While We All Ache To Be Whole (With Respect to Hilma Af Klint), 2022. Acrylic on canvas, 50” x 40”
How do we mark time and how do we celebrate its passing? Amy Kligman has an answer to those questions in her solo exhibition “Offerings” at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art. On view until May 20, the artworks display an assortment of meaningful cycles, rituals, seasons and milestones through a series of painted shrines that honor human existence.
The first painting that caught my eye is entitled “Everything You Need,” which depicts an altar of overlapping objects including plants, candles, vases with flowers, a sculpture, a VHS tape, a saltshaker, jewelry, a key and a die which has landed on the number five. The altar seemingly floats in midair against a backdrop of rich green foliage, telling a story through objects. In response to her elaborate still lifes that exclude figuration, Kligman says, “I want folks to see themselves as the ‘people’ in the work. This series was started during COVID, when the absence of people coexisting with the residue of people was very present.”
A predominant theme in the series is commentary on domesticity and the history of oppressed femininity. A white frosted cake, wallpaper backdrops, vases with single flowers and organic foliage that mingles with the stationary objects each emanates feminine presence, or as Kligman says, “feminine gesture, feminine aesthetic, vulnerability, compassion, emotion.”
Within the painting “Creation Stories” Kligman inserts a depiction of the Woman of Willendorf (also known as Venus of Willendorf), a figurine estimated to have been made between 25,000 and 30,000 years ago. While archeologists and art historians have made many interpretations of Woman of Willendorf’s function or what the figure represents, her femininity is indisputable.
The color palette of the series, including vibrant neon pinks, yellows, greens, oranges and blues, speaks to the mood and environment the works create for gallery visitors. In her artist statement, Kligman notes that she embraces the color pink, as she sees her work responding to an inheritance from the women in her lineage who attempted to bring beauty to the world while living “less than glamorous lives” due to social and practical boundaries placed upon women.
In thinking about some of the recognized women who painted still lifes throughout the past few centuries, such as Dutch artist Rachel Ruysch, German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker, American artist Georgia O’Keeffe and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, Kligman enters the conversation on what it means to create a domestic still life while engaging with the stereotypes of femininity.
Regarding her art practice, Kligman says, “certain imagery, devices, ideas, personal and historical references — they cycle in and out of bodies of work in different iterations.” In “Offerings” Kligman continues to experiment with mark-making and texture in her paintings, looking toward a tradition of folk art and the decorative arts that are becoming better recognized in the art historical canon.
The next time I hear someone say, “I’ll light a candle for you,” I will think fondly of Kligman’s “Offerings” exhibition, which timelessly acknowledges and appreciates the quiet and unrecorded rituals that take place in private spaces. I will remember the gratitude she gives to her predecessors Hilma Af Klint and Lee Krasner in some paintings. I will remember the invitation for contemplation and meditation that makes “Offerings” so compelling.
“Amy Kligman: Offerings” continues at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, 2004 Baltimore Ave., through May 20. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, 816.221.2626 or sherryleedy.com.