For The Shape of Shape, a compact exhibition that opened at MoMA last fall, painter Amy Sillman ransacked the museum’s collection for works that engage the amorphous and often neglected category of “shape.” Densely arranging her findings on low plinths, she defamiliarized the objects themselves and the typical viewing experience, clarifying in an accompanying essay what she was after: art that “works not only from the individual expressive body, but with body politics.”
That essay appears, along with more than a dozen others, in Sillman’s new book Faux Pas: Selected Writings and Drawings. Her relatable but often erudite texts — thoughtfully footnoted by her editors — are interspersed with absurdist comics, darkly funny diagrams, and a few serious drawings. What I love most about Sillman’s writing is how you can feel her pawing around in the dark, trying to suss out not only the right words to use, but the right way to contend with her subjects: the work of her peers and forebears, and the unwieldy question of painting’s status in a world preoccupied with bigger problems. She adeptly pokes fun at theory and art history, but she’s at her best making the case for awkwardness, for all that “which is fleshy, funny, downward-facing, uncontrollable.”
Faux Pas: Selected Writings and Drawings (After 8 Books, 2020), by Amy Sillman and edited by Charlotte Houette and François Lancien-Guilberteau, is now available on Bookshop.