Review

Nicola L.: a one-of-a-kind artist

21.10.2017 |

Installation view Nicola L. Works 1968 to present

SculptureCenter New York presents the first exhibition devoted to the work of French artist and filmmaker Nicola L.1 , a retrospective soberly entitled Nicola L.: Works, 1968 to the Present.

Nicola L.: a one-of-a-kind artist - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Installation view Nicola L. Works 1968 to present

Almost unknown in France to this day, Nicola L. can be considered a pioneer who has indiscriminately used a variety of mediums since the 1960s: sculpture, painting and collage, as well as an occasional foray into performance and film. The start of her career saw Nicola L. dividing her time between the French capital and Ibiza, rubbing shoulders with New Realists and artists like Marta Minujín and Alberto Greco. She decided to move to New York in the late 70s, staying at the Chelsea Hotel, where she still currently lives.

The exhibition offers a complete overview of Nicola L.’s work, allowing visitors to become quickly immersed in her whimsical, colourful, but mostly unclassifiable world. Ruba Katrib, the curator of the exhibition, has chosen to show the works with no specific chronology, juxtaposing her more emblematic pieces with lesser-known ones, thus showcasing the artist’s taste for conceptual art and deep interest in political and feminist activism.

Nicola L.: a one-of-a-kind artist - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Installation view Nicola L. Works 1968 to present

Nicola L.: a one-of-a-kind artist - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Installation view Nicola L. Works 1968 to present

While the multidisciplinary nature of her practice leads to very diverse forms of works, a common theme stands out: the human body. Nicola L. likes to alternately dismantle and reconstitute it, sometimes endowing it with a new function: that of an object. And so one might see a giant foot used as a sofa (White Foot Sofa, 1968), lip and eye-shaped lamps (The Lips Lamp and The Eye Lamp, 1969), or chests of drawers and a table with feminine curves (La Femme commode, 1969-2014, and La Femme Coffee Table, 1969/2015). At the crossroads between visual art, sculpture and designer objects, these pieces – highly novel at the time – are defined by the artist as “functional art”. They enable her to work outside established artistic codes and to playfully evade gender stereotypes.

Two works2 , which belong to her most famous series, stand out noticeably in this search for another relationship to the body. The series, named Penetrables by the French art critic Pierre Restany, is a group of strange silhouettes made with waterproof material, into which viewers can enter by way of openings shaped to receive their head, arms, and legs. With these pieces, Nicola L. developed the idea of a work of art that can be physically experienced like a second skin and, by extension, the concept of “penetration in art.

Nicola L.: a one-of-a-kind artist - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Nicola L., Performance documentation compilation, 2017

This relationship to the body, which she never ceases to question in order to better understand it, takes another direction in the last part of the exhibition with a video edit of her performance piece Red Coat: Same Skin for Everyone.3 Following the same principle as the Penetrables series, Nicola L. invites participants to slip into a large collective red cape, made to accommodate a dozen people. The piece brings out the manner in which clothes alter the way we move, act, and live and, by essence, the way our outer shell influences our personality.

The SculptureCenter’s bold programme of exhibitions, predominantly dedicated to women artists these past few years, gives us the opportunity to rediscover the playful, politically-aware and multifaceted work of a one-of-a-kind artist who has remained out of the public eye for too long.

Nicola L.: Works, 1968 to the Present, from 18 September to 18 December 2017 at the SculptureCenter (New York, USA).

1
French artist Nicola L. was born in 1937 in Mazagan, Morocco. She was trained at the Académie Julian and School of Fine Arts in Paris. She chose the surname L. to avoid having to use her father’s or husband’s.

2
White Screen for Three, Homage to Alberto Greco (1975-2014) and Sun and Moon Giant Penetrables (2012).

3
The performance was created for the first time in 1969 at the Isle of Wight festival as an accompanying piece for musicians Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. The video shows us the performance as carried out in various countries over an almost twenty-year period.

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