Amy Sillman is something of a cannibal. Well, an aesthetic cannibal. Her working conceit for this dazzling, wide-ranging show of paintings, drawings, and videos is metabolism. By this, we take her to mean the process that breaks down received material and builds it back up into new material.
The action may be internal or external—that is, Sillman might be thinking of how she assimilates her artistic tradition in order to remake it in her own image, or she may be thinking of ways to reconstitute or recycle her own ideas. Either way, this body of work is characterized by a series of appropriated, recycled shapes that Sillman redeploys.
Finger x 2 (2015) is a powerful example of this analysis-synthesis action. A large (75 by 66 inches) oil on canvas, the work harkens back to various traditions. The floating green rectangles (lower left and center) recall Hans Hofmann, the other hard-edged geometric figures evoke a muted Minimalism. The distressed center-right section calls to mind Richter. All of these, surely, are merely possibilities.
But the painting’s kaleidoscopic aspect—the way its depths fluctuate, the way it seeks to suggest motion—derives from Sillman’s dynamic aesthetic, especially as it materializes in the show’s various videos. This technology allows the artist to hover at the frontier of motion even in her static works. They move without moving.
Consistent with this dynamic and the show’s biological metaphor is the occasional biomorphic element, a link to Expressionism. Table 2 (2015) would seem to be about tables, but since tables have legs, those supports can be viewed as metamorphosing into stylized human legs. The Matisse-like colors (orange, blue) in the image also conjure up memories of early Modernism.
This lively show evinces Sillman’s imagination completely liberated and running wild as she gathers ideas from myriad sources, including her own emotional reservoir. She digests them and transforms them into her own essence.