Review: In Nicole Eisenman’s paintings, a must-see mirror to America’s political moment


Nicole Eisenman’s paintings have long held a dialogue with current events, but the election of President Trump seems to have given them new urgency and vigor. Her latest exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects is equal parts lament, lampoon and savage reckoning. It is a must-see mirror held up to our roiling political moment.

The exhibition takes its title from the painting “Dark Light,” which focuses on a white man clothed in the trappings of a Trump supporter: a red baseball cap and camouflage-print T-shirt. Standing stiffly in the bed of a pickup truck as three other men doze at his feet, he holds a flashlight from which emanates a stream of darkness. It echoes the equally dark cloud of truck exhaust that billows behind him and a surreal black hole in the sky that pours something oily down toward Earth.

The composition, all rigid right angles, is an image of resolute and unwavering ideological and environmental desolation. The way forward from here will certainly be dark.

This sense of impending doom is echoed in the show’s other large painting, “Heading Down River on the USS J-Bone of an Ass.” References are too numerous to untangle here. Suffice to say that it depicts a motley crew riding a giant donkey jawbone down a putrid green river, blithely unaware of an impending waterfall. Related pencil sketches show Eisenman trying out different formulations of this composition, including one in which Trump is being sworn in on the doomed jawbone.

Nicole Eisenman, “Heading Down River on the USS J-Bone of an Ass,” 2017.
(Adam Reich / Nicole Eisenman and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects)

Strikingly, there are also recurring portraits of a man pointing a gun at the viewer. A pose familiar from film and TV, it takes on an even more sinister cast in Eisenman’s abstracted forms, in which the round barrel of the gun takes the place of the man’s eye. It’s a portrait of someone clinging so closely to his gun that it becomes a part of him. To look at him is to find oneself in the crosshairs, a chilling reflection of today’s polarized debates around gun control.

Nicole Eisenman, “The Shooter,” 2018.
(Robert Wedemeyer / Nicole Eisenman and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects)

The most prominent depiction of the president himself is a large ink drawing, “The Tea Party,” which operates like a traditional political cartoon. An American Revolution-era soldier stands alongside Trump and Death, a skeleton. All three are holding Death’s scythe, but Death is the one who looks scared.

Nicole Eisenman, “The Tea Party,” 2012-2017.
(Robert Wedemeyer / Nicole Eisenman and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects)

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Through April 21; closed Sundays and Mondays. (310) 837-2117,

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