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The Shape of Shape

Museum of Modern Art

October 21, 2019–April 12, 2020

Artist’s Choice: Amy Sillman—The Shape of Shape, installation view The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (2019).

Artist’s Choice: Amy Sillman—The Shape of Shape, installation view The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (2019).
© The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Heidi Bohnenkamp.

Press Release

Artist’s Choice: Amy Sillman—The Shape of Shape
October 21, 2019 – April 12, 2020
Museum of Modern Art
New York, NY


The institution's press release follows:

As a painter, I’ve always had an eye for shapes. Shape defines every outline, mass, and negative space. And everyone has a personal shape: namely, a shadow, that strange, flat, constantly shifting form that goes wherever you go, attached to both body and psyche. But even though shape is everywhere, we don’t talk about it much; it’s not a hot topic in art, like color or systems. I wonder if, in fact, shape got left behind when modern art turned to systems, series, grids, and all things calculable in the 20th century. Was shape too personal, too subjective, to be considered rigorously modern? Or is it just too indefinite, too big, to systematize?

I had these questions in mind as I curated this Artist’s Choice exhibition, and I decided to look for works in MoMA’s collection in which shape does prevail over considerations. I found a wealth of artworks, far too many to include here, by artists who dig into life’s surfaces, who start with physical perception rather than abstract logic. Often eccentric, poetic, or intimate, these works are like bodies that speak, operating at the hub of language and matter, signs and sensations.

During my search, I realized that shape-makers were also often outliers in modern art. Some of these artists were overlooked, or out of sync with their time. Perhaps this is because shape-artists tend to work with uncertainty and vulnerability instead of the self-assurance and dependability of systems. Doubling back to look at them now, in different configurations, can reopen old questions. We see how these artists explore the frailty of bodies, their marginalization, but also their revision and repair—making plain the political realities of having a body to begin with. They proceed by marking what we imagine to be the self, which like the shadow is a force both new and ancient.

—Amy Sillman (American, born 1955)