[Originally published in Meta Luxe]
“Nic Nicosia” [The Book]
It’s seductively attractive — and smart, to boot.
In any sensible world, the new book, “Nic Nicosia” would be deemed art. Put bluntly, it’s art about art. I refer not only to its luxe design, trendy craftsmanship and dvd — although each of these things is devastatingly gorgeous. I’m equally thrilled that its content and resonant thoughtfulness are brightly illuminating. In fact, Nicosia lauds his bookish colleagues mightily — and for good reason. His images of suburbia and photographs of jammed rooms (many are actually carefully crafted sets) operate to stunning effect by delivering spectacles of disquietude. Consequently, it took genuine intellectual neatness to capture both his work and the “theatre” of his artistic process. Says he, “I work with ideas that won’t go away. I make work about what I’m feeling psychologically or what I see in the environment. And then I make things to make pictures.” While this sounds simple enough, it’s not. Nicosia’s work becomes ruthlessly complicated for two reasons: it carries cinematic heft — it insinuates a narrative — and it’s also usually a tad insidious.
Thus, Michelle White’s introduction to the book is a woundingly perfect confection. She begins with a quotation from Don DeLillo’s book, White Noise — and she could not have chosen a more perfect vector into Nicosia’s world. After all, DeLillo and Nicosia both give us the cosmos at a slant. Thus, the book is interestingly and intensely mimetic. It even includes a short story — “Road” by Philipp Meyer — that conveys the same chilling psychological deftness as Nicosia.’s honed suburban scenes. In it, one character intones, “I guess I’m running.” A woman offers a rejoinder, “Who isn’t?”
All this, and infinitely more, circulates around Nicosia, a native Dallasite, a graduate of Jesuit and young man whose first recollection of making film was photographing headless chickens. Nicosia’s words: “I woke up to our housekeeper wringing the necks of our Easter chicks… that had grown into big fat roosters. One by one they ran around the yard without their heads. I grabbed the 8 mm movie camera and filmed the whole event.” He went on to create images, such as “Real Pictures, #11,” in which viewers are made privy to three children, clad in summer shorts. They’re in a grassy backyard and everything upon first glance is perfectly normal — except a bush is burning. Onlookers are left wondering at an image that operates as a hybrid of divine intervention and childhood malevolence. A young girl looks over her shoulder at the camera and a boy to her left holds a gasoline can. This image is deemed “wildly preposterous” according to Ms. White — and she’s correct. That’s what makes it worth contemplating and what makes both Nicosia’s work and the eponymous book worth owning.
Nicosia has attained huge success. Museums that have acquired his work for their permanent collections include: The Guggenheim Museum, MOMA, The Whitney Museum, The Los Angeles Country Museum, the DMA, The Houston Museum of Fine Art, The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and (many) more.
Now he’s happily ensconced in Santa Fe and working prolifically. Regarding “Nic Nicosia,” the book, he simply states: “I want people who aren’t familiar with my work to become familiar with it — and I want the ones who are familiar with it to understand it differently.” Mission accomplished. This is a tome worth buying, keeping and poring over again and then again.
Before we ended our conversation, he added a comment about working while listening to Bach. It moved him so mightily that he titled the piece he was working on “wish I could play bach BC #3.” I think Nicosia does quite well without lamenting the lack of a violin in his repertoire. He’s established an enormous corpus of compelling work — and now he has a monumentally brilliant book that makes it easy for admirers to revel in a haunted past and the ongoing freakish squall of the present. Sweet!