New York

Richard Diebenkorn

Knoedler Gallery

Where Willem de Kooning refuses the geometrical option, Richard Diebenkorn takes it, but not with the rigor of Mondrian: within Diebenkorn’s “primitive” frame, any configuration is possible. And where de Kooning tries to break the frame however much he implicitly accepts it (a reluctant acceptance), Mondrian and Diebenkorn manipulate whatever comes within its boundaries into a devious echo of it. Mondrian, however, tends to remove the traces of the working process, giving the final configuration an imagistic effect—it seems a utopian icon that has sprung, like Athena (and as fully armored and seemingly invincible), from the forehead of divine Art. Diebenkorn’s configurations are pervaded by marks of enormous industry: pentimenti galore, like sturdy ghosts which refuse either to go away or to confront one. Lines are there, not there, moved, removed, so that the strength one at first sees in them comes to seem not so strong and less than final. One is not even sure that one saw it. that the lines are really any more visible than the pentimenti, which acquire enormous “character.” The overall configuration seems even less secure than the lines that constitute it. Organization, while not haphazard, seems inconclusive.

If it is true that Modern artists, instead of painting what they saw through the windows (like traditional artists), painted and repainted the window itself, then one can say that Diebenkorn’s works offer us a tour de force of window-reorganization without undermining the fundamentals of its configuration. From the diagonals established by the convergence of the joints of the frame, to the right angles fundamental to the window’s sense of well-established clarity, Diebenkorn manipulates every variable to stunning yet intimate effect. For the window (or its frame) posits an intimacy, by limiting viewing—limiting the field of visual stimuli. No doubt the effect of intimacy is enhanced by the relative smallness of these works on paper. But their trenchancy also depends on the effect of infinity Diebenkorn generates through his brilliant manipulation of internal space, using the frame’s constituents. This is certainly helped by his very visible texture, which has a shifty look to match the pentimenti.

These are among the most brilliant nonobjective works made in years. It is fitting that nonobjectivity climax in a flourish not unrelated to Robert Delaunay’s window paintings of 1912–13, which were crucial to its beginning. Not only do these works bring it full circle, but they demonstrate that window-watching is no longer what art is about, although the window retains its status as emblematic inscape. As Delaunay once did, Diebenkorn reminds us that to create a frame is to create a drama—that a frame is inherently dramatic, as long as one recognizes that for all its determinateness it is not absolute, but an assembly of parts that must be perpetually reconvened.

Donald Kuspit