Nicole Eisenman, ‘Foos Ball Trilogy: (i) Part I Sinking Ships; (ii) Part II Rescue; (iii) Part III Game Preparations’, 1994, Phillips

Each: 58 x 47 7/8 in. (147.3 x 121.6 cm.)

From the Catalogue:
Painted shortly after her arrival in New York in 1987, Foos Ball Trilogy is an iconic example of Nicole Eisenman’s pioneering style. Exhibited the same year it was created in 1994 at Jack Tilton Gallery—in a show that was deemed “among the smartest, funniest, most inventive solo exhibitions of the season” (Holland Cotter, “Art in Review”, The New York Times, April 8, 1994, online)—the present lot connects art historically important movements like the Italian Renaissance to the expressive figurative paintings of the 1980s German Neo-Expressionists by which Eisenman was inspired. With its traditional triptych format and figurative imagery, the three works that comprise Foos Ball Triology bring to mind frescoes by masters like Giotto and Michaelangelo, infused with the energy of pop culture references found in the artist’s own community. As she explained when describing her works from this period in an interview conducted for her celebrated retrospective at the New Museum just last year, “I was connecting the classical work I saw in Italy, with its storytelling function and serial format, to the comics I was interested in—think of the cartoonish quality of Giotto’s frescoes, for instance” (The artist, quoted in Massimiliano Gioni and Helga Christoffersen, “Interview with Nicole Eisenman” in Nicole Eisenman: Al-ugh-ories, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2016, p. 13). This cartoonish quality is therefore both derived from and also recontexualized by Renaissance conventions, telling a story that is at once historical and contemporary.

The story depicts a seemingly faceless crowd of figures, beginning from left to right with a collapsing ship, moving into the rescue of its victims, and ending with preparations for the next “game”. While much of the imagery is left to interpretation, the central subject matter of the trilogy is the crowd itself, a phenomenon Eisenman has continually explored in her paintings. As the artist’s close contemporary Amy Sillman explained of the theme, “All of Eisenman’s structures imply the possibility of collapse… Whether in the city or the country, these crowds and their ravenous desires are being satisfied by events, food, or nature that oozes from gutters, clings like filth or flows like lava. Ids, egos and superegos swirl together in a miasmatic blur, either a Freudian’s field day or his worst nightmare” (Amy Sillman, “How to Look at Nicole Eisenman” in Nicole Eisenman: Selected Works 1994-2004, New York, 2006, pp. 9-10). Indeed, the figures depicted in Foos Ball Trilogy, painted in a simplified, yet vibrant palette of deep blues, fiery reds and neutral browns, are simultaneously pitted against each other in combat, embracing with intertwined limbs, and holding each other up across the three panels, together exploring the complexities of the masses. It is this precise idea of human interaction that remains at the center of Eisenman’s signature style today, making Foos Ball Triology one of the first and most important explorations of the artist’s refrain.
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: (i) signed, titled and dated "Nicole Eisenman "Foos Ball Trilogy" 1994 "Part I Sinking Ships"" on the stretcher (ii) signed and titled "Nicole Eisenman Foos Ball Trilogy Part II "Rescue"" on the stretcher (iii) signed and titled "Nicole Eisenman Foos Ball Trilogy Part III "Game Preperations"" on the stretcher

New York, Jack Tilton Gallery, Nicole Eisenman: Exhibition #41, April 1 - May 7, 1994

Mathieu Victor (ed.), Nicole Eisenman: Selected Works: 1994-2004, New York, 2006, pp. 94-95 (illustrated, dated 1995)

Jack Tilton Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner

About Nicole Eisenman

Working from the heart and driven by the body, Nicole Eisenman explores the human condition in her critically acclaimed, wide-ranging prints, paintings, drawings, and mixed-media works. As she explains: “I reflect a certain desire in my work, I want my work to be authentic and reflective of my body, what it’s interested in. The work is nothing if not feeling-based.” Influenced by Expressionism, Impressionism, and Pablo Picasso, Eisenman populates her works with emotionally resonant, cartoonish figures, formed out of exaggerated, painterly lines and intense colors. Full of pathos and dark humor, they are expressionistic portraits of herself and her friends, or imagined characters based on her critical observations of contemporary life and culture. Whether carousing at a beer garden or lounging dreamily, in groups or alone, Eisenman’s figures seem isolated and contemplative—products of our time, reflections of ourselves.

American, b. 1965, Verdun, France, based in New York, New York