Nicola L's Functional Sculptures Are as Relevant as Ever

Arsenal Contemporary puts the iconic works in conversation with pieces by contemporary female artists

Architectural Digest

Nov. 19, 2018

"It would be perfect for jewelry," says a gallery visitor at New York's Arsenal Contemporary to the woman next to him, tugging open the nipple drawer of Nicola L.'s La Femme Commode and contemplating its obvious use: storage. It's the opening of "CHÈRE," an exhibition that places the functional sculptures of the French-Moroccan artist Nicola L., made from the late 1960s to the current decade, in conversation with the work of three contemporary Canadian female artists: Nadia Belerique, Ambera Wellmann, and Chloe Wise.

"We wanted to focus on this idea of objectification," explains Arsenal co-director Loreta Lamargese. "And the functional objects spoke to that in the most direct way."

While La Femme Commode has, perhaps, the greatest following, Nicola—now retired and living in Los Angeles—made a range of bodies-turned-objects, starting in the late 1960s. There was the massive, stuffed-vinyl foot—from toe to heel, it measures her exact height, 5'9"—that served as a chaise longue. The two-dimensional female figure cut into thirds and laid on her back atop an acrylic base, that made a trio of coffee tables. The massive head, hollowed out and lined with shelves. Even on display at Arsenal, set against stark white walls and under harsh fluorescent lighting, they're inseparable from their embedded functionality: cabinet, bookshelf, table, couch. Visitors can't resist the urge to tug open the drawers. And that was the point.