Critics’ Picks

Judith Eisler, John, 2008, oil on canvas, 48 x 60”.

New York

Judith Eisler

Cohan and Leslie
138 Tenth Avenue
October 10 - November 15

Fifteen minutes of fame may seem fleeting to some, but for Judith Eisler, mere instants on the big screen are epic. For nearly a decade, Eisler has taken snapshots of art-house films from the 1960s and ’70s—most often stills of motion—and recaptured them in blurry large-scale paintings. The results are images thrice removed from the original scene of action; to the viewer’s eyes, the canvases seem to toggle between photorealism and abstraction.

Eisler’s process in this exhibition, titled “I don’t believe it. I won’t let it happen” (a line appropriated from Jean-Luc Godard’s 1982 film Passion), is analogous to the one deployed in her earlier works, but this time her filmic subjects are bad-boy icons. Johnny Thunders—lead singer of ’70s punk band the New York Dolls—is the focus of one series. In three nearly identical compositions, Thunders’s hazy likeness slips into obscurity. Installed on the opposite wall is one large tableau that, in murky monochrome, monumentalizes a still from Andy Warhol’s Sleep, 1968—a five-hour projection documenting the provocative poet/performance artist John Giorno in slumber. On a third wall, a diptych of Alain Delon in the 1968 film Girl on a Motorcycle suggests velocity as the actor rides his bike into bleary abstraction.

Eisler’s choice of subjects brings to mind Elizabeth Peyton, whose current New Museum retrospective is also rife with waifish musicians, sleeping artists, and outlaw heartthrobs. Yet Eisler tackles her idols obliquely, eschewing familial caricatures for Gerhard Richter–esque simulacra. Through her swishes of paint, famous figures devolve into shapes, and their familiarity becomes as elusive as flickering frames in a projection.