Art In America

April, 1993
Siobhan Liddell at Trial Balloon

By Faye Hirsch
In her first solo exhibition last fall, Siobhan Liddell showed work that makes even the most fragile examples of Arte Povera look like the elaborate commissions of Renaissance princes. She seems to be part of a wave of young artists who have slipped into the spaces vacated by ‘8Os affluence, a virtual neo-Povera of spills and scatters, of materials found, recycled and casually exhibited. Liddell uses only negligible substances—bits of string, cellophane, cardboard, sticks, paper. At first glance, her works strike an offhand pose, suspended from the ceiling or leaning up against walls, yet this casual appearance belies a more demanding quietude. Barely distinguished from their found forms, these works require careful decisions by the artist to become noticeable in the first place-delicately, obsessively wrapped with string, precisely tilt – Liddell’s work carries none of the existential gravity of sculpture. Color is extremely important to her, and, for the most part, the works remain wall-bound and nearly weightless. A subtle and whimsical life of feelings is played out in oddly cut pieces of cellophane, where the nature of color as light is discreetly asserted in pastel shadows. In one work, a pyramid of colored dashes, painted on the wall, capped a leaning stick. While absolutely abstract, the work felt anthropomorphic a dialectic of structure and sensibility.

Liddell draws incessantly using her sketchbooks as diaries that recall places or feelings in delicate abstractions. She showed four of these drawings extracted from their binding and framed. They operate nearly entirely without linearity, color washes comprising small, lonely shapes positioned cunningly on the page. Confounding the limits of measure and description, they nonetheless anchor themselves in a position of specificity, a particular dip or slant, the minimum necessary to convey something familiar – gravity as a body might feel it, but with no specific corporeal allusion. 

Such work carries an inherent risk, that of being overlooked altogether. In the big group shows that abound these days, Liddell’s contributions are sometimes difficult to find, as in last fall’s “In and Out, Back and Forth” show, independently curated at 578 Broadway by the Julia Arts Foundation, a small collective of artists. Her slight coloristic alteration of a corner pilaster in the gallery left the room apparently empty, though when discovered the alteration seemed, as did the subtlest of works at Trial Balloon, like a real find. The dangerous line Siobhan Liddell’s work must straddle, as Germano Celant expressed it in 1984 regarding Arte Povera artists, is “between coherence and incoherence, between itself and the world.” And the art world is rarely a place to hear so quiet a voice.