Singular Gems—SFMOMA’s New Amy Sillman

© Liz Hager, 2009. All Rights Reserved

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 

Amy Sillman US Alice of the Goon

Amy Sillman,
U.S. of Alice the Goon, 2008,
oil on canvas, 84 x 93″

The other day, my mind wonderfully preoccupied, I wandered absent-mindedly off the elevator on the second floor at SFMOMA. I was immediately greeted by Amy Sillman’s 2008 painting U.S. of Alice the Goon<span style=" Actually, " arrested"="" might="" be="" the better="" description="" of="" the="" painting's="" effect="" on="" me.="" at="" first,="" i="" was jolted="" out="" my="" daydream="" by="" its="" shear="" boisterousness—dynamic shapes="" and="" day-glo="" hues.="" then="" noticed="" echoes="" diebenkorn="" in="" paint="" application="" brush="" work="" reminiscent="" de koonig's.="" stood="" for="" a="" while,="" contemplating="" just="" exactly="" how radiant="" chartreuse,="" orange,="" emerald="" green,="" cadmium="" yellow, and="" loud="" pink="" could="" miraculously="" together="" without="" dissolving into="" kitschy="" overload.="" (does="" underlying="" oblique="" grid="" tame="" those powerful="" colors?)="" lingered="" 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 SFMoMA, ceremoniously displayed (at least temporarily) at the entrance to the Museum’s permanent collection galleries. I like to think that US of Alice the Goon is conversing with its 20th century ancestors, while embracing a 21st century lingo all its own.

Wider Connections

Modern Art Notes—Amy Sillman at the Hirshhorn

Amy Sillman on Saatchi Gallery online

Amy Sillman 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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