New York

Lydia Dona

Space: the word itself conjures up all sorts of associations. In the art world, which is but a tiny province in the universe, space has come to be a formal term. For the generation of abstract artists who came of age a decade after World War II, the fabrication of literal or empirical space and the elision of subject matter were the approved goals. If you could achieve an empirical space (or literal surface) that could also be equated with a grand theme, you were carrying the torch once held by such pioneers of abstraction as Kasimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock, and Barnett Newman. However, among younger abstract artists, this linear reading of history and its emphasis on aristocratic lineage seems to have finally run its course. The most apparent sign of the disruption between the generation of artists who established their careers in the '60s and '70s and the younger generation is their very different relationship to official history. Furthermore, this younger generation can be divided into those artists who have donned the mantle of formalism and those artists, less stylistically coherent as a group, who are reengaging history in an attempt to discover their own individual authenticity. Lydia Dona is in the forefront of this latter, as yet unnamed group.

Dona's paintings have been exhibited frequently in New York since 1985, and this was her third solo show here in as many years. However, instead of playing it safe and perfecting a signature style during this period, she has changed her work in major ways. She has gone from an abstract gestural approach, to depicting a cluster of objects and shapes against a depthless ground, to––in the works in this exhibition––layering various patterns of geometric shapes over and within a shifting ground plane. None of these changes should be seen as simply stylistic. Rather, they are the direct result of the artist's ability to clarify her ongoing concern, her recognition that infinite space is as much a matter of science fiction as of scientific fact.

While Dona's earlier paintings referred to asteroids, space-program debris, and the eerie spatiality employed by Roberto Matta and Yves Tanguy, her recent works evoke computer screens and the multilayered, diagrammatic space that we associate with subatomic particles and fractal geometry. The ground in each of these paintings consists of a monochrome undercoat of acid yellow, khaki green, harsh pink, brick red, or industrial gray over which she has superimposed circuitlike bands and warped patterns. These hands and patterns––various combinations of circles, ellipses, rectangles, and trapezoids––are painted in lighter or darker hues than the undercoat, frequently in black. The overall effect is one of shifting, bending surfaces that suggest a limitless, light-filled space where entropy has replaced gravity as a controlling force. In this indeterminate field, the viewer feels as if he or she is floating or falling.

Dona uses paint––acrylic and oil––as a kind of film to absorb weightlessness and the universe's braiding together of order and chaos. At a time when scientists are penetrating the secrets of realms that previously seemed unfathomable––such as the nature and shape of the universe, in its manifestations both infinitely great and infinitely small––Dona's vision seems particularly contemporary. More important, she is one of the few abstract artists who appears to be disentangling herself from art history.

John Yau