POST BY PADDY JOHNSON
Amy Sillman, Schmetterling, 2010, Oil on canvas, 90 x 84 inches
Time Out’s Howard Halle names Amy Sillman’s new show at Sikemma Jenkins “a tour de force if ever there was one.” The review’s got a lot of meat to it, an indication that there’s just as much to the exhibition. The most interesting ideas, in the last two paragraphs:
Sillman offers a key to the show inthe form of the aforementioned pamphlet, which contains a CD of audio pieces and a poster that enumerates “Some Problems in Philosophy.” The latter features two columns marked GREAT AND NOT SO GREAT, dividing the pros and cons of the great thinkers of Western civ, starting with Descartes and ending with Derrida. (Kierkegaard, for example, is dispatched with DOUBT and NERVOUS WRECK.) In rueful postscript, Sillman lumps together female philosophers under the heading WOMEN—WHO CARES WHAT THEY THINK?
Sillman, however, seems less interested in scoring feminism points than in making an argument for feeling, in both senses of the word, as a road to understanding. A cartoon in the booklet, titled Train of Thought, notes that while there is a ready symbol for having an idea—a lightbulb over the head—there is no such icon for emotions, though she proposes that the image of a hand might serve as one. And indeed, the idea of touch related to painting as a probing, subliminally sexualized activity is a recurring one in this show, along with the concept of light—if the form of flashlights, fluorescents and other such fixtures—as a stand-in for enlightenment. In terms of discovering oneself as an artist, Sillman seems to indicate, the two cannot really be divorced, despite what Conceptualism had to say on the subject. Painting is dead, long live painting.
If I’m reading this interpretation right, Halle’s suggesting that Sillman’s paintings tell us the act of painting itself develops ideas. And so, painting is not merely retinal, as Duchamp says, even if the final product can be reduced as such.
I’ll add that I’m slightly uncomfortable with Sillman’s sentiment “Women – who cares what they think” paired with “let’s talk about how we feel and why there aren’t enough pictographic icons out there.” Even if Halle says scoring feminism points isn’t where she’s at. It still carries its own cliches. More thoughts on this however AFTER I’ve seen the show.