Sillman ramps it up at ICA

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ICA’s fall shows all deserve a lot of ink — they’re great.

See my review of Pepon Osorio‘s “Trials and Turbulence in this Wednesday’s Weekly (PW). Libby and Colette weighed in on Osorio in their posts here and here.

I have a few reactions to Amy Sillman‘s ramp piece, the seventh art installation in that narrow, difficult, high-ceilinged walkway between the first and second floor galleries.

Sillman, a painter with a rising profile, was featured in the Whitney Biennial and locally in the group show, “affect,” at Ursinus College (see Libby’s post for more on that show). Sillman paints a kind of abstracted figuration that reminds me of kid’s paintings (I’ve got a basement full of em). I can’t say I’ve seen much of it in person but what I have seen seems inner fueled to a degree that excludes me the viewer.

The colors run to pastels and the brush work ranges from scribble-scrabble brushy to restrained calligraphy — and that can be all in one piece, as it is, actually, here on the ramp.

Sillman’s ICA offering, “Procession,” combines black or white painted silhouettes of figures, birds and a tree showcased on bright yellow backgrounds. The figures, influenced, the artist said at the opening, by her trip to the Egypt wing of the Penn archaeology museum, do evoke the processionals one thinks of as Egyptian funerary art.

The piece also includes a large field of abstraction into which one particularly large, black, female figure seems to disappear. The whole has a nice locomotive ambiance which works well with the fact of the ramp which is a people-moving-corridor.

Sillman, a salt-and-pepper-haired 40-something artist who frequently works small and intimate in scale confided she was terrified with her charge to paint on a large, 92′ long space, something she called “a mind blowing challenge.”

“I faced it [the task, the wall] with extreme terror,” she said, continuing, “With Pepon’s thing going on downstairs and that was so really incredible, I said…”what am I doing here?

But, inspired by the Egyptian art, she made some small drawings, scaled them up and started working, going “off the grid” frequently, she said, and into more exploratory explosions.

The artist, now seduced by working big, wondered out loud, half-jokingly, whether she’d ever work small again!

As for me, I have to say this is my favorite Amy Sillman to date. It has a clarity of purpose and plays with the space in a way that’s cheery and inviting to me, the viewer, to partake of its painterly search for meaning. Also, I’m a sucker for yellow.

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