The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2013

All Issues
MAY 2013 Issue


On View
March 23 – April 27, 2013
New York

Just as we would not confuse a bowl of apples with its appearance in a painting, we ought not to mistake the information on display on any of Diao’s monochromatic surfaces for the painting itself. If we read the text first (not unlikely) we must forestall its emphatic authority in order to get the whole picture. That the paintings’ visual power is able to rise to the occasion attests to Diao’s remarkable skills.

David Diao, “Double Rejection 2 (MoMA Boardroom),” 2012. Acrylic and paper on canvas. 44 x 56”. Courtesy of Postmasters Gallery, New York.

Diao’s handsome if at times perplexing paintings are, along with much else, art about art. Their uninflected grounds might seem like neutral supports for verbal and diagrammatic information were it not for the allure of their elegant color and surfaces. I would argue that Diao is first and foremost a painter working with the aesthetic priorities of the medium—Barnett Newman and Brice Marden come to mind—even as he challenges late modernist tradition.

He is also a conceptualist, embedding in those surfaces statements of apparent fact with bold sans serif letters. Silk-screened reproductions of his own earlier paintings and autobiographically significant content print material further complicate the situation. All of the paintings depict flat surfaces congruent with the picture plane; that is, they are flat in the way of late monochromatic abstraction. However, they can also be read as depictions of already-flat items, much like a Johns flag or a Lichtenstein cartoon panel. Where there is a photographic image silk-screened or collaged onto a painting’s surface, we see it as at least twice removed from its ostensible subject. For such assertively designed canvases indirection prevails. The paintings in this exhibition display variously a faux auction account (“Auction Record,” 2011), a fictive MoMA invitation announcing a Diao retrospective(“40 Years of His Art,” 2013), and an 11-foot-wide double photographic image taken in Philip Johnson’s Glass House (“Salon 2,” 2011). The paintings’ intentionally erroneous statements, in their literal presentation, count nonetheless as instances of “information art,” that is, art that builds on objective, impersonal fact often with a social or political focus. (Hans Haacke’s investigation into scandalous real estate circumstances is one example.) Consider also “Double Rejection 1 (MoMA Boardroom)”(2012),which features a photo of two Diao paintings hanging in that august venue, reiterating the implicit assertion that he has not received his due professionally. You are left to ponder whether the distance between such coolly recorded autobiographical content and the possibly poignant note of disappointment it implies infers ironic detachment. By treating his own career art historically Diao calls into question the role of objective information as an aesthetic premise. His art makes of painting a way of holding, enshrining, possessing, distancing, aestheticizing, and even contesting the artist’s own art curriculum vitae.

This exhibition, the last in Postmasters’s Chelsea space, spans the years 1991 to the present and includes on a high shelf small copies of Diao’s large abstractions of the 1970s—they were good then and would not feel passé today. Not included here are any works from his previous exhibition, which gathered autobiographical, family, and social history of his early years in Chengdu, the family’s expulsion under Communist rule, emigration to the United States, and much else. It employed a wide range of graphic and representational strategies but maintained an affecting focus on the complexities of personal and global history. In contrast to that exhibition the work shown this time around explains the collective title TMI, as if to head off in advance any complaint about information overload.

459 W. 19th St. // NY, NY


Robert Berlind

ROBERT BERLIND is a painter and writer who lives in New York and upstate in Sullivan County. He has received the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Painting, the B. Altman Award in Painting at the National Academy, as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and an Artwriters’ Grant from Creative Capital and the Warhol Foundation.

He writes regularly for the Brooklyn Rail and has written for Art in America since the late ’70s as well as writing many catalog essays for various museums. He is a Professor Emeritus of the School of Art+Design, Purchase College, SUNY.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2013

All Issues