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The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College Presents: Amy Sillman: one lump or two

First museum survey of New York-based painter Amy Sillman

Eleanor Davis

On View June 28 through September 21, 2014 in the Hessel Museum of Art
Opening reception: Saturday, June 28, 2014 from 1:00 – 4:00pm
Public Tours every Sunday at Noon

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, NY, May 2014 - This summer The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (CCS Bard) presents Amy Sillman: one lump or two, a major traveling exhibition and the first museum survey of New York-based painter Amy Sillman.

The exhibition traces the development of Sillman’s work over the past 25 years—from her early use of cartoon figures and a vivacious palette, through to her exploration of the diagrammatic line, the history of Abstract Expressionism, and a growing concern with the bodily and the erotic dimensions of paint. The exhibition focuses on the importance of drawing in Sillman’s practice, as well as the intensity with which she has embraced the dichotomy between figuration and abstraction. Amy Sillman: one lump or two features over 90 works, including drawings, paintings, ‘zines, and the artist’s recent forays into animated film.

“Painting is perhaps more vital today than any time since the heyday of the New York School in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and Amy Sillman is one of its most influential, contemporary practitioners,” said Helen Molesworth, Barbara Lee Chief Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Arts/Boston, who organized the exhibition. “Amy Sillman: one lump or two introduces audiences to Sillman’s exceptional body of work and demonstrates that the basic building blocks of 20th-century painting are of continued interest to artists today: color, line, medium-specificity, abstraction, and the possibility of communicating in an exclusively visual manner.”

Sillman’s mature work started in the mid-to-late 1990s and was deeply rooted in drawing. Works from this period are exemplified by her exploration of the cartoon line combined with a wild, high-keyed palette. The cartoon line moved effortlessly from the figure to landscape, always playing with problems of physical and emotional scale, frequently to humorous effect (trees are bigger than people; the figure’s anxiety is bigger than the tree!). Sillman’s palette, a riot of pastel and acid hues, was dominated by an extensive mining of the pinks found in the 1970s pastoral paintings of Willem de Kooning and the moody, bruised purples of Philip Guston’s abstract paintings. 

Since the mid-2000s, the arc of Sillman’s work has taken a dramatic turn, morphing into a serious proposition about the ongoing possibilities of New York School Abstract Expressionism. Ironically, this body of work started in portraits, drawn from life, of couples in romantic relationships. Recreating the portraits from memory, Sillman transformed her original drawings into abstract paintings, replacing the intimacy of gesture and touch with richly hued trapezoidal shapes of color; sharp, vectored lines; and a propulsive painterly energy. 

Having established that it was still possible to create an Abstract Expressionist painting in the 21st century, Sillman began to complicate her own project through the introduction of the diagrammatic line into her paintings. Abstraction was meant to operate outside of language; similarly, the diagram reduces complex information into an easily comprehensible image form. While her contemporaries staged the relations between painting and photography, Sillman chose instead to look at other mass media forms of image making, selecting the diagram as her lever to open the historical nature of painting to the present. Just as her early work played abstraction and figuration off one another, in her diagram works the classic antinomies of picture making—color and line, figure and ground, painting and drawing—rub up against one another, with neither ever being able to dominate the other.

In addition to exploring the affects made possible by painting, Sillman is also at work in expanding the medium-specificity of painting. She has begun to make drawings on her iPhone and further is transforming them into movies. In these small films we see a synthesis of many of her concerns, as the films revel in the figuration of her early cartoon paintings while delving further into the spaces of abstraction, color, and the diagrammatic line. 

The exhibition is accompanied by Amy Sillman: one lump or two, a comprehensive, fully illustrated catalogue co-published by the ICA and DelMonico Books, an imprint of Prestel, a member of Verlagsgruppe Random House GmbH. The catalogue includes essays by Helen Molesworth, Barbara Lee Chief Curator at the ICA; Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, William Dorr Boardman Professor of Fine Arts in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University; Daniel Marcus, Ph.D. candidate in the History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley; and artist Thomas Eggerer.

Amy Sillman is an artist whose paintings, drawings, and animations actively negotiate interactions between abstraction and figure, language and image, feeling and form.  Her work has been shown regularly at museums and galleries for the past two decades, including The 2014 Whitney Biennial, and in December 2014 she will participate in a group show about painting at MoMA in NYC.  Sillman has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, and the Pollock-Krasner Grant.  For many years a resident of Brooklyn, NY, Sillman will spend much of the next year travelling.  In the fall of 2014 she will be a Resident at the American Academy in Rome, and in April 2015, she will begin a stint as Professor at the Staedelschule in Frankfurt.

Organized by Helen Molesworth, Barbara Lee Chief Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA), the exhibition was on view at the ICA/Boston from Oct. 3, 2013 to Jan. 5, 2014, and the Aspen Art Museum from Feb. 13 to May 11, 2014.

The CCS Bard Galleries and Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College are open Thursday through Monday from 11:00a.m. to 6:00 p.m. All CCS Bard exhibitions and public programs are free and open to the public. Pubic tours are every Sunday at noon. Limited free seating is available on a chartered bus from New York City for the June 28 opening. Reservations are required; call +1 845-758-7598 or email

About the Center for Curatorial Studies
The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (CCS Bard) was founded in 1990 as an exhibition and research center for the study of late twentieth-century and contemporary art and culture and to explore experimental approaches to the presentation of these topics and their impact on our world. Since 1994, the Center for Curatorial Studies and its graduate program have provided one of the world’s most forward thinking teaching and learning environments for the research and practice of contemporary art and curatorship. Broadly interdisciplinary, CCS Bard encourages students, faculty and researchers to question the critical and political dimension of art, its mediation and its social significance. CCS Bard cultivates innovative thinking, radical research and new ways to challenge our understanding of the social and civic values of the visual arts. CCS Bard provides an intensive educational program alongside its public events, exhibitions, and publications, which collectively explore the critical potential of the institutions and practices of exhibition-making. It is uniquely positioned within the larger Center’s tripartite resources, which include the internationally renowned CCS Bard Library and Archives and the Hessel Museum of Art, with its rich permanent collection.

General information on the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College can be found on its website at:

Amy Sillman: one lump or two is generously sponsored by First Republic Bank.
Additional support provided by James and Audrey Foster, Barbara Lee, David and Leslie Puth, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Nancy B. Tieken, the Dedalus Foundation, Inc., and Nancy and Dave Gill.

Exhibitions at CCS Bard are made possible with support from the Marieluise Hessel Foundation, the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Foundation, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, the Board of Governors of the Center for Curatorial Studies, the CCS Bard Arts Council, and the Center’s Patrons, Supporters, and Friends.


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For further information, images or to arrange interviews, please contact:


Mark Primoff

Director of Communications

Tel: +1 845.758.7412      




Ramona Rosenberg

External Affairs Manager

Tel: +1 (845) 758-7574


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This event was last updated on 06-03-2014