The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

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July 13, 2014 to September 21, 2014 |

David Diao: Front to Back

David Diao: Front to Back is the second in a series of exhibitions in The Aldrich’s 50th Anniversary year that presents the work of artists whose careers are intimately tied to the history of the Museum. Diao had a painting enter Larry Aldrich’s collection in 1968 and his work was subsequently included in group exhibitions at The Aldrich in 1971, 1987, 1992, and 1996.

The artist’s response to this history is an exhibition that references the idea of a retrospective, but casts it in the unique light of the body of work made by Diao that focuses on his own career as well as the nature of the art world in which he finds himself embedded. The title Front to Back implies a chronological read, and the exhibition does indeed include works from the beginning of the artist’s career up to the recent past; but the reference goes deeper, speaking of Diao’s ongoing interpretation of Modernism and, since 1984, the extensive use of text in his paintings.

Diao came of age in the period immediately following Abstract Expressionism and was part of the generation of painters that struggled with the evolution of the medium in the shadow of Minimalism, Conceptualism, and Process Art that categorized New York in the 1960s. The early works (dating from 1971 and 1972) in this exhibition evidence this struggle, and Diao has used them and their history as subject matter to provocatively inform the content of the later works.

One enters Front to Back by literally passing through a gap in the artist’s three-panel paintingRésumé (1991), which as the title implies is a work that summarizes Diao’s exhibition history up to that point. Résumé is the earliest of the recent works in the exhibition, representing a phase—continued to the present day—of the artist critically examining the art world, his place in art history, and the usually invisible forces that shape visual culture.

The pre-1991 works in Front to Back point to the grounding of Diao’s art in the formal, abstract aspects of Modernism, while the later works are categorized by the use of the highly flexible and articulate language of that movement for deliberate and meditative social ends. Usually, art that is based in either the social or the political is ineffectual as the finger pointing is directed out towards the morally obvious. Diao, through his recent work, has held a mirror up to himself and the community he inhabits, and the results are complex, nuanced, and often uncomfortably self-conscious—just like the truth.

Richard Klein, Exhibitions Director.

David Diao was born in 1943 in Chengdu, Sichuan, China, and lives and works in New York City.