Lot 1
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NICOLE EISENMAN | Close to the Edge

120,000 - 180,000 GBP
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  • Nicole Eisenman
  • Close to the Edge
  • signed, titled and dated 2015 on the reverse 
  • oil on canvas
  • 208.3 by 165.1 cm. 82 by 65 in.


Anton Kern Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2015


Mónica de la Torre, ‘Nicole Eisenman and David Humphrey’, BOMB Magazine, no. 132, July 2015, illustrated in colour (online)


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate although the overall tonality is brighter and more vibrant and the cream background is warmer in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultraviolet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

A figure and their feline companion lie on a single bed, peacefully lost in sleep.  A red curtain billows as the mid-afternoon breeze blows through an open window. A fold-out travel clock on the windowsill tells us the time – 3 in the afternoon – while the smell of smoke from a lit cigarette (or is it a bong?) lightly perfumes the air. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1972 album, So Close, spins on the turntable and provides the soundtrack, while the green gatefold sleeve of Yes’s 1974 prog-rock classic gives Nicole Eisenman’s 2015 painting its title: Close to the Edge. This work exudes an air of bittersweet nostalgia: the lone company of a beloved pet, the record player and favourite LPs, the pot and crumpled bedsheets – all elements that together conjure a bygone era of drowsy teenage boredom, of long afternoons wiled away listening to music alone in your bedroom. “Work comes out of life,” Eisenman has stated; “Where else would your work come out of, if not your experience?” (Nicole Eisenman in conversation with Grace Dunham in: ‘Deborah Solomon, ‘Art with a Side of “Ugh”’, The New York Times, 8 May 2016, p. 27). Born in 1965 and raised in suburban New York, Eisenman found her niche “somewhere between the art room and the parking lot, where the kids smoked pot” (Ibid.). She recalls being aware of her sexuality and how different her experience was to that of her heterosexual peers during those formative teenage years; an experience she remembers as being “oppressive” and isolating (Ibid.). In the present work, there is an overriding sense of wistful loneliness, a tender focussing-in on a singular human experience that draws on Eisenman’s impetus as a figurative painter. To quote poet and critic, John Yau, “Eisenman is interested in the individual, what he or she does when alone, with someone else, in a domestic situation, or at a social gathering. The situation may be private or public, real or imagined, or both. Reality and dream have slipped into each other” (John Yau, ‘A Truly Great Artist’, Hyperallergic, 5 June 2016, online). Daughter of a psychoanalyst, Eisenman’s work is emotionally charged with the contemporary cult of self and radical individualism that is perhaps the defining psycho-social character trait of twenty-first-century life. Whether portraying individuals alone or in a crowd, Eisenman paints human isolation and loneliness as well as moments of reprieve brought on by flashes of intimacy, however fleeting or tenuous. In Close to the Edge, the delicate relationship between the two sleeping bodies, the drowsy repose of overlapping limbs echoed across both forms, is beautifully tender. Eisenman’s masterful use of colour here serves to formally accentuate this harmonious rapport. Juxtaposed against pastels and high-key tones, accents of black luxuriously punctuate the composition to guide our eye as it moves from the figure’s crumpled t-shirt, to the cat’s velveteen black coat, to the glossy ellipse of spinning vinyl on the turntable.

Enthralled by and indebted to the great painters of art history, Eisenman is nonetheless acutely attuned to the historically ingrained gender binaries, prejudices, and unconscious biases at stake in the politics of representation. Inspired by the surreal-expressionism of James Ensor, the high-key emotion of Edvard Munch, and bright colour palette of Fauvism, she is driven by a Manet-like urge to chronicle modern life. Yet, as a gay woman, hers is a practice that speaks from a markedly different perspective. Butting against – or queering – the established male canon, Eisenman’s paintings at once pay homage to and challenge convention. As is typical of the Brooklyn based painter’s work, gender and racial signifiers are nimbly elided: the figure in Close to the Edge is neither identifiably male or female and skin-colour is non-specific. Indeed, by employing varying degrees of cartoonishness (somewhat reminiscent of Philip Guston), often within the schema of a single work, Eisenman dislodges or unsettles our understanding. Subjects are rendered abstruse, gender fluid, and racially ambiguous, all in service of a more open and inclusive approach to storytelling that is aligned with what painting can be for the Twenty-First Century. Indeed, wielding her consummate painterly ability and masterful assimilation of styles and influences, Eisenman tells a story, delivers narrative, and ignites the imagination in novel and exciting ways that have courted great critical acclaim in recent years, winning her the famous MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ in 2015 – the very year the present work was created.