David Diao


Collage and Silkscreen on canvas
57 x 96.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Postmasters Gallery

< Artists + Writers

David Diao, born 1943, lives and works in New York

“Throughout the first half of the 1990s, nearly all of Diao’s work focused on his own career. In Résumé (1991), details of his exhibition history, organized by year, span three large panels. For Plus and Minus (both 1991), he silk-screened pages from art magazines discussing his work, the pros and the cons, onto two large paintings he had made in the late 1970s. The most elaborate and challenging of the works during this period is probably Synecdoche (1993), a print with five separately framed sheets that overall measures 7 feet square. To create Synecdoche, Diao reproduced an essay by art historian Benjamin Buchloh from a Gerhard Richter exhibition catalogue, but placed color photocopies of his own paintings over the reproductions of Richter’s works and, in red ink, crossed out every instance of Richter’s name in the text and wrote in his own.

What might seem at first glance like an act of crude defacement by a frustrated artist unable to tolerate a rival’s enormous success is actually a considered statement about precedent and influence. Reading Buchloh’s essay, it struck Diao that what it said about Richter’s abstractions could also be applied to the squeegee paintings that he was making in the late 1960s and early 1970s, some five years before Richter began making paintings using a similar process. Diao also reflected on the fact that Richter may have seen one of his paintings in a 1973 show at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf that both men were included in. (Other observers have also speculated that Richter may owe an unacknowledged debt to New York painters, in particular Jack Whitten.)

In his essay for ‘David Diao: Front to Back,’ a 2014 show at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum (Diao’s first museum show in the U.S.), curator Richard Klein teases out the implications of Synecdoche: ‘In the ensuing years [after 1973] Richter moved towards a conceptual form of gestural abstraction in which the mark, while superficially “emotive,” was really about the mark standing in for all marks; in other words, a synecdoche of painterly expression. This position had been arrived at in the early 1970s by Diao, a situation that led to his abandoning all allusions to the gestural mark in his work and clearing the way for his monochrome, text-based paintings of the 1980s.'”

– Raphael Rubinstein, “Total Service Artists,” Art in America, 2015