New York

David Diao and Joel Shapiro

Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

Two exhibitions of high merit opened at Paula Cooper: acrylic paintings by David Diao and shelves displaying substances by Joel Shapiro. In both of these artists the problems of acute modernity are sensible and, at times, resolved less than idiosyncratically, at least insofar as Joel Shapiro is concerned.

David Diao, for a few years now, has been devoted to wet field painting—emphasizing tonalist experiences in highly delimited ranges of color spread out upon a large canvas. The lyricism and the cloudiness are, on an obvious level, something too conventionally assigned to an Eastern ancestry—although it clearly announces in Diao’s work, as well as in all second generation color painting, not only an immediate continuity from Rothko and Frankenthaler, but a much older one stemming from the musical exercises of Whistler from the later 1870s and 1880s. The present Diao especially strikes one as Whistlerian—lunar, silvery, eclipsed. The color tends to light creams which are modified by dark grounds—deep reds, earthy buffs. The paint is applied with a wide, stiff, trowel-like instrument, the manipulation of which relegates .thickenings of paint to certain areas and permits the ground color to peer through. Limpidity and liquidity are emphasized and long plumed bleedings often occur. It is delicate and dexterous. What is particularly interesting in this kind of painting—and it is to be seen in Ruda, Poons, Wofferd, et al.—is the resolution of the margin. It had been assumed that aleatory and gestural displacement worked against the idea of conscious composing around the perimeter—as indeed it does. In new field painting the margin organizes itself, provided the canvas is large enough and despite whatever encrustations or thickenings may occur. A visual circumambience is operative no matter the vagueness of the figure. The retina and the mind compose the frame in this kind of painting and not necessarily the pigment or the “composition,” or even the shape of the support. Said another way: the shape of the canvas will determine the “retaining walls” of this kind of composition whether or not such “retentions” were consciously composed, as is the case in those Pollocks in which the gestural thrust skirts the edge and doubles back upon the center.

Joel Shapiro is still finding himself—one thinks so anyway, remembering the few works one has already encountered in group exhibitions these past two years. These were primarily interested in the soft, hairy materiality of unravelling mats and hanks of blue or black nylon. The present works a re adjustable bracketed shelves—each approximately two feet wide. The shelf is five-eighths of an inch thick and made out of composition wood. Upon each of these there fits still another layer of wood or slate or glass or copper or alloys of various kinds—industrially fabricated materials as well as matières nobles. The shelves are unabashedly what shelves are meant to be—supports and display units—although their effect is altered by the height at which they are affixed to the wall—slightly too high for comfortable viewing. The pertinence of the elementarism of Carl Andre is inescapable although Shapiro avoids extrinsic intellectual structuring such as elements in sequence from the table of atomic valences or serial structure. Moreover, the floor pieces of comparative lengths of marble, wood and slate also bring to mind several of the recent works of Richard Serra. Perhaps the most intriguing aspects are the shelves themselves and not their materialistic empiricism. In the most recent exhibition of Larry Bell, for example, we were presented with ledges; narrow, prismatically anodized shelves of bevelled mirror which threw back upon the wall exquisite colored flushes of light in the manner of Morris Louis Veils. No such coloristic effects are even remotely hinted at in the blunter, non-allusive work of Shapiro. And yet, what seems curious is that disparate sensibilities can find in a furniture-like idiom the means for the creation of highly oblique statements.

Robert Pincus-Witten