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OnlineJun 02, 2024

An Honest Self-Rendering: Looking Inside of Sima Schloss’s On Empathy at ShowUp

In her solo exhibition, the artist explored neurodivergence and forgiveness through mixed-media self-portraits.

Review by Helina Almonte

Installation view, “Sima I. Schloss: On Empathy,” ShowUp, Boston, 2024. Sima Schloss, "A lie is a buried truth," 2023. Mixed media on arches paper, 40" x 29". Courtesy of ShowUp.

It’s a Sunday afternoon in early May when I step out of the crisp spring air and enter ShowUp’s lower-level gallery space. As I descend the wide staircase, I leave behind the boisterous noise of excited shoppers on Harrison Avenue and enter a space that is still, silent, and feels as though I should proceed with caution. It’s Brooklyn-based artist Sima Schloss’s first solo exhibition, “On Empathy,” which explores neurodivergence and forgiveness through mixed-media self-portraits. Immediately I’m confronted with A lie is a buried truth—a figure lying on their side, stitched together with scraps of collaged subway maps against a blue background. She casts a desolate gaze over my entrance.

The eyes are prominent in each of Schloss’s self-portraits; it seems as though some of her figurative apparitions look directly at you, while others—eyes closed or downcast—turn their gaze inward. Her figural-yet-freeform line work suggests both an awareness of control and a lack thereof. These (sometimes literally) threaded lines provide structure atop an explosion of paint and torn paper, attempting to restrict the sitters’ innards from spilling out into the rest of the world, although at times their attempts are in vain. Painting and assembling in mostly blues with ghostly brushwork, Schloss’s works prompt introspection. I can’t help but to feel with this stranger, whose relaxed resignation spreads out before me.

Installation view, “Sima I. Schloss: On Empathy,” ShowUp, Boston, 2024. Sima Schloss, The devil comes disguised as everything you’ve ever wanted, 2024. Mixed media on arches paper, 20″ x 20″. Courtesy of ShowUp.

A lie is a buried truth references Titian’s iconic Venus of Urbino. A genderless figure reclines mid-canvas, gazing just past the viewer and into the distance.  Replicas of the figure—both in motion and motionless—fill the remainder of the page. Schloss layers earth-colored threads to define the boundaries of the unidentified muses and fills their bodies with scraps of memorabilia such as a map of New York, allowing the torn pages to spill out onto the melancholy blue base of the canvas. This collaging serves as a reflexive tactic, placing Schloss’s gestural figures in the context of her everyday life. I’m reminded of the noise I just escaped on the street as I’m confronted with this person who holds the bustling streets of Brooklyn within and all around them.

Although Schloss does not shy away from depicting sensitive subject matter, we are left with enough ambiguity to imbue meaning into what she offers. We are not given descriptive wall texts—all hints come solely from the poetic titles that double as cautionary tales. Such is the case for The devil comes disguised as everything you’ve ever wanted, a piece with which I sat on the gallery floor and had a staring competition with.

The piece is the kind of artwork that makes you question whether the eyes that are rendered can actually see you as you see them. The sitter in this portrait is conjured up in Schloss’s signature instinctive lines, bathed in a wash of indigo.Written fragments taken from Schloss’s journal trace the body’s outline, transforming her documented experience into an inseparable part of her personhood.

Pages from one of Sima Schloss’s artist books.

I find the four interactive artist books that are also on display both visually and tactilely satisfying. “On Empathy” physically and abstractly places us inside of Schloss’s experience as a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The frenzied lines throughout the exhibition seem directionless, crossing over themselves repeatedly; words permeate and inform the artist’s existence, and the gallery space’s unconventional turns and corners add layers to the complexity of living with a disorder like OCD. The figural depictions give us an opportunity to look her in the eye, although perhaps from a different perspective, while the presence of the visual journals allows us to become intimate with Schloss’s raw, unedited truth. Clearly, Schloss is not interested in hiding, but “On Empathy” is not just a public unveiling of the inner workings of her mind—it’s an act of radical self-acceptance.

“Sima I. Schloss: On Empathy” is on view at ShowUp (formerly Beacon Gallery), 524B Harrison Avenue, through June 2, 2024.

Helina Almonte


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