Critics’ Picks

Diana Al-Hadid, Trace of a Fictional Third, 2011, polymer gypsum, wood, steel, fiberglass, aluminum foil, paint, 10 x 20 x 13'.


Diana Al-Hadid

Weatherspoon Art Museum
Spring Garden Street and Tate Street
February 9–May 5, 2013

Diana Al-Hadid’s first major museum survey, at the Weatherspoon Art Museum on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, offers a rare opportunity to witness a dialogue among several works made over a five-year period. The exhibition of nine sculptures and seven drawings references Italian and Flemish Renaissance painting and gothic architecture, often avoiding these traditions’ religious content to focus on their formal qualities. At the Vanishing Point, 2012, realizes Jacopo Pontormo’s painting The Visitation, 1514–16, in three dimensions. Composed of steel, polymer gypsum, fiberglass, and other materials, the nearly monochromatic work presents an accumulation of abstract, fungal forms built on a series of plinths and steps that expose and reimagine the mechanics of the original work’s one-point perspective. But instead of rendering an illusion of solidity, the sculpture’s bases appear to disintegrate into a screen of shreds and ribbons; the structures above appear weightless. Pontormo’s figures have been eliminated, voiding the sculpture of its original religious narrative. Tomorrow’s Superstitions, 2008, performs a similar translation on Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Tower of Babel, 1563, replacing the massive central building in the painting with a burned-out vortex of steel scaffolding and vertiginous architectural elements.

The exhibition includes drawings central to the artist’s practice. Vigorously executed in charcoal, conté, and other materials, they echo both the subtle coloration—mostly monochromatic with hints of aqua, pink, and blue—and the emphatic verticals of the sculptures.

Al-Hadid is well known for her virtuosic ability to scavenge the raw materials of art and architectural history and mine them for new expressive potential. However, even as the artist deemphasizes religious iconography, the works nevertheless evoke spiritual connotations. They are cathedrals of aesthetics, appearing to transubstantiate worldly matter into weightless, immaterial spiritual ideas.