Identification and Creation
Object Number
Amy Sillman (Detroit, Michigan born 1956)
Work Type
Physical Descriptions
oil on canvas
114.3 x 99.1 cm (45 x 39 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: signed on verso
[Sikkema Jenkins & Co.] sold; to Harvard Art Museum, March 2009.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, The Jorie Marshall Waterman '96 and Gwendolyn Dunaway Waterman '92 Fund
© Amy Sillman
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art
Amy Sillman's "L" is from a body of work first exhibited at the Hirschhorn museum under the collective title "Third Person Singular." The works all began as part of a drawing project Sillman established for herself to draw portraits of couples she knew. Using intimate friends as life models Sillman would both draw the couples "as is" as well as arrange them into various poses. After this encounter she would return to the studio and then draw the couple from memory. Drawings would then proceed from the "memory drawing" until such a point that the drawing itself was almost, if not completely, abstract. These drawings ultimately became the basis for a series of abstract paintings-though there is no strong one-to-one correlation between individual drawings and paintings-rather what Sillman did was establish a set of rules and coordinates for making an abstract painting. Hence the paintings themselves show no trace of their conception. Rather they appear to be completely abstract, and their push-pull fields of color recall the gestural exploration of abstract expressionism-particularly the planes of Richard Diebenkorn and the palette of Willem DeKooning. Philip Guston's exploration of abstraction and political horror is another important touch stone for Sillman. Sillman's earlier cartoonish style had a decidedly neurotic quality-pictures of small figures facing insurmountable odds. In this series the emotional affect of awkwardness has been submerged into plays of color and abutting planes. The paintings feel a bit like a dare or a question about whether or not its possible to make a meaningful abstract painting in the early years of 2000. Can abstract escape the yoke of abstract expressionism? Can we talk about affect when there is no ostensible subject matter? Is there a legible grammar of painting? Is there a politics and poetics of color and contemporary painting? These are just a few of the questions Sillman's paintings pose.
Publication History

Ian Berry and Anne Ellegood, Amy Sillman: Third Person Singular, Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College (Saratoga Springs, New York, 2008), pp. 80-81, ill.

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at am_moderncontemporary@harvard.edu