The Story Behind the Work

Sketches of couples, including
Sketches of couples, including "M & H," are the basis of Sillman's works. (Amy Sillman And Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York)
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Friday, March 28, 2008

Amy Sillman is a conceptual artist trapped in a painter's body. As she tells it, the paintings in "Directions: Amy Sillman: Third Person Singular" started with the idea of sleeping with everyone she knows for one night.

Not "sleeping with" as in you know, but the idea of literally sleeping in each of their beds, with them there, of course. Sort of like what Sophie Calle once did. (In 1980, the French conceptualist famously invited a series of friends and strangers to occupy her bed while she watched, and photographed them.)

There was only one problem. Although Sillman liked the engagement with her subjects that spending the night in their beds entailed, sleeping didn't seem to give her enough to do as an artist. She needed something to make the project work. Forget sleeping, she thought, I'll just draw the couples I know. What's more intimate (or voyeuristic) than that?

Curiosity about coupling, then, was the engine driving this project. The drawings that came out of it might have been an afterthought -- or the project's "caboose," as Sillman calls it -- but they're what gives "Third Person Singular" its weight.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

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