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July 1, 2017 Back To News

Jeanne Silverthorne in New York Times, 1999


New York Times 8/13/1999
Jeanne Silverthorne ‘The Studio Stripped Bare, Again’
Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris
Article by Holland Cotter

In this funny Grand Guignol installation, black electrical cords are everywhere. They hang in swags from the ceiling of the Philip Morris sculpture court. They spill from outlet boxes, which are fake cast in black rubber, and snake across the gallery floor.

All the connections seem to converge on a single light bulb, suspended over two abstract sculptures in the center of the room, though it, too, is made of rubber. The only illumination, apart from overhead gallery lighting, comes from a desk lamp on a shelf. And that light is focused on two small organic forms, about the size and shape of packing-case noodles, lying under a magnifying glass.

The forms are actually remnants of the rubber-casting process that Ms. Silverthorne uses for most of her work. The whole installation, in fact, is a kind of claustrophobic, bad-dream version of the artist’s studio. As in Philip Guston’s late paintings, workplace junk is the stuff of art; sweat and anxiety take the place of inspiration. The studio becomes a hermetic world, a psychological projection, in which body and architecture seem to merge.

Cast-rubber picture frames on the wall hold yeasty-looking reliefs that may suggest abstract paintings but that are close-up depictions of skin tissue and sweat ducts. The tangled electrical wiring evokes sinews and intestines; the large sculptures in the center of the room carry sexual implications. The installation feels like a cross between the aftermath of an autopsy and an auto-erotic exercise, the latter impression reinforced by the reference to Marcel Duchamp in the show’s title.

Duchamp famously attempted to discredit esthetic concepts like originality and genius. And in doing so, he left a conceptual legacy that artists have embraced, rejected or struggled with ever since. Ms. Silverthorne is in the strugglers’s camp, stuck with the quandary of realizing that art is less than it was once thought to be, and wanting it to be more.

That quandary, which seems to be the main theme of the installation, doesn’t in itself make a particularly riveting subject for art. But Ms. Silverthorne’s theatrical instincts and her hand’s-on engagement with unorthodox materials come to the rescue. They give her work a comedically over- pitched strangeness that stirs up a wealth of metaphorical possibilities.

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