Skarstedt is pleased to announce our latest exhibition in New York, Eric Fischl: Towards the End of an Astonishing Beauty: An Elegy to Sag Harbor, and Thus America. Opening on September 14th, the exhibition will feature seven new paintings by the artist. In this new body of work, the annual Halloween parade in Fischl’s home of Sag Harbor, known as the “Ragamuffin Parade,” sets the scene for explorations into themes of exhaustion, isolation, disappointment, and passivity. Since the 1980s, Fischl has produced narratives that speak to the façade of happiness latent within the middle-class American dream and the masks one must wear to survive in contemporary society. Now, these guises take center stage as Fischl explores costumes as a site of self-projection and what these choices of dress reveal about our present moment.
Drawn to the parade’s evocation of quintessential Americana and the sense of connection it fosters, Fischl sees these themes quickly disintegrating in a divided world ravaged by global pandemics, political insurrections, and unjust wars. Addressing these topics through the masks worn throughout our lives, Fischl utilizes photographs and collage as a jumping-off point to construct disparate narratives that, upon first glance, seem to tell a coherent story, although further looking reveals more questions than answers as the absurdities of the diverse situations come into focus. In The Parade Returns, Sag Harbor residents of varying ages limp along the parade route, averting their gazes from those around them as they amble in all directions, bound to bump into one another. The scene suggests a moment of delight and play coming to an end as the figures return home exhausted and battered, as if returning from war. In Please Wait, Sir, a menacing adult in a plague doctor mask that suggests associations with our present pandemic stalks an oblivious young girl eating ice cream, her brother trying in vain to stop him while a single tear falls down the mask, hinting at preemptive remorse for what is to come. Others seem to feel nothing at all, perhaps so overwhelmed by recent events they have become inert, such as the protagonists in Sign of the Times that stare at their phones or off into the distance, ignoring the man wielding a sign bearing a fatalistic message of doom and destruction.
The paintings in Towards the End of an Astonishing Beauty notably lack the sense of joy and celebration one would associate with a holiday parade, instead evincing a distinct sense of emotional tension characteristic of Fischl’s oeuvre. However, the exhibition’s title implies that, despite this feeling of unease, there is still beauty to be found in our present moment. But if these characters—and thus, us as viewers—continue to disconnect from one another and forget community, they will continue to write the elegy of this magnificence that already hangs on by a thread. In this way, Fischl’s quietly poignant and nuanced paintings contain a sense of urgency in the visceral responses they evoke.