Nicola L. - Camden Art Centre

Camden Art Centre is proud to present a solo exhibition of work by Nicola L. (1932-2018).

Often celebrated in the context of Pop Art, Nouveau Realism, Feminism and design, there has yet to be an in-depth exploration of the multi-layered and expansive nature of her practice which ranged into cosmology, environmental concerns, spirituality, mortality, sexuality, soft sculpture, activism and political resistance. This will be the first time the full breadth of her practice has been shown in the UK or indeed on the European continent.

Encompassing sculpture, performance, painting, collage and film—all of which carry an air of wit, playfulness, and radical subversion—the show will be an opportunity to experience all aspects of Nicola L.’s multidisciplinary practice.

A significant group of the artist’s Pénétrables will be shown along with performance documentation. Having trained as painter, Nicola made an abrupt departure from the classical constraints of the medium in the 1960s and began a radically different body of work inspired by skin. The textile sculptures she then made were intended as performative or participatory works – with forms that people could insert limbs or heads into, becoming one with the artwork, and in some cases with other performers, as one single organism. This was a political gesture – all people united in one skin, regardless of ethnicity or gender. Video documentation of The Blue Cape performed in Cuba, China and at the Venice Biennale will be shown along with the Red Coat performed in multiple locations including most recently London on the occasion of the work’s display at Tate Modern in 2015.

Many of the artist’s large-scale functional objects will appear through the show, including sofas and commodes. Taking furniture as their basis, her sculptures expand into large-scale soft pliable forms like feet or full (but dismembered) bodies intended as sofas and lacquered wooded cabinets with the silhouette of a stereotypical female torso. The exaggerated, oversized and caricatured shapes are imbued with a political commentary on equality, collectivity and the place, particularly for women, within society. Her concern with feminist politics continues in another major series included in the exhibition: ‘The Femme Fatale’ (1995) – paintings and collage on bed sheets memorialising women whose lives ended in tragedy or violence, among them Eva Hesse, Marilyn Monroe, Billie Holiday and Ulrike Meinhof.

The exhibition will integrate the artist’s work in moving image which became a focus for her from 1977 onwards, including a feature film shot in Ibiza, Les Têtes sont Encore Dans L’île (The Heads are Still in the Island) with Terry Thomas and Pierral, and documentaries touching on diverse subjects from the punk-rock band Bad Brains, the activist Abbie Hoffman and the Chelsea Hotel.

Image: Nicola L., We Want to Breathe, 1975.
Ink, cotton, wood
The Collection of Donald Porteous, acquired from Alison Jacques, London.
Photo: Michael Brzezinski

The Artist Images

The Artist

Born in El Jadida, Morocco to French parents, Nicola L. studied abstract painting at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and spent her formative artistic years in Paris, before moving to New York later in life. Following significant international exposure, including a major solo show at the SculptureCenter, New York (2017) and inclusion in a number of important group exhibitions, from The World Goes Pop, Tate Modern, London (2015) to Future Bodies From Recent to Past – Sculpture, Technology, and the Body since the 1950s, Museum Brandhorst, Munich (2022), Our Silver City, 2094, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham (2021), Elles, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2009); She-Bam Pow Pop Wizz ! The Amazons of Pop, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Nice (2021), there is now wide recognition that a major survey exhibition in Europe is long overdue.