Amy Sillman: After Metamorphoses

January 25, 2021 - July 30, 2021
Video Gallery

“Total fascination with a structure of endless change” is what first drew the contemporary painter Amy Sillman to the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses (8 CE), a mythic tale of transformation, desire, and power. In her five-minute animated video, aptly titled After Metamorphoses (2015–16), Sillman layers abstract drawings and iPad sketches that follow the narrative of the epic poem with a soundtrack by the contemporary German musician Wibke Tiarks. In Ovid’s account, told in chronological order from the creation of the world to the death and deification of Julius Caesar, hundreds of gods and humans rise victorious, experience defeat, commit and endure actions ranging from tender to violent, and mutate into something other than their original forms.

Throughout Sillman’s video, which she calls an animated drawing, bodies undergo strange and sometimes humorous mutations. In one instance, a woman throws up and her vomit transforms into three rats. In another, a figure with a fishing pole hooks a mermaid who quickly sprouts legs. Her body then splits open, releasing several dogs. Rather than isolate each story as a possible allegory, Sillman emphasizes the act of transformation as an uninterrupted loop. The mesmerizing and frenetic pace of the video is amplified by the constant movement between abstraction and figuration, an interchange that characterizes much of the artist’s practice. Sillman conceived this work in 2014 as a resident at the American Academy in Rome and debuted it immediately following the 2016 American presidential election. Her take on Ovid’s classical text about jealousy, corruption, and brutality, as well as love and fantasy, insists on heightened instability, a lack of finality or resolution, and unremitting change as a source of apprehension but also, possibly, consolation.

About the Artist

Born in Detroit in 1955, Amy Sillman earned her BFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York (1979) and her MFA from Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York (1995). She has received numerous awards and grants, including the American Academy in Rome Residency, Rome (2014); the Charles Flint Kellogg Award in Arts and Letters, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York (2012); the Guna S. Mundheim Fellowship in the Visual Arts from the American Academy in Berlin (2009); and a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2001). Her work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions at institutions including at the Arts Club of Chicago; Camden Art Centre, London; the Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Drawing Center, New York; Portikus, Frankfurt; Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria; and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC. Sillman’s first museum survey, Amy Sillman: one lump or two, premiered at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, in 2013 and traveled to the Aspen Museum of Art and the Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College. Recent group exhibitions include Painting 2.0, Expression in the Information Age, Museum Brandhorst, Munich (2015); The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2014); and the Whitney Biennial, New York (2014). For the Museum of Modern Art’s reopening in fall 2019, Sillman curated the exhibition Artist’s Choice: Amy Sillman—The Shape of Shape. Sillman has also written frequently about painting for such publications as Texte zur Kunst, Artforum, and Frieze. Her newest book, Amy Sillman: Faux Pas, was published by After 8 Books in 2020. Sillman has been on faculty at Bard College in their MFA program and at the Staedelschule in Frankfurt. She lives and works in New York.

Image credit

Amy Sillman (American, b. 1955), still from After Metamorphoses (2015–16). Animated video, 5 min. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.