In the context of the operatic excesses of 1980s Neo-Expressionism, Martha Diamond’s contemporaneous paintings appeared strikingly reserved. Her ultra-relaxed yet emphatic touch banged out angled grids that congealed in elevated views of office buildings and high-rise apartment complexes. With no more than two or three colors, the artist could limn a faceless, noir-inflected world of intrigue and anxiety.
Less edgy but no less engrossing are Diamond’s paintings of the last 15 years, 41 of which are on view here. The oil-on-thin-panel works, which range from 10 by 8 inches to 15 by 10 inches, float about an inch from the wall. Featuring tints of greenish blue that veil a sly golden glow, Blue Wash (2011–14) serves as a conduit to Diamond’s earlier, distinctly urban imagery—a brushy, hazy view through mullioned windows to a blocky structure in the distance. Untitled (2004–15), a painting in which three elongated cones, calling to mind teepees or cathedral spires that emerge from what could be a snowdrift or sand dune, looks unlabored despite its prolonged development, while the burly, black-on-white lines in Untitled (Weather), 2015, imply both architecture and precipitation with zero fuss.
Individually and collectively, these paintings span a spectrum of pictorial experience, ranging from the linguistic to the lushly material; Diamond construes them as both symbol and surface but avoids any sense that she’s equivocating. Two contrasting sets of stripes—in Bible black and sullied white—collide in Flag and Text (2010–11). The repercussions just might have as much to do with the institutional structures of societal control as with the theoretical demise of the Modernist grid. Diamond’s touch is still endearingly clunky, but her paintings’ formal dynamics are tight as a drum, and their thematic associations remain open-ended without being cryptic.
Diamond shoehorns a tremendous amount of experience, deliberation, and studio smarts into these beautifully understated works. Young artists pursuing an interest in small, nonchalantly executed paintings should see this show.