POST BY PADDY JOHNSON
Amy Sillman, Shade, 2010, Oil on canvas, 90 x 84 inches
“Simply to hang a painting on the wall and say that it's art is dreadful. The whole network is important! Even spaghettini . . . . When you say art, then everything possible belongs to it. In a gallery that is also the floor, the architecture, the color of the walls.” Martin Kippenberger quoted in the David Joselt essay for October Painting Beside Itself
“How does painting belong to a network?” asks David Joselt in his essay Painting Beside Itself. The paper was brought to my attention by commentor SS in Thursday’s comment thread on Amy Sillman and the death of painting, and has particular relevance to her show at Sikkema Jenkins, as the exhibition’s success rests in whether it can be situated within said network. In other words, the show would not work without all of its many components, the zine, the poster “Some Problems in Philosophy”, the CD, the drawings and the paintings. How much of each is needed to provide balance however, is up for debate.
The question Sillman seeks to tackle with these drawings and the show as a whole, is how to create work that integrates thinking, feeling, speaking and acting. The light bulb is identified as a marker of both ideas and new technology, its advent coinciding and perhaps even engendering the death of painting. Artist and AFC commenter Jesse P. Martin sees the paintings “as a necessary part of giving this system traction, but are now just spent leftovers hung to be sold as expensive husks to some willing consumer.” This assessment is mostly sound, though I can’t help but think the husk to cob ratio isn’t right. In this scenario the objects are inevitably sidelined for their concepts, which is precisely the opposite of what Sillman advocates. To wit, “Think & Feel! Speak & Act!” close the pictorial Train of Thought in the zine.
It bears observing that with the exception of Shade, [pictured above] a bona fide tour de force of figuration, freshness and ingenuity, the paintings in this show are mostly over worked. More annoying however is the assumption that every light bulb study *needs* to be part of the exhibition. I appreciate seeing Sillman’s process, but editing helps.
Selection problems aside, a few unexpected choices mark the show. The inclusion of an audio CD is one (full discussion here). Also, David Salle as inspiration for Amy Sillman’s paintings as indicated in her zine is not one I would have guessed (though as noted in the comments, it’s used primarily because it prominently pictures a light bulb). Salle is hardly a feminist, and judging by the zine, Sillman hardly the subservient type. In reclaiming those paintings, the artist achieves the thinking, feeling, speaking and acting she seeks while name-checking the painter most frequently cited as defining “the post-modern sensibility.” It’s a bold move and one that makes sense, as post-modernism certainly informs today’s Cyber-Everything-Culture Tom Moody describes in the previous Transformer comment thread. As flawed as each body of work is, I’ll take Sillman any day.