Whitney Biennial 2014: Amy Sillman

April 16, 2014

For the run of the exhibition, SVA Close Up is highlighting members of the SVA community selected for the 2014 Whitney Biennial (March 7 – May 25). This is the fifth installment in the series.

Alumnus Amy Sillman (BFA 1979 Fine Arts) is known for colorful gestural paintings that explore the space between figuration and abstraction. According to a 2013 review of her retrospective at ICA Boston in The New York Times, “In a typical Sillman painting, blobs and slashes of paint are interrupted by a form that could be a hand or a foot, which then beats a hasty retreat back into abstraction.”

MOTHER425Sillman finds it productive to avoid committing to either camp. In a recent interview for Artspace, she says, “when I was going to school you had to declare an allegiance to a form and an attitude towards abstraction, and from the get-go I wasn’t going to declare an allegiance. Perhaps I just had a contradictory way of thinking, but it was useful for me to have the figure come and go, let’s say—for the figure to be able to flicker in and then be dismissed.”

Sillman has two works in this year’s Biennial that continue this dynamic. In Mother a hulking arch fills the canvas with compartments, curves and a mix of washy and opaque colors. Two center squares read like eyes and, in combination with the title, provoke the question of whether there is a natural inclination to see figures in the abstract.

amysillman425Fells, made in collaboration with her friend sculptor Pam Lins, combines painting with sculptural elements like a wooden base that recalls a pedestal. Attached to the back of the canvas is a small shelf featuring black and white ceramic vases. This is not the first time Sillman has mixed her paintings with another artist’s practice—in 2007, Biennial artist and SVA alumnus Ei Arakawa (BFA 2004 Fine Arts) interpreted Sillman’s paintings through performance.

Of her inclusion in this year’s Biennial, Sillman tells Artspace, “The Biennial is fascinating because it’s a show that’s in a museum, and when you go to a museum you always remember something from the last time you were there. When I walk into the building, I still remember going to Biennials and group shows from when I was first an art student living in New York when I was 20—the building is such a profound space.”

Images: Amy Sillman, Mother, 2013-14, oil on canvas, 91 x 84 in. (231.1 x 213.4 cm), collection of the artist; courtesy Sikkema Jenkins Co., New York. Installation view of Fells, 2013-14 by Pam Lins and Amy Sillman. Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 7 – May 25, 2014. Collection of the artists. Photograph by Bill Orcutt.

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