Amy Sillman - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 15, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2008

  • Exhibited

    Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution; Saratoga Springs, The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College, Amy Sillman: Third Person Singular, March 13, 2008 - January 4, 2009, no. 26, p. 107 (illustrated, p. 104)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The last work in Amy Sillman’s series of paintings made between 2006 and 2008, U is a stunning example of the artist’s vibrant and tactile compositions that are infused with emotional undertones. Beginning in 2006, the Brooklyn-based painter embarked upon what has become known as her “couples project”, culminating in a small series of large abstract compositions to which the present work belongs. The project was the subject of Sillman’s celebrated traveling exhibition Third Person Singular, which began in 2008 as part of the Hirshhorn Museum’s 20th installment of the Directions series, intended to showcase recent works by trailblazing contemporary artists. The present work was one of just 13 paintings exhibited in this show, which has remained in the same private collection since its acquisition the year of its creation in 2008. Other works from the series are housed in esteemed public collections including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., as well as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

    Each painting in Sillman’s couples project began with drawings made during 90-minute sittings of different couples. After having her subjects pose for studies in their own homes, Sillman brought the sketches back to her studio and created a number of additional drawings of the subjects from memory, each becoming progressively more abstract. The resulting gestural illustrations, reduced to contour lines and geometric planes, were the basis for which Sillman embarked upon her large-scale canvases over seven feet tall. Throughout this process, the artist gave tangibility to the space between figuration and abstraction, defying the categorization of either distinction. As explained by Hirshhorn curator of Third Person Singular Anne Ellegood, “Sillman has not…replaced representation with abstraction. Rather, she more strongly asserts her longstanding commitment to embrace abstraction without abandoning representation. The figure here has become so intimate, so close, so dominant in the visual field that one can, paradoxically, no longer see it” (Anne Ellegood, Amy Sillman: Third Person Singular, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., p. 59).

    In the present work, geometric planes of lavender, fiery orange and greens are delineated by black impasto lines, reminiscent of Philip Guston’s organic forms made with dark contours. While Guston, who Sillman champions as one of her favorite painters, creates figures that are bound by connecting, bulbous shapes, Sillman breaks hers into fragments, separated by linear brushwork that simultaneously recall the geometric compositions of Richard Diebenkorn. Each of Sillman’s paintings is built in layers through a reductive process of erasing and reworking certain areas, which in turn creates a variety of textures. The tactile variations become the subjects of the paintings themselves, as heavy impasto forms appear to be in the foreground, while thinner expanses of color applied more uniformly recede into the background.

    Sillman’s emphasis on the foundations of painting—line, color and form—is perhaps the most defining feature of her oeuvre. In the late 20th century, despite the growing popularity of conceptual art, Sillman remained devoted to the practice of painting, paving the way for a school of artists who would return to the medium at the onset of the 21st century. As Ellegood espoused in response to this series, “Sillman gives us permission to love painting for its tactility and materiality, its visual allure, color and play with light—in short, its beauty, while also reiterating its transformative potential, capacity to make us think, and unrelenting instigation of emotional response” (Anne Ellegood, Amy Sillman: Third Person Singular, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., pp. 60-61).

    The emotional response elicited by the present work illustrates the central tenant of this series: the intimate concept of “coupling”. Beginning with the drawings, this idea is uniquely explored from the third person perspective of Sillman herself. While not a voyeur in the truest sense of the word—in fact, many of the couples Sillman drew were close friends—Sillman’s objective separation from her subjects marks her as an outsider. As such, her multi-step process illustrates a collective human desire for an intimacy that seems just out of reach. Despite parallels to contemporaneous conceptual sculptors and performance artists such as Félix González-Torres and Marina Abramović, Sillman’s painterly approach to the subject is entirely unique. Her psychological study of intimacy is only furthered by her use of abstract painting to depict human closeness. In the culminating canvases in the series, the interactions witnessed in each sitting is indiscernible. What remains exists somewhere in between what Sillman saw and what she felt when recording the poses from memory in her studio, which in turn encourages the viewer to search for a deeper meaning within the work. This connection to the viewer is a hallmark of Sillman’s painterly practice. As she says of each work in her oeuvre, “I also think that you have to believe that when you’re making private, poetic work, you’re in fact finally, if you get it right, making something that is realistic to the world, even if it’s abstract” (Amy Sillman, quoted in Helen Molesworth, “Amy Sillman: Look, Touch, Embrace”, in Amy Sillman: one lump or two, exh. cat., The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 2013, p. 48).



signed and dated "Amy Sillman 08" on the reverse
oil on canvas
84 x 92 in. (213.4 x 233.7 cm.)
Painted in 2008.

$300,000 - 400,000 

Sold for $855,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2018