Sex is back in fashion.” That’s how The Art Newspaper sees artmaking these days. But that’s not how it looks to me.

If you count Sarah Lucas’s retro at Tate Britain, and Nicole Eisenman’s retro now at White Chapel Gallery, London, it’s not sex you see, it’s just a lot of smirking about it.

Curling of the lip

Much of Eisenman’s tongue-in-cheekiness can be seen in the 2021 book “Nicole Eisenman” by Dan Cameron. And one of her jokey pictures is on the book’s cover called “The Triumph of Poverty” (2009).

What you see in this painting is an assortment of people ambling by an old beat-up car.

Leading the crowd is a man in disheveled formalwear whose trousers area dropped to his knees exposing his lower anatomy – but in reverse. His buttocks are where his genitals would be. (Are you smirking yet?)

You may remember Eisenman winning the coveted MacArthur Fellowship award in 2015 for bringing back the human figure that had been out of style during the rise of Abstract Expressionism in the last century.

But you don’t have to read Dan Cameron’s book or go to London to see Eisenman’s sniggering narratives if you’ve ever seen her work in New York at MoMA or the Whitney Museum. Then you’d know she did more than bring the human form back. She stripped it bare to tell satiric and often puzzling stories.

For instance, if you’ve seen “Tunnel of Love” at MoMA you were probably as puzzled as the oversized boy in the picture staring down at tiny female nudes coupling in amusement park boats heading toward the tunnel.

Given the scale of the boy, the women come across like Lilliputians in Jonathan Swift’s satire “Gulliver’s Travels.” MoMA quotes Eisenman talking about the image this way: “I was painting against my education—against a man-made art world, the one I had learned about, with all its masters.

I wanted to turn it upside down.”

In case you take Eisenman as just another angry feminist, she added: “There is always a tongue firmly planted in the cheek of my paintings.” This is good to know, so you don’t take her imagery too seriously.

But here’s the thing that neither Eisenman’s words nor pictures can explain away. Last year, she told Peter Schjeldahl, art critic at the New Yorker that her favorite artist is Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna.

How can that be?

Fish bait

Mantegna’s figure paintings have the look of carvings. The females in “Love Boat” look like worms.

Even so, Eisenman has critics convinced that history is in her work. Laura Cumming at The Guardian says: “Eisenman’s ability to absorb art history and recast it as her own is so prodigious that looking at her output over her 25-year career, you might not fathom it as the work of a single artist.”

Really, Laura? “Tunnel of Love” calls to mind a New Yorker cartoon lampooning love. And you get the feeling everything is a joke with Eisenman. Cumming acknowledged this calling her work is “a riot.”

I have to wonder if sure Eisenman’s isn’t just another angry female artist intent on making fun of the things she’s furious about, such as Donald Trump’s election in 2016.

She made clear what she thought in a series of allegories about the Far Right.

In one of these works – titled “Dark Light” (2017) – she describes a pack of men in MAGA caps riding around in a pick-up truck belching black smoke. Yeah, she’s angry all right.