New York

Diana Cooper

Diana Cooper is known for humble-looking yet labor-intensive works in which bits of acetate and felt, Post-Its, tiny pom-poms, and tacks accumulate and sprawl viruslike across walls and onto the floor. In that respect, the most noteworthy work in her fourth New York solo exhibition is Speedway, 2000–2002, a piece that moves away from the wall entirely. Balanced on thin legs, the octagonal block of foamcore is covered on one side by shapes reminiscent of auto parts and concentric lines underscoring the title’s association with the controlled chaos of a NASCAR track. The other side features compartments that create a kind of dazzling minimuseum: a fantasy fusion of architecture and art for a girl with cutting-edge dolls. These “galleries,” with their palette of primary hues, look like something Piet Mondrian and Donald Judd might have created together—except that Cooper also wallpapers some of these interiors with neurotic doodles. Such contradiction and capriciousness is typical of the artist (Danica Phelps, Nina Bovasso, and Sarah Sze operate on a similar wavelength), but this particular instance is a demonstration of Cooper’s unique spin on design’s increased role in contemporary art. Countering sleek work by Jorge Pardo and Andrea Zittel, Cooper’s work acts as a variation on the “pathetic aesthetic” for this art niche, substituting Magic Markers for paint and brushes and favoring slightly wobbly lines and angles. Speedway, in effect, refashions the architectural model as outsider art.

Cooper’s technique shows a cause-and-effect approach taken beyond any logical limits. The sheer amount of cutting and pasting, pinning, looping, framing, layering, and coloring in her pieces suggests grade-school projects gone to seed. Yet each one hews to a distinct theme and color. Push Gently, 2002, is Rymanesque in its varying shades of white felt, foamcore, neoprene, and paper; in another new development, the work incorporates photos of airplanes on tarmacs. The canvas Separate Functions, 2001–2002, is covered in a panoply of horizontal and vertical stripes, done primarily in blues and blacks, with two small rectangular jolts of yellow that could allude to operational lights and mass-produced packaging.

Some writers have described Cooper’s works as comments on the fragility and vulnerability of the machines and systems that keep the world humming. Indeed, Hidden Tracks Sabotage the Random, 2001–2002, seems like a massive circuit board hanging on the wall; pieces of clear acetate are grouped together into a twelve-by-seventeen-foot “canvas,” strips of red and gray acetate acting as paint, and a number of other components stretch out onto the floor. A cluster of crystalline acetate cubes, covered in networks of red lines, bursts from the middle of the piece. Objects resembling miniature building frameworks also extend across the floor, linked to the wall by long dotted acetate strips that evoke roads, flowcharts, or diagrams in an assembly manual. In fact, one wonders about the length of the assembly instructions for this piece, so complex as to seem like a do-it-yourself supercomputer. However, the title, Hidden Tracks . . . , which doubles as the exhibition’s title, suggests that Cooper’s focus is not the vulnerability of systems. Rather, operating from a highly personalized sense of logic, she seems to point beyond machines and technology, to some life force or energy that brings order, or some imperfect semblance thereof, to randomness and chaos.

Julie Caniglia