David Diao: On Barnett (And Annalee) Newman

Installation view of David Diao: On Barnett Newman, 1991-2023, at Greene Naftali, showing BN: Cut Up Painting, 2014, center. image: greenenaftaligallery

Finally catching up to Adam Simon’s December post on Two Coats of Paint about David Diao’s now-closed show at Greene Naftali of 30 years of paintings relating to Barnett Newman.

Diao has so much going on in his Newman works, paintings about another painter, a subject which became a concept, and Simon does a good job pulling it together. In Jeffrey Weiss’ essay for a forthcoming catalogue of the works, he quotes Diao explaining that “his interest in Newman dates to a period associated with a crisis of faith in the viability of abstract painting.”

This language of faith and crisis and the mysteries of abstraction has echoes in the origins of one of my favorite of Diao’s Newman paintings from 2014, which was here called BN: Cut Up Painting. It’s the blue and white work above.

David Diao: BN: Cut Up Painting, 2014, 60 1/8 x 50 in., when it was photographing a little darker, and had a longer name, at its 2016 exhibition at Office Baroque in Brussels

When I wrote about Diao’s exhibition of the work in Brussels in 2016 [it was called Barnett Newman: The Cut Up Painting], I tried to pull together the accounts of its creation: Barney had asked his wife Annalee to cut up a painting that was finished, but, in his eyes, unresolved. She only did it after his sudden death, then anguished by a dream about the violent act, had it reassembled by a conservator. Barnett and/or Annalee’s work has been the subject of fascinating work by conservators, art historians—and Diao, but it has never been exhibited. Diao’s version is as close as we can get.

It really does seem like abstraction has been causing a lot of people a lot of grief over the years.

David Diao: Impeccable Touch [twocoats]
David Diao: On Barnett Newman, 1991-2023 [greenenaftali]
Previously, related, 2016: David Diao: Barnett Newman: The Cut Up Painting, 2014
Also: David Diao on Barnett Newman, from Dia’s Artists on Artists Lecture Series, c. 2013