Nicole Eisenman - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

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  • "I paint the figure because I know the world through my body and I understand my desires and anxieties through my body, and the desires and anxieties of our culture."
    —Nicole Eisenman

    Executed in 2009, Nicole Eisenman’s Whatever Guy is a monumental collage painting depicting a colossal, bulbous-eyed figure from the artist's “Guy” portraits. One of the earliest iterations from this body of work, the series is characterized by the pasted cutouts of African masks floating across the surface and marks a contemporaneous shift in Eisenman's oeuvre from painting elaborate group scenes towards investigating portraiture. In 2014, the work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art’s first contemporary painting survey in 30 years, The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, where Eisenman’s “monolithic faux-primitive heads…were among the standouts” of the show.i


    The present work installed at The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, Museum of Modern Art, December 14, 2014 – April 5, 2015. Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Photo: © John Wronn, Artwork: © Nicole Eisenman

    A New Kind of Guy

    "I think the external world filters into my work, and all the themes are in there because I’m taking everything in: politics, history, my personal life, my feelings."
    —Nicole Eisenman
    Eisenman is best known for their distinctive style of bridging abstraction and figuration through humorous yet poignant narrative imagery that draws upon art history and contemporary issues of identity, sexuality, and politics. In the late 2000s, the artist became inspired by the depictions of alienation and despair captured by the German Expressionists and embodied this influence in a series of gender-neutral heads entitled “Guy” figures. First explored in 2009, Eisenman’s Guy paintings allude to the experience of isolation evoked in the artist’s well-known beer garden series that reimagine Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s bourgeois leisure scenes—yet, the singularization of these figures in portrait form seem to manifest a contemporary reinvigoration of Edvard Munch’s alienated figure in The Scream. At the same time, they ultimately reflect Eisenman’s thoughtful painterly deliberations. “For me,” Eisenman explained, “these portraits are about color, shape, balance, symmetry. It’s as close to pure formalism as I’m probably ever going to get.”ii


    Embedding Art History


    [left] Pablo Picasso, Bust of a Man, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Image source: Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Henri Matisse, Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, 1913. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Artwork: © 2021 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    "African masks, floating ominously in indeterminate space, swirl around the head in a subtle allusion to the relation between first- and third-world economies. The masks evoke the appropriation of African artifacts by Modernist painters and refer to Pablo Picasso...[and] recall the likeness of the young painter of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon."
    —Aspara diQuinzio


    On the collage elements, Eisenman explained, “They’re various ethnographic masks from all sorts of indigenous cultures cut out of books and glued onto the paintings so that they kind of float in front of the heads.”iii Laura Hoptman observes that by “using the formal languages of early twentieth-century abstraction and small, collaged images of the African objects that inspired such styles to depict witless, male faces, Eisenman wryly subverts the contemporary masculine archetype who is preoccupied with technology, money, and status.”iv Fusing the influences of art historical pantheons to communicate Eisenman's own unique mode of subversion, the present work embodies the appropriation of primitive masks by Henri Matisse, seen in Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, 1913, and Pablo Picasso, while also conjuring Tom Wesselmann and Philip Guston in the small appendage by the figure’s finger. In this loaded composition, Eisenman’s “masterful paint handling channels an incredible range of artists, from Goya to Picasso,” while the pasted masks encapsulate “embedded illusions to Primitivism, Cubism, and perhaps beyond art history.”v


    Cut from the Archives



    Collector’s Digest


    Concurrent Institutional Show:


    Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, Nicole Eisenman: Giant without a Body, February 5 – August 29, 2021


    • This year, Eisenman’s work has been receiving significant global consideration, from the largest solo exhibition on the artist in Europe to date at the Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, to Eisenman's nomination as one of the artists shortlisted for Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth public art commission.


    • In March 2021, the artist’s world record was achieved at $1,183,289. Among Eisenman's top 5 records, four were achieved since 2020 and one was set in 2017, when Phillips set the artist’s third highest price to date with Winter Solstice 2012 Dinner Party at $670,000—over six times the work’s low estimate.


    i Diane Solway, “Nicole Eisenman Has Both Style and Substance,” W Magazine, April 21, 2016, online.
    ii Nicole Eisenman, quoted in Fan Zhong, “Nicole Eisenman: Brushes with Greatness,” W Magazine, December 11, 2014.
    iii Nicole Eisenman, “Visiting Artists Lecture Series: Nicole Eisenman,” Pratt Institute, New York, January 25, 2016.
    iv Laura Hoptman, The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2014, p. 95.
    v Lily Simonson, “Nicole Eisenman and Wynne Greenwood,” Art 21 Magazine, May 26, 2011, online.

    • Provenance

      Leo Koenig Inc., New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2010

    • Exhibited

      New York, Leo Koenig Inc., Nicole Eisenman, October 30 – December 23, 2009
      Peekskill, Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Peekskill Project V, September 29, 2012 – July 28, 2013
      New York, The Museum of Modern Art, The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, December 14, 2014 – April 5, 2015, pp. 95, 167 (illustrated, p. 99)

    • Literature

      Lloyd Wise, “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World," Artforum, March 2015

Property from an Esteemed Private Collection


Whatever Guy

signed with the artist's initials and dated "NE09" lower right
oil and collage on board
82 x 65 in. (208.3 x 165.1 cm)
Executed in 2009.

Full Cataloguing

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $840,700

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021