New York-based Amy Sillman is most known for her colourful, rhythmic paintings—at once hard-edge and delicately curvaceous—that exemplify an ongoing interrogation into the potency of gestural abstraction as a language in its own right.
'My whole impetus in making art, making work, writing, drawing, is to function as a kind of combination— bricoleur, flaneur, voyeur, radish farmer, automechanic—take parts, and with my labour, re-make a strange new language,' Sillman once elucidated. 'There's no origin. There's no moment of starting. Everything is a kind of loop.'
Her third exhibition with Berlin's Capitain Petzel, Rock Paper Scissors (30 October–23 December), brings together interconnected drawings and paintings that continue the artist's project to emancipate the reputation of abstraction as a male-dominated movement associated with the aura of the 'genius'.
Departing from typical wall-hanging methods of display, Sillman's works are often presented as immersive installations for visitors to navigate. The works themselves are often hanging in row formulations, left modestly unframed.
Sad Meets Mad (2021), a large-scale work included in Capitain Petzel's show, contrasts muddy purples with warning-sign yellows, while forms contoured in harsh black appear to resemble ambiguous human figures.
South Street (2021), presumably named after the area on the south coast of Manhattan bisected by the Brooklyn Bridge, is a swathe of corals, emerald greens, and petrol blues. Although no information is given to visitors, the energetic work evokes the visceral feeling of moving through a city at high speed.
Sillman's process is one in flux; her project is one of constant revision, improvisation, and imagination. She once described her works as 'redaction formulations'. 'I really believe in the politics of improvisation,' the artist explained in The New York Times. 'On its good side, it's about contingency, emotions. Tightrope walking.'
Alongside her painting, Sillman's multidisciplinary practice also encompasses video, essay-writing, and zine-making. Revered for being a true artist's artist, Sillman recently taught at Frankfurt's reputable for five years (2014–19) and has received many commended awards, such as The American Academy in Rome Residency (2014), the Berlin Prize in Arts and Letters (2009), and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Fellowship (1999).
In 2019, MoMA invited Sillman to curate an exhibition drawn from their extensive holdings for their reopening that same year. Included amongst the high-impact and salon-style hang were diverse artworks from the likes of Francis Picabia, Susan Rothenberg, Elizabeth Murray, Thomas Mukarobgwa, and Charline von Heyl.
Sillman has recently received an abundance of acclaimed institutional solo exhibitions: Amy Sillman: The Nervous System, Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago (2019); Amy Sillman: Landline, Camden Arts Centre, London (2018); and After Metamorphoses, The Drawing Center, New York, later travelling to Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, New York (both 2017).
Her work is in fraught demand for collectors. Last month at Art Basel in Switzerland, Gladstone Gallery sold a dynamic painting encompassing a spectrum of blue tones for over $400,000.
Emphasising similar demand, Sillman's auction record stands at an incredible $855,000, placing her amongst the most expensive living female painters, such as Laura Owens, Julie Mehretu, and Martha Jungwirth. At over two metres in height and width, the monumental work (U, 2008) was sold by Phillips in New York for over double its high estimate in 2018. —[O]
Main image: Amy Sillman, South Street (2021). Oil and acrylic on canvas. 182.9 x 152.4 cm. Courtesy Capitain Petzel.