Monday, May 12, 2008

Hidden Pictures

“What a funny thing painting is. The abstract painters always insist on their connection with the visible reality, while the so called figurative artists insist that what they really care about, is the abstract qualities of life.”-Marlene Dumas

I know quite a few people who don’t like abstract art at all. It is easy to understand why a person would rather appreciate art simply for its beauty than remain puzzled as they attempt to interpret an abstract piece. Although I do like abstract art, especially painting, I sometimes find it frustrating to look at a particularly baffling piece. While I am aware of the aesthetic qualities of such art, there are times when I just cannot understand the artist’s meaning or recognize a figure that is supposedly hidden amidst a random assortment of colors and lines.

For these reason’s, I went to Amy Sillman’s exhibit, Third Person Singular, at the Hirshorn not knowing what to expect. Therefore, I tried to learn as much as I could about the artist from the wall posts and descriptions at the museum before I actually looked at the works. As it turns out, Amy Sillman is a New York artist who tries to express emotion and anxiety through a very abstract style. She began the work in this exhibit by sketching numerous couples, sometimes using models and sometimes from memory. The bulk of the works, however, are paintings inspired by these couples. According to one of the wall posts, “Her works embrace abstraction without abandoning representation, as the details of the figures are shrouded behind bold strokes and geometric forms.” Now, maybe it’s just me, but I had trouble finding the figures in many of her paintings. It wasn’t until I got home and looked at some of the works again with my friends that I began to see things in them.
At first, I thought this was a shoe and the purple was a pant leg. However, a friend pointed out that a dark spot near the center of the shoe resembled a face and that the purple could be a billowing cape worn by this figure.
To me, this looks very much like a window. Outside the window I see a blue sky and a red and white sale boat with a rectangular sail. However, after staring at it for awhile I saw what seems to be a cupped hand at the bottom of the window sill.
This is one of the most abstract pieces of the exhibit in my opinion. Maybe the bottom right corner is a body of water and the lighter blue and white represent a ship coming toward the viewer. When it comes down to it though, I cannot identify many objects in this piece. Can you find the hidden figure in this painting?

It is very curious to me that all of these images were inspired by couples which in Sillman’s sketches are very recognizable as people. I have given considerable thought to the Hirshorn’s exhibit in the past couple of weeks. Maybe, Sillman is reflecting on our dynamically changing society and the shifting status of individuals and relationships in this society. It is possible that relationships as we traditionally think of them are becoming more abstract. It is not uncommon to see two people having lunch together while talking on their cell phones. Sometimes, relationships can be developed on the internet without any real human contact at all. The recent popularity of facebook and texting make both of these incidents even more frequent. Even blogs can be a to testament the abstraction of relationships. Blogs are an easily accessible forum for conversation which create group relationships with a very different feel than those developed in small living room gatherings. I do not know if Amy Sillman thought at all about these things when painting, and I may never fully understand the message she intended to convey. However, abstract art as my friends and I discovered, can have unlimited interpretations, and for now I choose to believe that Sillman’s art is a commentary on relationships in modern society.

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