Towards A Sense of Closure: David Diao’s TMI at Postmasters
March 23 to April 27, 2013
459 West 19th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212 727 3323
If ever the timing of a show was pitch perfect with the circumstances of its venue, it is David Diao: TMI. This at once ironic and plaintive show, delving into the cruel vagaries of the art market, is the set-striking event at Postmasters, drawing a close to their fifteen years tenancy at 459 West 19th Street—because their rent is being doubled.
The last day of show and space alike is Saturday, April 27.
TMI is an artist’s considered revenge on the perceived slights of the system. Diao has made paintings that document the derisory results of an embarrassing dumping of his work in an inappropriate auction house. One image, for instance, consists of the fateful auction catalog pages, replete with circled, hand-written under-selling hammer prices. In another painting he fantasizes a result in the opposite direction, inflating his actual auction record even more dramatically than their landlords did his gallerists’ rent. High up on a ledge are duplicates in miniature of the devalued works, for sale at a “correct,” (IE non-market) price in a gesture of what the Chinese call “chutzpah.” But he doesn’t stop with auction injustice. Other paintings adapt the graphics of a MoMA Picasso retrospective for an announcement of a fictional retrospective for himself at the same institution. Another drops one of his own pictures into a painted rendering of a photograph of the old trustees’ dining room to memorialize the moment when curator John Elderfield presented the work to the board for consideration, only for it to be declined.
A master of “conceptual abstraction,” Diao is no stranger to the theme of indignant loss. His previous, 2009 outing at Postmasters, titled “I lived there until I was 6…,” delved into family history. His grandfather had been a well-off official in Sichuan before the revolution when their estate – tennis court and all – was confiscated by the communists. Diao ingeniously melded architectural plans and state and party emblems into a faux-Suprematist iconography that both told an old tale and affirmed his current artistic values. But this new body of work has a very different spirit as the focus shifts from family to career, and the foe from party state to art world.
Self-pity, of course, is a familiar theme among artists, but le peintre maudit usually gravitates towards an appropriately romantic style: something fey or expressionist, perhaps. The jarring peculiarity here is between Diao’s intellectually aloof-seeming, coolly meticulous painting craft, on the one hand, and his only half-self-mocking sense of ruffled entitlement, on the other. The MoMA announcement, for instance: is it saying that he was due a retrospective there? Is it goading institution and viewer alike to take action or to expect one some day? Diao may well be forging a novel hybrid aesthetic with this show: Hard-Edge Patheticism.
While other Chelsea galleries, including the old Peter Blum and Sean Kelly spaces, are giving way to condos and boutiques in the High Line-propelled anti-art boom, the fine space that Magdalena Sawon and Tamas Banovich built in Chelsea will actually not be lost to art: it will soon serve as a new home for Leo Koenig Gallery. Postmasters, meanwhile, are retracing their steps downtown as they are set to reopen in Tribeca. Not the worst place, as it happens, to experience downward mobility.