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James Siena: From the Studio

Including work from over three decades, From the Studio is a remarkably personal exhibition that was selected collaboratively by the artist and this curator from James Siena’s studios in New York and the Berkshires. Best known for densely patterned paintings, gouaches, and drawings that are based on strict self-imposed guidelines and patterns that the artist refers to as “algorithms,” Siena’s work invokes systems and sequences reminiscent of computer software programs. Reaching beyond the precincts of abstract painting, Siena’s 1991 assertion “I don’t make marks, I make moves” points to his desire for viewers to actively engage with his forms and “connotes,” in art historian Robert Hobbs’s words, “the role his art plays in an ongoing game, like chess, that depends on visualization followed by action.”

From the Studio includes not only paintings and drawings by Siena that he hasn’t wanted to part with—a practice shared by many artists—but also works by contemporaries he has traded for, bought, or received as gifts. Among those pieces are a drawing by Mark Lombardi, known for intricate diagrams of financial crime and conspiracy networks; two drawings by Alan Saret, Cornell ’66, well-known for the sculptures made in the late 1960s and ’70s of bundles of wire that are suspended from the ceiling; and a body-sculpture photograph by Hans Breder that has an intriguing relationship to Siena’s more recent figurative work, in which bodies are flattened and intertwined into one continuous line.

Examples from Siena’s extensive collection of antique typewriters and calculating machines provide another glimpse into the way his mind works, and aerial photographs of World War I trench warfare bear an uncanny resemblance to his non-slice paintings. In-progress sculptural pieces consisting of grape stems and hardwood trusses seem to be translations of Siena’s concerns into three dimensions. Short of reproducing the artist’s studio in the Museum, this intimate exhibition aims to present some of the aesthetic and conceptual underpinnings of Siena’s work by way of other objects.

Andrea Inselmann
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art