Tel Aviv

Diti Almog

Inga Gallery

A revealing detail: New York–based Diti Almog’s paintings are done in acrylic on aircraft plywood. Now, when Yve-Alain Bois wrote his famous essay “Painting as Model,” he surely didn’t have model planes in mind. Yet Almog succeeds in suggesting that painting-as-paradigm and painting-as-toy are not as different as one might have thought. Her works approach the status of painting by constituting a facsimile of it.

The handy thing about miniaturized replicas is that you can hold them in your hand, and thereby examine them from various angles as well as various distances. Questions of scale and distance have always been crucial to Almog. Her paintings tend to feel smaller than they really are, as if one were viewing them from far away. Her earlier works often generically resemble the work of Barnett Newman or Agnes Martin, only just a foot or two across, and are executed with an impossible precision that nonetheless betrays their handmade origins—as if created by someone who’d been inspired by a magazine image of a modernist stripe painting but had never seen the real thing. But her paintings also keep quoting one another, turning abstract paintings into represented abstract paintings, so that a configuration occupying the entirety of one painting might be reduced to a small emblem filling just a bit of a second painting’s clean, blank expanse—as if a camera had pulled back to show the first painting hanging on an immaculate white wall. And so on: Each of Almog’s exhibitions has typically been structured as a quasi-cinematic sequence of shots, one following another with dreamlike logic.

In the present instance—Almog’s first exhibition in a private gallery in Israel since 1992 (she was the subject of a large-scale survey at the Tel Aviv Museum in 2006)—the show as a whole might have seemed a sort of playhouse exhibition: In a tiny gallery, situated in two rooms on as many floors, Almog hung just five paintings. Compared to her work of the ’90s, the paintings have at first glance a softer aspect; in place of the flatness that characterized her earlier works, these recent pieces use subtle gradations of tone and a judicious amount of simple perspectival recession to suggest natural light and space—yet without ever committing to it. Thus, September 24th (all works 2007) might well depict the idyll of a calm sea and the clear sky above it, as viewed from an interior of which we see just a fragment of red wall; and yet it is nothing but three fields of color set within a pink surround. Upstairs, December 4th is a reversed and somewhat smaller grisaille remake of the same configuration—albeit in different colors—while Library, December 4th seems to show the latter as seen through a window from outside, while the same sea-and-sun configuration of stacked grisaille zones is visible to the left of the building.

A follower of Bois would likely say that in employing this cinematic sequencing, Almog has betrayed the critic’s call for a conception of painting unburdened with “the stifling concept of image” that obscures its perceptual, technical, symbolic, and strategic particularities. But the emergence of the image from abstraction is merely a passing moment in her dialectic—the image is always recaptured by nonrepresentation, and in the process, image and abstraction are both made to seem odd and uncanny. As Michael Lobel and Ulrich Baer wrote in the catalogue for her 2006 Tel Aviv Museum show, “Almog is concerned with our strange habit of looking at paintings as if they offered an interpretation of the world,” and to observe this habit, she must let it kick in before deflecting it.

Barry Schwabsky