Interlude - Nicole Eisenman at Secession

My abiding feeling on the US presidential election results is totally unoriginal: relief. As messy as the withdrawal will be, it’s likely Trump is on his way - for now. With London on lockdown and the galleries closed, I’ve been thinking today about the various anti-Trump art I’ve seen over the past four years. (I don’t recall seeing any pro-Trump art, outside of my favourite meme-based Twitter account.)

Early on in his first - only! - term, I saw the American artist Nicole Eisenman’s multi-media show at the Secession exhibition space in Vienna. As appropriate for a building steeped in political radicalism - and, at a stretch, in a city that sustained the last century’s very nastiest strain of fascism - this show was ferociously politically full-on.

nicole eisenman - dark light

Eisenman’s painting Dark Light came to mind first, three years after I saw it. I picked up on the protagonist’s red baseball cap after I clocked the huge black cloud, and black stream in the background. The artist was inspired by “rolling coal” - a particular kind of dirty protest where drivers trick out their diesel trucks to spew out thick black plumes of exhaust, in the faces of environmentalists, cyclists, and other kinds of people visitors to the Secession would more naturally identify with.

The pearl clutching horror I felt about this pastime, when I first heard of it, has sort of melded in my head with the figure of Trump, his supporters, our warming world. In 2017, looking at Dark Light gave me a sense of impending disaster. In late 2020, I’m wondering if the disaster has been averted. This week in particular has offered a glimpse of sun between the clouds.

One of Eisenman’s big influences is George Grosz, that clever caricaturist of Berlin in the 20s. He was also great on atmospheric pollution: so many of his busy, city figures loom at us through a grimy fog, the furniture almost palpably sooty. After the election, here’s hoping Eisenman’s society (my society?) isn’t going the same way his did.

Nicole Eisenman: Dark Light was at Secession (Vienna). 14 September - 05 November 2017