Nicola L., a neglected pioneer of the Pop Art movement, has died at 81

French conceptual artist Nicolas L., whose feminist work has gained new recognition in recent years, died Monday in Los Angeles at the age of 81. His metamorphosed art, which encompasses sculpture, painting, performance and furniture, has often explored the human (and especially the female body).

L. “passed … peacefully in her sleep”, Loreta Lamargese, director of New York’s Contemporary Arsenal told artnet News in an email. The gallery’s current exhibition, “DEAR(Until January 13), pairs L.’s work with that of three young Canadian artists, Nadia Belerique, Ambera Wellmann and Chloe Wise. (The news of the artist’s death was first announced by the artist Joseph nechvatal, who posted a tribute to Nicola L. on her website, recalling her experience watching one of them performances.)

“Nicola was a free spirit and was shaped by the 1960s counterculture she came from,” Ruba Katrib, who hosted the artist’s 2017 retrospective at the SculptureCenter in Long Island City, told artnet News. “She pushed social and political boundaries in her work at a time when it was very daring for a woman to take ownership of her own body.”

Born in 1937 in Mazagan, Morocco, L. studied painting at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. But in 1964, the Argentinian artist Alberto Greco asked him a question that would change his life: “How can we paint in the 1960s?” she told in a recent interview. In response, she said: “I have burned all of my abstract paintings.”

Installation view, “Nicola L .: Works, 1968 to the Present” at SculptureCenter, New York. Photo by Kyle Knodell.

Moving forward, L. developed her own unique practice, mixing sculpture, design, video and performance, all with a feminist touch. She moved to New York City in 1979. For nearly 30 years she made her home at the Chelsea Hotel, keeping her apartment even as new owners transformed longtime artists’ paradise into a luxury hotel. In 2014, she released a documentary, Doors ajar at the Chelsea Hotel, on the history of the residence.

Her first visit to the hotel dates back to 1968, when she was performing at La MaMa Experimental Theater Club. “For me it was amazing. It made Paris look like the province by comparison. But prostitutes and pimps were part of the Chelsea package. And the artists, I will not say that they are prostitutes, but they are sold, ”recalled L. to Vanity Fair in 2013. “It was either Janis Joplin or the fat woman of Moms and Dads who tried to kiss me in the elevator. I can’t remember which one. It was a crazy time. “

Immersed in this creative environment, L. lived in an apartment full of her own art. She is perhaps best known for her large-scale sculptural furniture which often takes the form of women’s bodies – a literal objectification – which she began showing in 1969 in Paris at Daniel Templeton’s and in Brussels at the Galerie Veranneman.

Nicola L., <em>Red coat</em> (1973).  Photo courtesy of private collection, © Nicola L. “width =” 840 “height =” 533 “srcset =” 840w ,×190.jpg 300w, 50×32.jpg 50w “sizes =” (max-width: 840px) 100vw, 840px “/></p>
<p class=Nicolas L., Red coat (1973). Photo courtesy of a private collection, © Nicola L.

In 1970 she launched her first performance art work at the Isle of Wight Festival. Inspired by the political demonstrations of the time, Red coat brought together 11 artists in connected hooded capes that hide the body. The garment was one of his “Pénatrables”, loose textiles meant to act as an extension of human skin, emphasizing our common humanity.

The work was later one of several of his pieces included in the exhibition “The world is going pop”At Tate Modern in London in 2015, which examined lesser-known global and political trends in Pop art.

“While researching the many artists who were female and engaged in pop across the world, I encountered Nicola L’s work in the collection of a Belgian design and furniture collector who had acquired her incredible Little woman TV: “I am the last woman object” (1969), ”curator Jessica Morgan, director of the Dia Art Foundation, recalled in an email to artnet News, calling the work“ feminist work that brilliantly satirizes the use of form. female in art and commerce ”.

“I was particularly struck by the critical fusion and flexibility of her adaptations of art and design and of course I decided to meet her,” she added. “Like so many artists who are women, Nicola’s work was later overlooked despite its early success. We all need to work harder to find out more about these remarkable artists from the past who have been written out of history. “

Nicola L., Little TV Woman: 'I am the last female object' (1969).  Photo by Kyle Knodell, Xavier Gellier collection.

Nicolas L., Little TV Woman: “I am the last female object” (1969). The television displays the message “I am the last female object. You can take my lips, touch my breasts, stroke my belly, my cock. But I repeat, this is the last time. Photo by Kyle Knodell, Xavier Gellier collection.

The Tate’s exhibition somewhat marked a turning point for the artist, who had two solo exhibitions at New York’s Elga Wimmer PCC in 2015 and 2016. His first personal institutional exhibition, “Nicola L .: works, 1968 to the present day”, Followed the following year.

Giving the show the go-ahead was an easy decision for the institution. “Nicola L. was an artist whose work defied easy categorization and who was considerably underexposed in contemporary art,” director Mary Ceruti said in an email to artnet News. “SculptureCenter advocates for many women artists for whom this is the case.”

Nicola L., <em>Eye</em> (1969/99).  This work, a set of lamps, set the artist’s record auction price with a sale of € 31,200 ($ 34,942) at Artcurial, Paris, in September 2016. Photo courtesy of Artcurial , Paris.  “width =” 640 “height =” 295 “srcset =” 640w, /news-upload/2019/01/picture-300×138.jpg 300w,×23.jpg 50w “sizes =” (max-width : 640px) 100vw, 640px “/></p>
<p class=Nicolas L., oil (1969/99). This work, a set of lamps, set the artist’s record auction price with a sale of € 31,200 ($ 34,942) at Artcurial, Paris, in September 2016. Photo courtesy of Artcurial , Paris.

Despite its recent resurgence, L.’s star was just starting to rise. According to Artnet Price Database, L.’s auction record is only € 31,200 ($ 34,942), set in 2016 at Artcurial in Paris for a pair of sculpture lamps entitled oil. His work is part of museum collections including the Center Pompidou, Paris; Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow; FRAC Bretagne, Rennes; MAMCO, Geneva; Art & Design Atomium Museum, Brussels; and M HKA Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp.

“During her prolific career, Nicola L. has blazed unexpected paths through acts of creation that have taken her from function to form, always with an ironic sense of humor,” said Loreta Lamargese. “She enlarged the human body, rounded it, inflating the waist, until it became sturdy and utilitarian – men like sofas, buttons like nipples…. Like her Red coat, a multi-person coat intended to incorporate many wearers into a collective, his practice put forward what dissolves and what is gained in the policy of gathering and sharing.

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Norma D. Ross