Diana Al-Hadid

San Jose Museum of Art
110 South Market Street
February 24, 2017–September 24, 2017

Diana Al-Hadid, Nolli’s Orders, 2012, steel, polymer gypsum, fiberglass, wood, foam, plaster, aluminum foil, pigment, 13 1/2 x 19 x 10'.

Under a barrel-vaulted skylight, Diana Al-Hadid’s monumental sculpture Nolli’s Orders, 2012, glistens as if wet, a tiered fountain’s downward currents frozen into stalactites. Reclining on fragile palafittes are casts of human models, their limbs languorously arrayed. The figures and their environment all share the same bone-china hue, veined with pastel green, yellow, pink, and the silver of tinfoil. Al-Hadid’s primary materials are both surface and support. Mixing pigment into polymer gypsum, the artist makes color central to the sculpture’s form, rather than a decorative addition.

Many of Al-Hadid’s visual citations are drawn from two-dimensional representations of buildings. “Liquid City” includes several of these sources (a Piranesi etching and eighteenth-century maps), which aren’t so much decoders for her work as windows onto the associative logic that fuels her expansive bricolage. The large polymer gypsum painting Mob Mentality, 2014, visually references the ribbed vaults and gold leaf of Giovanni di Paolo’s Legend of Saints, 1470. An untitled drawing on Mylar from 2012 is more abstract but features pointed arches soaring like mountain peaks in cool aqua tones.

Nolli’s Orders refers to Gianbattista Nolli’s 1748 map of Rome, which was unique for its graphic distinction between public and private spaces. The challenge of representing space is, of course, also at the heart of sculpture. Al-Hadid’s many Renaissance references raise the stakes. Even in paintings so overtly concerned with the convincing use of linear perspective in a two-dimensional environment, Al-Hadid manages to tease out spaces that are both real and otherworldly.

— Kim Beil