Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Visiting the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston: A versus R

Wow!! what a fabulous solo show at the ICA in Boston right now - Amy Sillman's One Lump or Two.  Though, I'm not quite sure where the sugar lumps came in because no one offered me a cup of tea!  However a very friendly guard did bring me a little stool I could carry around with me so I could sit and rest The Ankle between paintings.  ICA is a wonderful museum on an absolutely exceptional site - cantilevered over Boston Harbour with amazing views:
Amy Sillman is one of my favorite contemporary painters because she sits astride the gap between pure abstract and pure representationalism.  She also has a great sense of humour.  She published a letter on the internet some years ago (alas I cannot find the link, apologies) in which she said she had fallen out of love with A but really wasn't too sure about R either!  A being abstract work, R being representative work.

She wrote: 
"I never would have understood Process without A but I just feel like A’s really old friends are just WEIRD. And kind of pompous." 
Actually you see that in art quilt circles where the A crowd very definitely look down their noses at the R people!!

Sillman's paintings are so vibrant and full of meaning, there are forms and inferences there, you just can't quite make them out at first so you keep looking, and turning round for a quick glance....
Here's a typical example from the ICA show:

(and by the way you can photograph nearly all of the works without a guard leaping on you, though I did see one chap photograph a photo verboten work and the guard did the modern equivalent of ripping the film from his camera!!  I just sat there quietly on my little stool watching the Drama of the Forbidden Photo!)

As well as the colour and the mystery and the beautiful balance of shape and line, I really like the basic structure to which Sillman returns time and time again - a structure that balances a large quiet area against a much smaller busy one.  It's a great metaphor for life: periods of solitary contemplation versus joyful frenetic social activity.  Painters often have a favorite structure, a hidden order, that they use frequently and I think it becomes part of one's style and is one of the reasons you like/dislike a person's work.  It's very useful to become aware of it

As well as paintings there were lots of drawings and very witty diagrams - table settings for boring interminable dinner parties and meetings where all everyone has in common is mutual dislike or philosphers categorized (scroll down about a page and a half).

I did also try to see the John Singer Sargent watercolor show at the MFA - but the MFA is a much less friendly museum.  Hardly any guards to ask directions from, very misleading maps and masses of very aggressive people hogging the space in front of paintings with eye phones and eye pads and eye attitudes! It took me 45 minutes of searching to find the Sargent watercolors, stand in line and creep into an extremely crowded room - but oh! what little glowing jewels they are!  to paint something like that before you die, how glorious that would be!!  Well after all that excitement, I think it's time for a cuppa tea!  Off to put the kettle on!  Next week I'm back up to the cold dark north teaching a workshop on Abstract Art for Quiltmakers in Falmouth - you can be sure I'll be quoting Amy!

So, if you have been, thanks for reading.......Elizabeth


Jackie said...

What a thrill to fill one's head with fresh art!

Karoda said...

Enjoyed being introduced to Amy Sillman and her thoughts on A&R. But must say I was amazed that a museum could be "crowded". I really should do better about getting out more :)