Nina Johnson is proud to present Silence, an exhibition of historic works by the legendary artist Nicola L, opening on April 5th, 2019 with a public reception (5-7 pm) and remaining on view until May 11th, 2019. Silence is the first posthumous exhibition of the artist, who passed away in December. Elegiac and timely, it brings together three bodies of work ranging back to the 1970s. The Penetrable and Banner series, alongside the accompanying works on paper, are concerned with the human subject, the natural world, and the call to political action.
Nicola L’s politically charged pop art is both urgent and lighthearted, investing small moments of life with radical potential. Working in the intersection of art and design, her forms are playful, functional, unpretentious and generous. They exude a Mediterranean warmth, tempered with intellectual irony. Though she lived in New York intermittently since the 1960s—including a famous three-decade stay at the Chelsea Hotel—the works in Silence were conceived when Nicola lived between Ibiza and Paris.
The Penetrable series is meant to be embodied. Referencing the human form, these suits speak to roleplaying and social norms, to notions of performance and protest. Since beginning to work with vinyl and plastic in the 1960s, Nicola L moved beyond traditional materials in order to complicate the division between surface and form. These collapsible cotton sculptures from the early 1970s are carnivalesque and haunting. As suggested in their name, the Penetrables are open-ended, completed with the participation of the viewer. Furthermore, the suits are stenciled with simple, evocative terms: air, night, forest, sky. The addition of text brings with it unexpected poetry, a phantom thread stitching together these works, hanging on the walls of the gallery, with the world outside.
The interplay of language and form (human and otherwise) is explored in a series of works on paper from that period. Though their scale might be reduced, their power is undiminished. They have the force of a political tract, the levity of a haiku. In their reduction of language and human subjectivity, they echo the participatory call of the Banner series. First shown in Brussels in 1975, these are remnants of the global youth movements of ’68. The artist, who was at that time moving between Franco’s Spain and a Paris caught up in student unrest, created these banners to insist upon an emotional life. Same skin for everybody, they demand. We want to hear. We want to be loved. They reach beyond political ideology, insisting upon the right to live. A simple gesture, human to its core, that could not be more relevant than it is today.