Friday, November 15, 2013

ICA Boston/Amy Sillman: one lump or two

Amy Sillman, Unearth, 2003, detail
Link to the Exhibition Website:

Curator: Helen Molesworth, Barbara Lee Chief Curator

The PR Buzz: "Through her dramatic shifts in style, sophisticated writings, and her role a the head of the painting program at Bard College's prestigious MFA program, she has proven that the basic building blocks of 20th-century painting are as relevant as ever."

You can read Sebastian Smee's laudatory and vocabulary-building review of the show here:

Recommended For: an art-induced rejuvenation on a gloomy winter's day.

The Experience:
I got to the ICA as the doors opened and made my way up to the fourth floor galleries. Sillman was not a painter I was very familiar with, so I was not really sure what I would be walking into. In the opening gallery, however, I was greeted by the compassionate and very human community of the Williamsburg Portraits (1991-92), disarmingly affixed to the gallery wall with push pins. Also in this gallery hung the killingly- and cuttingly funny Seating Chart (2006). Here was an artist, then, with a powerful connection with the messy, personal and embarrassingly honest trials of the human condition.

This unabashed, intimate voice carried through the rest of the exhibition, through grand-scale canvasses and ephemeral sketch work alike. In an introductory video on the ICA's website, Sillman describes her "devotion to a procedure of transformation."  The effort behind that devotion is evident in every clearly-defined brushstroke of her work. I came out of the show refreshingly validated for all my own foibles and neurotic idiosyncrasies- a rare accomplishment for an art exhibition.

A few works glowed in my mind after I left the show. Among them the regal Regarding Saturna (2003), the fearless series Shape that Stands Up and Listens (2012), the provocative juxtaposition of Sillman's "memory paintings" of romantic couples she was acquainted with and the abstract works those paintings engendered, and the pairing of the painting #841 with the digital print #841 that probes the very essence of painting.
Regarding Saturna, (2003)
The installation is what I'd call Contemporary Traditional- voluminous white boxes hung sparsely with work. The choice is  appropriate for much of Sillman's bold and vibrant work.  The labels are  discrete and low- to the point that I found them something of a challenge to read. One wall-sized installation of 30 drawings was somewhat compromised by the reflections of the walls and lights on the glazing in the frames. I understood from one of the gallery attendants that the glazing was stipulated in the loan of the works from the Brooklyn Museum and it is, in my opinion, a real shame that the drawings could not be allowed to "breathe." The sequence of Sillman's works through the show is loosely chronological.

After exiting the show and contemplating for a moment, I turned around and went through the show again from back to front, starting with the raw and insistent Draft of a Voice Over for Split Screen Video Loop (2012), and finishing with the camaraderie of the Williamsburg Portraits. And do you know what? I found the sequence of works even more satisfying in that direction! If you go through a chronological show backwards, does it become a show about memory?

While You’re There: See the soul-scouring LaToya Ruby Frazier: Witness, curated by Dean Daderko, Curator of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and introduced by Anna Stothart, ICA Boston Curatorial Associate

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