Nicole Eisenman - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Nicole Eisenman’s Battle of the Rival Divers confronts the viewer with an epic, aquatic battle scene of divers whose limbs jostle as they kick out at each other with flippered-feet and joust using spear-fishing prongs. Bubbles bursting out from their diving masks highlights the flurry of the action, which we can almost imagine come to life as the entangled assemblage of wetsuit-ed figures twist and turn amongst the currents. Juxtaposing the chaotic and claustrophobic combat are two boats that bob up above on the horizon line, on pointed waves that resemble mountain peaks. Perhaps they delivered the scuba-soldiers to their underwater battlefield, or perhaps from their viewpoint, they are entirely unaware of the fighting beneath.


     Born in Verdun, France in 1965, but now living and working in Brooklyn, New York, Eisenman’s figurative paintings frequently toy with themes of sexuality, comedy and caricature, and inequalities of power. Whilst her practice defies categorisation, Eisenman stages dialogues with artists from the past—often in satirical ways—to expand the expressive potential of the figurative tradition through compositions that address contemporary social issues and restores cultural significance to the representation of the human form.



    Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Fall of the Rebel Angels, 1562

    Collection of Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels

    Image: Art Media/Heritage Images/Scala, Florence

    This uncanny dreamscape draws links to a range of distinguished art historical pieces, including the innovative genre paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. In a similar vein to the celebrated Dutch Old Master, who incorporated moralistic complexities into his detailed depictions of everyday people engaged in different activities, Eisenman prompts consideration of social injustices under the approachable guise of her cartoonish imagery that also takes inspiration from contemporary media, advertising, and comic-strips. Battle of the Rival Divers also shares a comparable subject matter to Eisenman’s current top work at auction which also features an underwater scene.


     Challenging long-held but outdated expectations about who art is for and what it should do for her audience, Eisenman’s frank depictions confront the taboos that surround sex and gender and gives her works a distinct edge. The present lot, Battle of the Rival Divers, is an exquisite work on paper example that showcases these charged narratives and shares an uncanny resemblance to Tunnel of Love (1998) and Apple Orchard (1998) that are found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and the Denver Art Museum respectively.


    Eisenman’s work was included in the 2019 Venice Biennale, 2019 Whitney Biennial, and 2017 Skulptur Projekte Münster in Münster, Germany. Recent solo shows include at the Print Center in New York (2023); Kunstmuseum Den Haag in the Hauge (2022-2023); Kunsthalle Bielefeld in Germany (2021); and Anton Kern Gallery in New York (2021).

    • Provenance

      Hauser & Wirth Gallery, Hong Kong
      Private Collection, USA
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Amy Sillman, Nicole Eisenman Selected Works 1994-2004, New York, 2006, p.50 (illustrated)


Battle of the Rival Divers

signed and dated 'Nicole Eisenman 97' on the reverse
ink on gessoed paper
129.8 x 162.5 cm. (51 1/8 x 63 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1996.

Full Cataloguing

HK$700,000 - 900,000 

Sold for HK$698,500

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 31 March 2023