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Curated by Elaine Levy

"Untitled (Sleeping Girl)" was a lump of clay squeezed in my hand, so it fits exactly in my hand and could be carried like a talisman. Though it’s titled  "Untitled (Sleeping Girl)” I don’t think of it so much as either a boy or a girl, the face has the special rosy cheeks of a sleeping child.

Man Ray, Noire et Blanche, 1926, silver print
Constantin Brancusi, Head of a Child (The First Step), 1917, Plaster, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris,  Brancusi Bequest, 1957
Constantin Brancusi, La muse endormie, carved in marble 1909-1910, cast in bronze 1913, Private Collection

Los Angeles-based artist Amy Bessone draws inspiration from sporadic, nodal networks of images. Her examination of portrayals of the female form is equally responsive to art historical examples--Greco-Roman sculptures, the ur sculpture from Willendorf, to the odalisques of high modernism--as it is to so-called lowbrow depictions--obscene figurines, collectibles, etc. Subverting notions of female figuration, her work meditates on the dichotomies of form and gender, class, stasis and movement. Bessone approaches the fundamentals of sculpture, in terms of material, methods and technique head on. The works exhibited, according to the artist, have in common a certain tenderness, vulnerability and innocence. The directness of her approach to material, technique and methods is congruent with recent art history, yet its simplicity does not mask any nostalgic sentimentality towards the classical arts. It stems from an impulse to remain in close bodily contact with her materials, expressing a personal longing to give shape to an idea or a sensual experience. Any sentimentality read to be present in her work is addressed directly.

Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Angelica in Chains, 1859, oil on canvas, 97 x 75cm, Collection Sao Paulo Museum of Art, currently in Department of Paintings of Le Louvre, Paris
Agnolo Bronzino, Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, 1545, oil on wood, 146,1 x 116,2cm,  National Gallery London

The fact that I make these objects by hand, with their material being in the world and that they take up space is important. We try to tame things by categorizing them or dividing them. It’s a means of control. A sensual, physical, emotional, spiritual component is not divorced from the intellectual, academic, or rational. Scale and proximity are relative and therefore about relationships, such as the inescapable relationship of the viewer’s body to the art object [1].

The works on display are in direct conversation with her series Micro-monuments. Bessone links her proposal that a monument does not necessarily need to retain its large scale to become monumental, to tabletop architectural models. The visualization of architecture by way of the tabletop model is less about the specific structural plan to render the buildings inhabitable, and more about the apprehending the total sense of its design. The models are sets for staging a sort of pre-judgement on the eventual building itself, the human scale version of which, at the point of production, is a fantasy.

Small Flesh, the work most at home in the context of art history through the trope of the reclining nude, depicts a seated figure--an adolescent girl--performing the role of the heroine. The piece follows Bessone’s 2013 silkscreen on paper titled Heroine. The figure rests on a found block of wood it takes as its elevation. Small Flesh, and Heroine are derived in part from a souvenir figurine of a mermaid found in a thrift shop.

Heroine, Amy Bessone, 2013, Silkscreen on Paper, 25 × 34 inches
Amy Bessone’s collection of found objects

Gaston Bachelard writes in his 1958 book, The Poetics of Space, “Psychologists -and more especially philosophers- pay little attention to the play of miniature frequently introduced into fairy tales. In the eyes of the psychologist, the writer is merely amusing himself when he creates houses that can be set on a pea. But this is a basic absurdity that places the tale on a level with the merest fantasy. And a fantasy precludes the writer from entering, really, into the domain of the fantastic” [2].

The comparison of Untitled (Sleeping Girl) to a talisman conveys a different sort of meaning onto the scale of Bessone’s works. If the autonomy of Minimalist works is derived from masculinely conceived bodily dimensions, allowing them to inhabit a space with the viewer (like the traditional bronze monument dethroned), then Bessone’s works establish a symbiosis, steeped in need and desire, between the work and the viewer. Her palm sized monuments traffic in trust, belief and stewardship. Through their delicacy and scale the viewer is prompted to take on the role of preservationist--if only for a brief moment--with all relevant emotional impulses. Verses which endow the essential talismanic qualities to the object carried in one's pocket are seemingly supplanted in contemporary life by the plurality of reference points from which a work may be entered. Resonant with Bessone’s work, in 1908, Sarah Stein remarks in her note on Henri Matisse: “In addition to the sensations one derives from a drawing, a sculpture must invite us to handle it as an object; just so the sculptor must feel, in making it, the particular demands for volume and mass. The smaller the bit of sculpture, the more the essentials of form must exist” [3] .

Giorgio de Chirico, The Soothsayer's Recompense, 1913, Oil on canvas, 135,6 x 180 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950.
Rene Magritte, Personal values, 1952, Oil on canvas, 77,5 x 100 cm, Collection Museum of Modern Art San Francisco SFMOMA
The Slits, Typical Girls, 1979

Adding to the myriad of references in Bessone’s work, Playlet clearly winks to two of her favorites in art history--Magritte and de Chirico--for both their placement of objects in space and their play of scale. Giorgio de Chirico’s classicism was heavily marked by its theatricality. His paintings were conceived like small simplified theater decors to which he added some accessories. Objects progressively appeared in his paintings, the main one, from 1910 on, being the statue. As in Bessone’s work, that kind of theatricality was fed by art history throughout the years, and is accompanied by a certain melancholy, maybe rooted in the cast shadows, and the impression of silence.

In Magritte’s work, the statue becomes a stand-in for life itself. Influenced by de Chirico, Magritte sought to strip objects of their usual functions and meanings in order to convey an irrationally compelling image. By distorting the scale, weight, and use of ordinary objects and inserting them into a variety of unaccustomed contexts, Magritte confers a fetishistic intensity.

Looking at Magirtte’s Personal Values, the viewer is left to question if the room is miniature, while the objects are normal sized or if the room is normal sized and the items are not to scale. The situation in the painting is not realistic and creates a sense of mystery. 

In Bessone’s show the dimensional tension operates also between the two small sculptures placed at the same level, at the same scale, the body and the head, the part and the whole.



[1]   Misplaced Empathy: Amy Bessone Interviewed by William J. Simmons, Recontextualizing “bad objects.”, April 8, 2019
[2]   p.148 in Beacon Press reedition of Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (1958), english publication 1964 
[3]  p.45 in Matisse on Art, Jack D. Flam, Published by E.P. Dutton, 1988 (first edition Phaidon Press Limited, 1973)

Exhibited works:

Untitled (Sleeping Girl), 2019
Glazed ceramic
1 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 2 inches

Small Flesh, 2018
Glazed ceramic and wood
5 x 3 x 5 inches