Frederick Ted Castle
Nicola’s recent show was her ninth in New York in as many years. Nicola has been thinking about women and has compiled a rogue’s gallery of nine persons (mostly historical) whose lives were Iethal to themselves: Frida Kahlo, Marilyn Monroe, Cleopatra, Billie Holiday, Eva Hesse, Jeanne d’Arc, Ulrike Meinhof— along with Madame Bovary and Mona Lisa. An image of each is painted on a real bedsheet together with text, written by or about each one, and text from a mini-encyclopedia detailing each life briefly. This painted sheet corpus is attached to canvases and permanently fixed.
Nicola says rightly that we are born, copulate and die usually among bedsheets—and her formats do lend a clear reality to the lives of all these women who gave up the ghost. The serial presentation of these nine lives, five of them modern artists of different sorts, entirely reorients one’s thinking about women and about art.
These wall hangings do not seem funereal. They are celebratory: calling them ~Femmes Fatales,” the French artist is almost making a joke—though she is almost making an accusation, as well. The effect is not heavy, it is nearly delightful. To some extent all of these lives were either created by men or dominated by men. One of the quotations from Marilyn Monroe is particularly charming: “Nudity and sex are the most commonplace things in the world. Yet people often act as if they were things that only existed on Mars.” The quotation from Flaubert’s masterpiece chosen to characterize Emma is this: “She was so sad and so calm, at once so gentle and so reserved, that near her one came under the spell of an icy charm . . . But she was consumed by desires with rage with hate. The rigid folds of her dress covered a tormented heart of which her chaste lips never spoke. She was in love . . . “ Of course it is tempting to quote everybody but Nicola’s work is visual and physical, not verbal. One last quote, however, from Eva Hesse (the sculptor who died in 1970 of a brain tumor), written in 1970- ~Life and art are very connected and my whole life has been absurd. There isn’t one thing in my life that hasn’t been extreme.” Nicola portrays these nine women or ideas of women—when you are famous are you real?—not for their accomplishments, but for their ways of life.
“Nicola at Vrej Baghoomian” by Frederick Ted Castle
Art In America, July 1996