The work of Nicole Eisenman spans the absurd and abject to the introspective and irreverent, drawing on sources as varied as the iconography of classical myths and popular culture in general. Her paintings and sculptures vacillate between the depiction of a world rooted in the visual language of art history and a forthright, comedic, and critical meditation on contemporary life.

Epic subjects worthy of history painting, such as icy arctic expeditions, go hand in hand with scenes of family dinners or casual gatherings of friends at a beer garden. Eisenman is a historian at will, freely taking from predecessors such as Baroque history painting, allegorical genre painting, Social Realism, and the figurative work of visionary artists like Philip Guston and Francis Picabia.

The 2013 Carnegie International brings together a group of Eisenman’s paintings, spanning her career from the early 1990s to 2011, on the balcony of the Hall of Sculpture. Like the relics of classical antiquity that surround them, seven of her recent sculptures—freestanding or occupying open plinths along the balustrade—evoke an archaeological playground of modern times. Both bodies of work demonstrate Eisenman’s uncanny capacity for capturing the joy, pain, embarrassment, and ecstasy of being human.

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