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