Last summer, when our museum was closed due to the pandemic and the future was very uncertain, we started looking for new ways to keep more closely in touch with our diverse publics: students, life-long learners, members, donors. We introduced virtual programs and several new features to the website. I started writing a series of Weekend Readings for the Director’s Circle members, which I emailed them every week for the entire academic year. They include short musings on CFAM-related subjects (an exciting new acquisition or program; a personal note on one of our exhibitions; industry news that resonated in a special way; etc.). Now, as we welcome many of you back in the museum, we decided the share these writings through the blog, with the hope that they will add to the discovery of our amazing collection. As always, we encourage your feedback, questions and comments.
When you go to The Alfond Inn at Rollins next, I encourage you to linger and take in Nicole Eisenman’s painting Sun In My Eye On The Beach. It’s the first painting you will see on the left as you come into the Library, opposite the video monitor and the table where, in better times, a game of bridge would often be in progress. I purposefully use the verb “linger,” as time is what is needed to fully comprehend the beauty, depth, and storied presence of this self-portrait. From the minute I first saw it, at Art Basel Miami 2019 (on the happy occasion when, due to Barbara and Ted Alfond’s generosity, the painting joined our collection), I understood what the artist meant when she said, “the more time you spend with a piece, the richer it becomes.” That experience, sadly, is only very partially approximated by the reproduction included here, which does not do justice to the luscious paint surface, the vibrancy of the thickly applied color, the exuberance of the painterly gesture. So please go to the Alfond Inn!
In 2015, Eisenman was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant for “expanding the expressive potential of the figurative tradition in works that engage contemporary social issues and restore cultural significance to the representation of the human form.” And expand the very notion of figuration she coninues to do, not only in painting but also in scultpure (her installation Procession may have been the most talked-about entry of the 2019 Whitney Biennial). Our painting is a case in point: while solidly based in the figurative tradition of portraiture (after all, Eisenman was doing figurative painting well before it became fashionable again) it gently walks us through the history of abstraction – from cubism to Philip Guston – and adroitly transforms it into her own expression.
This ability to incorporate fully developed art history lessons in her paintings (I don’t know many contemporary artists whose works speak to the legacies of such diverse artists like Picasso and Caillebotte, Bonnard and Beckmann, Schwitters and Guston), yet transform them into her own (and unique) idiom, is what makes Eisenman a perfect fit for the museum’s collection. Her art visualizes the history of art in the present, deconstructs and reinvents it all at once. In an article in W Magazine, Diane Solway put it best when she wrote that Eisenman “resurrects [art history] and camouflages it into our present.”1 What could be better to engage generations of students in conversations about reinterpreting the canon, rewriting art history for the 21st century, and understanding the present moment by analyzing its historical legacy?
1 Diane Solway, Nicole Eisenman Has Both Style and Substance, W Magazine, April 21, 2016