Gallery  April 1, 2024  Carlota Gamboa

Martha Diamond’s Poetics of Distortion

Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery

Martha Diamond, Yellow Sky, 1986. Oil on canvas

The first Los Angeles solo exhibition of the work of Martha Diamond, the emblematic painter of New York cityscapes, has opened at David Kordansky Gallery. Diamond, who died in December last year, was a figure of the downtown New York art and poetry scene throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery

Martha Diamond, Seasonal Sky, 1998. Oil on linen

The exhibition at David Kordansky Gallery entitled Skin of the City runs through April 27 and features works (including many studies) that were made between 1980 and 2000. The opening reception was accompanied by a panel discussion which brought together the Guggenheim Museum’s Curator of Contemporary Art, Katherine Brinson, the Robert Soros Senior Curator at the Hammer Museum (and co-curator of the Made in LA biennial), Paulina Pobocha, the Director of the Martha Diamond Trust, Olivia Funk, and artist Mary Weatherford. The four spoke about Diamond’s influences, outlooks, and the rigorous methodologies which went into the outlines of her paintings.

Diamond would collage magazine clippings of building details into what she called “atlases.” These source references served as portfolio-like dioramas of how she envisioned the world of a painting, and from that an oil and board study would emerge. Diamond rejected an association with neo-expressionism

"I’m more concerned with a vision than expressionism and I try to paint that vision realistically," she once stated. "I try to paint my perceptions rather than paint through emotion. A familiar subject in a radically generalized or edited treatment is a formalist device I use, so that recognizability or familiarity leads the viewer to look for expected details. For the most part, the details are not there, so they look harder at the paint than the painting. You begin to distinguish between paint performance, image, idea, expectation, and you."

Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery

Martha Diamond, Highway, 1984. Oil on linen

The exhibited paintings range in color, size, mood and perspective, but they are all undoubtedly using the city as their chosen vehicle to explore various psychological landscapes. The essence of her practice was once compared to poet Frank O’Hara’s exploration of the city by the New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl. 

“She was interested in an immaterial read in a very material subject matter,” said Funk about Diamond’s work during the panel discussion. Though Diamond was included in several exhibitions, like a solo show with Robert Miller New York, and participated in the 1989 Whitney Biennial, her work was sometimes overlooked or oversimplified, without consideration for its breadth. She died six months shy of a major 60-work survey exhibition which is scheduled to open at the Colby Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine in July 2024.

About the Author

Carlota Gamboa

Carlota Gamboa is an art writer based in Los Angeles.

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