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Burgoyne Diller: Paula cooper gallery. (Reviews - New York).

Burgoyne Diller's drawings and collages are quirky little things. Made a few years before his death in 1965, they represent his last fling with geometric abstraction. Diller, a student of Hans Hofmann at the Art Students League in New York, was the first American to take Mondrian as his model. Already in the '3os he was producing works with a geometric sophistication similar to that of the Dutch artist. But Diller never quite got Mondrian's metaphysical point, nor did his work have Mondrian's restraint, his determination to make less count for more, expressively and cognitively. Diller's abstractions, on the contrary, tend to be overloaded and acrobatic: the more angles and rectangles, the better. Such feats of skill and busyness are beside the point of Mondrian's idealism. Mondrian's art looks austere, but the meaning he assigned it was rather grandiose, not to say baroque. As he wrote in 1926, he sought to depict "equilibrium through equivalence of nature and mind, of what is individual and what is universa l, of the female and the male." Indeed, Mondrian saw himself as a social as well as an artistic prophet: He thought that the "equivalence of the plastic means" he achieved in his compositions furthered human evolution, for it "can create a harmony in society unknown until now." This kind of European intellectualization of art was not yet fashionable in Diller's heyday. Instead there was American athleticism: Diller's is a very hardy, very fit geometrical abstraction, but with no higher point. His planes are positivistic rather than philosophical, matter-of-fact rather than implicitly sublime, narrowly what they are rather than full of profound import.

But Diller's compositions do have a certain uncanniness. What saves the drawings and collages from being historical curiosities, brilliantly academic abstractions, as it were, is the heightening of the contrast between the planes and the eventual reduction of their number. Interestingly, this occurs under the influence not of Mondrian but of Malevich. Again and again we see Diller grandly setting up a central square adumbrated by lesser geometrical entities. The result is often reminiscent of Josef Albers's homages to the square, which in fact were contemporary with Diller's drawings and collages. One wonders who was looking over whose shoulder, or whether they were simply on the same wavelength. Diller's geometry seems more spirited and less redundant than Albers's--more Malevichean. One dark square with various agitated rectangles in it seems to recall Malevich's aerodynamic phase, and one blue square with a white-and-yellow rectangular strip above brings the final puritan, transcendental phase of Supremati sm to mind. If Diller is more playful than Albers, however, he's more nervous than Malevich. The nervousness shows up in the pencil lines that often appear as gestural background. Sometimes delicate, sometimes urgent, and always somber, they add a note of tentativeness to the work, which somehow saves the geometry from sterility. They give it a lively aura, suggesting that it may be secretly alive, and might even have a personality, at least latently.
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Author:Kuspit, Donald
Publication:Artforum International
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 1, 2001
Words:497
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