Eisenman: What Happened

Mark Bibby Jackson reviews Nicole Eisenman: What Happened at the Whitechapel Gallery which runs through to January 2024.

The Whitechapel Gallery is presenting what it describes as the first UK survey of the American artist Nicole Eisenman across its galleries until the New Year.

The exhibition What Happened is shown in eight chronological (and thematic) chapters which allow the viewer to see how the artist’s style and approach has developed over more than 30 years.

Nicole Eisenman

Nicole Eisenman
Portrait of Nicole Eisenman. Photographer: Brigitte Lacombe Copyright holder

Born in France in 1965, Eisenman lives in Brooklyn. Since the 90s, she has been a leading player in the New York art scene tackling issues ranging from conceptions of gender and sexuality to the Trump regime.

What Happened

The exhibition involves more than 100 pieces of her work drawing on Renaissance masters to cartoon characters in her wide-ranging compass.

Nicole Eisenman: What Happened Review

The chronological approach makes for an interesting journey through the artist’s progression starting with an attack on patriarchy and conventional attitudes towards gender and sexuality, before moving post-2004 to a more social approach looking. Here, she looks at how people are doing their best to survive, in works such as Coping (2008), which refers to the climate crisis, and The Triumph of Poverty (2009). The characters she depicts have a dreamlike sleepwalking quality to them.

Nicole Eisenman: What Happened
The Triumph of Poverty 2009, From the Collection of Bobbi and Stephen Rosenthal, New York City. Image courtesy Leo Koenig Inc., New York

While her earlier work seems to focus on group paintings, the latter pieces look at the fractured nature of society. People are shown in solitude with objects such as laptop and phones taking selfies. Reality Show (2022) features a solitary person watching a reality show from a couch. All around a wall is being constructed. While the screens the subjects are watching are flat the paintings are very textured.

Despite the light-hearted humorous approach she adopts, her works are steeped in politics. America is depicted as heading for a waterfall with the election of Trump, in Heading Down River on the USS J-Bone of an Ass (2017), or sleepwalking to a dessert world in The Darkward Trail (2018). People have become zombies disconnected from each other in a dystopian reality.

Is this really what has happened, the artist asks us.

A separate free exhibition in Gallery 7 shows a major work of sculpture by the artist called Maker’s Mark and a reproduction of The Abolitionists in the Park which captures a real demonstration to de-fund the police held in New York after the killing of George Floyd (2020-1).

Nicole Eisenman: What Happened
Sloppy Bar Room Kiss, 2011, Collection of Cathy and Jonathan Miller. Image Courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles, Photo credit: Robert Wedemeyer

Where Is It?

The Whitechapel Gallery.

When Is It?

11 October 2023 to 14 January 2024 (11 am to 6pm, closed on Mondays, open late on Thursdays to 9pm).


Tickets cost from £9.50 and can be purchased here.

More Information on Nicole Eisenman: What Happened

To discover everything else, click here.

Main image: Nicole Eisenman Fishing, 2000, Collection Craig Robins, Miami. Image courtesy Carnegie Museum of Art. Photo: Bryan Conley.



October 11
January 14, 2024
Event Category:


Whitechapel Gallery
77 – 82 Whitechapel High Street
London,Select a State or Province:E1 7QXUnited Kingdom
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