Singular Gems—SFMOMA’s New Amy Sillman


Painting is a physical
thinking process to continue an interior dialogue, a way to engage
in a kind of internal discourse, or sublanguage—mumbling, rambling,
stream of thought, murmuring, thinking out loud, naming, uttering,
a voice in your head.
—Amy Sillman statement

U.S. of Alice the Goon, 2008, oil on canvas, 84 x 93″
(courtesy SF

The other day, my
mind wonderfully preoccupied, I wandered absent-mindedly off the
elevator on the second floor at SF MoMA. I was immediately greeted
by Amy Sillman’s 2008 painting
U.S. of Alice the
Goon. Actually, “arrested” might be the
better description of the painting’s effect on me. At first, I was
jolted out of my daydream by its shear boisterousness—dynamic
shapes and day-glo hues. Then I noticed the echoes of Diebenkorn in
its paint application and brush work reminiscent of de
Koonig’s. I stood for a while, contemplating just exactly how
radiant chartreuse, orange, emerald green, cadmium yellow,
and loud pink could miraculously work together without dissolving
into kitschy overload. (Does the underlying oblique grid tame those
powerful colors?) I lingered for a while longer, looking and
listening for what more the painting would tell me.
US of Alice the Goon shows off Sillman’s signature
style, which pits often contradictory elements against one another.
Like fragments of another conversation, vestiges of figures
pop out here and there (fists of a goon?) amid the assertive
abstract shapes; neatly painted shapes are often juxtaposed with
the unruly; ignored rules allow neighbors on the color wheel to
battle good naturedly. References to a wide range of forebears
(including Matisse I venture) may be embedded in the paintings, but
only as syntax; clearly Sillman builds her own style of visual
communication upon the patterns of the past. After nearly a century
of abstract art, it seems to me that Sillman’s paintings still have
something new to say about how we can experience abstraction.
I suspect that Gary Garrels,
MoMA’s new Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture (and
formerly at the Hammer) had something to do with the
acquisition—the painting was part of the recent “Oranges and
Sardines” exhibit at the Hammer Museum in LA organized by Garrels.
However she got here, I am happy to see Sillman
represented at MoMA, ceremoniously displayed (at least temporarily)
at the entrance to the Museum’s permanent collection galleries. I
like to think that US of Alice the
is conversing with its
20th century ancestors, while embracing a 21st century lingo all
its own. Wider Connections Modern Art
Sillman at the Hirshhorn
on Saatchi Gallery online Amy
at Crown Point Press Oranges
& Sardines
Exhibition Text

4 Responses to “Singular Gems—SFMOMA’s New Amy Sillman”

  1. I’m overjoyed with this addition to the museum – not only a great painting, but a great painting by a WOMAN! However, I sure wish they would add more pieces from the great 50’s/60’s era here in SF. I just went to a talk on Bernice Bing, another great Asian-American woman painter who has just (almost) fallen through the cracks. I’m not adverse to the museum having more paintings by Diebenkorn, Park and Dischoff but there were many women painters who also deserve recognition.

  2. thanks, y’all!! i really appreciate finding this by accident on the internet!!!
    xxxx amy
    ps quote at top: not stillman… sillman )

    • Amy
      An honest slip o’ finger, we stand corrected. While we’ve got your attention, we’re wondering a bit about the figurative snippets in the painting, their genesis or inspiration, as well as title reference. Who or what is Alice the Goon?
      Thanks for the correction and any thoughts on our query!

  3. Alice the Goon:

    “Alice the Goon is a fictional character in E.C. Segar’s comic strip Thimble Theatre and in the “Popeye” cartoon series derived from it. …”

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