Dark Light is a Masterpiece of Political Relevance

Nicole Eisenman “Dark Light,” Installation view, Susanne Vielmetter, Photo credit: Robert Wedemeyer

Dark Light is a Masterpiece of Political Relevance. Nicole Eisenman at Susanne Vielmetter

Susanne Vielmetter Gallery

Through April 21


By Sydney Walters

In Dark Light, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects presents a politically dynamic show by artist Nicole Eisenman. In the center of the main gallery, a modern white couch is splattered with black paint. Paint buckets are strewn around a roughly constructed wooden pillar that is erected to the height of the gallery’s rafters. During the show’s opening, Eisenman partnered with artist Math Bass to present a visceral production of Bernadette Mayer’s poem To a Politician. For the performance, Eisenman reclined on the couch wearing a full body rain suit while black paint was slowly poured on the couch. Mayer’s unbridled poem is a severe critique of the president in response to the 2017 health-care vote. The poem begins: Your penis is homeless/You are covered with as many warts as the lies you’ve told/You pat maggots on their backs/Your syphilitic mouth sucks the slugs from the irradiated cocks of your cohorts. She continues to describe a politician as a monster infested with every foul creature imaginable.

Eisenman saturates Dark Light with dramatic caricatures and poignant symbols as an inescapable reckoning of a post-2016 election. In the painting Heading Down River on the USS J-Bone of an Ass, three men sit inside a giant jawbone rigged into a crude raft. A pale sailor grimaces with rotten teeth as he holds a rope stabilizing a tattered sail. Behind him a well-dressed man leans out of the shadows and eyes the acrid green river. Instead of a helm, a man sits at the front playing the flute as the entire company charges toward a waterfall.

In the painting Dark Light, the namesake of the entire exhibit, a man wearing a red hat alluding to the infamous “Make American Great Again” cap is dressed in a camouflaged hunting shirt and shining a flashlight above his three sleeping companions. A plume of black exhaust smoke billows toward the center of the painting. In the background, a dismal sun bleeds out a jet-black fountain in a shape that is repeated in some of Eisenman’s sketches. She catalogs the evolution of a dripping sun into an anus and notes the varying stages of the shape she records them as “my little black sun,” “teardrop,” “tree of life,” and “anal cavity.”

In Onanist Own’n It, a balding white man masturbates while facing a mirror and kissing his bicep. The shape of the penis is mirrored by the shape of a barrel of a gun in several of Eisenman’s other paintings and sketches. Since topics about gun violence and the NRA are among the most relevant political discussions today, it makes Eisenman’s renderings more impactful and jarring as she makes the viewer the target.

Eisenman fleshes out the failure of infrastructure and presents a world fraught with pollution and oil and violence. In an accompanying article published in 1999 called Politics of the Very Worst, Paul Virilio writes: “When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane, you invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution…Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress.” Eisenman fully recognizes the brunt of civic backlash. Dark Light is an exhibition of insights that dissect the reality of unhampered policies.

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