December 27, 2007

Burgoyne Diller's polite abstraction

"Burgoyne Diller and Hard-Edge Abstraction: Underpinnings and Continuity," Spanierman Gallery, New York, NY. Through January 5. Along with examples by Diller, the exhibition includes art by Karl Benjamin, Ilya Bolotowsky, Lorser Feitelson, Alexander Lieberman, Helen Lundeberg, Howard Mehring, Leon Polk Smith, and Angelo Testa.

In the 1930s, Burgoyne Diller, influenced by Mondrian, Kandinsky and other early adopters of abstract painting in Europe, played an influential role in the development of abstract painting in America. As head of the mural division for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project from 1934 to 1938, Diller promoted abstraction as a unifying language of optimism and equality. In the NYSun, James Gardner finds the Spanierman show historically inaccurate, but charming nonetheless. "Seeking to plump up the art historical heft of a largely forgotten American master, the Spanierman Gallery would have us believe that Diller was essential to the genesis of the hard-edge abstraction that emerged at the end of the 1950s....Hard-edge abstraction, associated pre-eminently with Barnett Newman, was a reaction to the so-called gestural abstraction that had dominated the New York School since the end of World War II....In the work of Burgoyne Diller (1906–65), as well as in that of several other artists in the Spanierman show, it is surely possible to find a comparable degree of geometric severity. But in their effects and in their relation to the previous history of art, these paintings are very different from the hard-edge abstractions of Newman and his many followers....Both factions of the New York School — the gestural and the hard-edge — parade a self-confidence, an almost ornery self-assertiveness, that is practically ill-bred compared with the shy, Dutch introspection of Mondrian (and his American followers). That is to say, there are a lot of right angles both in Diller and in Newman, but if they are largely academic in Diller, in Newman they acquire a new and almost polemical force." Read more.

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