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Back to Reviews 96

 Hindu High School,

Sex Life,

 Miss New York,


amy sillman

at casey m. kaplan

by Lewis Kachur
For a number of years Amy Sillman has been 

making rich, painterly paintings which 

treat the surface as a palimpsest of free 

association. Her works mix a large range of 

imagery, color schemes and systems of 

spatial organization. Like David Salle, she 

juxtaposes a multiplicity of 

representational and nonrepresentational 

modes, yet his is often a graphic space, 

recalling the two-page magazine spread with 

additional inset images. Sillman's space is 

usually atmospheric and more continuous. 

And though like Salle she uses cartoons and 

other popular art forms, Sillman's imagery 

is more likely to spring from the artist's 

consciousness and the personal. Sillman 

also invests more in painting per se as a 

medium of expression. 

After having exhibited at Amy Lipton in New 

York in recent years, her latest show was 

held at Casey M. Kaplan. The new works do not 

constitute a dramatic departure but they do 

seem less concerned with what has been 

dubbed the "cursive" (or the calligraphic). 

They also seem more open than in the past. 

This is accomplished in two paintings, 

Hindu High School and Sex Life, by having a 

large round form dominating the center. 

Similarly, the upper half of Miss New York 

is simplified with a rectangle of 

overpainted olive green. In each instance 

abstraction is thus counterpoised to the 


Hindu High School is an example of the 

levels of humor and personal association 

embedded in Sillman's unique and telling 

titles. Her interest in Indian art is 

variously suggested in her work, such as by 

the large golden orb in this painting, or 

the modernized Ganesha elephant god in 

Romanesque. High School evokes an image of 
doodling or the graffiti of a bored 

student. Its graphism is contrasted to the 

neat spatialized lettering at the four 

corners: the words Conception, Birth, Death 

and Forgetting. The possible allusions 

multiply: four corners of the world, four 

compass points, the process of creating a 


Miss New York at first suggests our home 

state's contestant in a national beauty 

contest. A pageant of 49 women's heads are 

aligned in the lower half, one "Miss" 

missing. This cluster of grisaille faces is 

united yet blurred by a glaze of reds and 

pinks. The secondary pun on the title is 

simply that Sillman misses Manhattan since 

she began teaching in Chicago this year. 

The Windy City is also an issue in View 

from Lake Michigan, the most spatial work 

in the show. A twisting cloud of airborne 

forms sends white droplets down to a vast 

seascape below. For this viewer it conjured 

the arid vistas with tiny figures of 

certain Dali landscapes of the 1930s, 

though the reference made by her dealer to 

a Turneresque sublime seemed equally 


Sillman's paintings are ambitiously filled 

with an almost dizzying dialectics of 

allusion, a poetics of pictorial 

possibility. Elegant versus grotesque, 

linear or coloristic, East or West, high 

versus low (or, from frescoes to comics), 

are some of the dualities at issue.

At this year's College Art Association 

meeting, Sillman participated in a panel 

upholding the viability of painting today. 

"I would argue against an analysis that 

devalues the power of the personal, the 

pleasurable and acts of imagination," she 

said. "There has been an academicization of 

critique, one which entirely misses the 

point of interesting or kick-ass painting." 

Critic beware, nonetheless her recent show 

lends substance to her belief in the 

personal, the pleasurable and the 


Amy Sillman, Casey M. Kaplan,

Mar. 22-Apr.20, 1996.

Note new address:

48 Greene Street, NYC, NY 10012

Lewis Kachur is a New York art historian and