HomePainting and document : David Diao

HomePainting and document : David Diao

Painting and document : David Diao

Peinture et document : David Diao

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Published on Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Call for Abstracts for the first international colloquium about the New York painter David Diao. Born in 1943, Diao is a major artist of the conceptual painting field. His work is about the history of modern art, architecture and design but also about the complex interactions between autobiography, history, art market… This colloquium will take place in Museum of modern and contemporary art, Strasbourg. Organized by two laboratories of University of Strasbourg and National School of Archiecture of Strasbourg. The colloquium is part of a series of projects with David Diao in Strasbourg for 2014 : artist residence, edition of a work, collective book, colloquium.


Call for Abstracts

International colloquium 26-27-28 march 2014 Strasbourg, Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, and Aubette 1928

International colloquium co-organized by

  • Arts research laboratory Approches Contemporaines de la Création et de la Recherche Artistique (ACCRA - EA 3402) Université de Strasbourg
  • and laboratory Architecture, Morphologie/Morphogenèse Urbaine et Projet (AMUP - EA 7309), Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Strasbourg-Institut National Supérieur d’Architecture de Strasbourg
  • The Museums of Strasbourg are associated in the colloquium

Scientific responsibility

Stéphane Mroczkowski

Alexandra Pignol

Scientific committee

  • Hélène Chouteau-Matikian, art critic, Paris
  • Cristiana Mazzoni, architect, Professor, ENSAS, director of laboratory AMUP- EA 7309
  • Stéphane Mroczkowski, artist, Maître de conférences, Université de Strasbourg, équipe de recherche en arts EA 3402
  • Alexandra Pignol, philosophe, enseignante ENSAS, laboratoire AMUP - EA 7309,
  • Germain Roesz, artist, Professeur, Université de Strasbourg, directeur de l’équipe de recherche en arts EA 3402
  • Christophe Viart, artist, Professeur, Université Rennes 2, équipe de recherche EA 3208


The colloquium is part of an ensemble of project with David Diao in Strasbourg during year 2014 :

- an artist residence in march with students in art, design and architecture (university, art school and architecture school) who will work with the artist about the Aubette modernist project, the place created in Strasbourg around 1928 by van Doesburg, Arp and Taeuber-Arp, with vernissage saturday the 29th;

- the production of a new work from David Diao about Aubette, edited by an excellent enamel firm in Alsace, with public presentation at the opening of the colloquium thursday the 27th at café Aubette;

- an ambitous collective bilingual (Fr-Eng) book about Diao’s work will be edited in 2014.

This colloquium will engage various points of view on David Diao’s work. This is about making acurate analyses on different aspects of Diao’s work, but also making connections between Diao and other artists, to analyse Diao’s trajectory in a global context of contemporary art from the seventies to now. The colloquium wants to engage a new and ambitious work of theory about the artist.

Paintings from the New York artist David Diao (born 1943) are like an exploration of history of modern art and of questions related with his own biography or professionnal trajectory. He conducts this kind of exploration using documents: photography, plans, maps, lists, diagrams… Or by using other artists’ works: Malevich, Newman, Palermo, Richter… Aparently with the same manner than other “postmodern” artists, Diao assumes copy, remake, and making relations towards already existant images. He makes paintings about art, patiently and meticulously made, layer after layer with superb colour work, often in big scale.

Around 1970, David Diao is an abstract painter in the way of New York school and Clement Greenberg theories. He is concentrated on form, on the medium itself, on the process of painting, on questionning the tools: by using construction materials, or by placing bricks under the canvas to mark the brush stroke. He uses very large cardboard rollers to spread paint on the entire canvas in one gesture. Later, his painting becomes more geometrical, and by this way he connects with the origins of abstract painting in Europe: Malevich, Lissitzky, Van Doesburg…

At the same time, Diao takes distances with formalist painting. Pictorial centered questions were always a broblemn for him, but at the time he wanted to paint with a more critical dimension. How to make a “painting of consequence” ? (Corris, 2005) on the side of theory, society, history? How to come back to the “content”? 

After a period of a few years during wich he abandons any artistical practice. He starts again with painting in 1984, beginning with one of the origins of abstraction in Europe : Suprematism. Diao refers to perhaps one of the most famous reference to history of abstraction : the photography of Malevich show 0.10 in St Petersburg, 1915. This photography has become a cliché that no one anymore looks at. Diao has the ambition to charge it again with content. He extracts the forms from the original image, he simplifies the image to only black and white contrats. And so the geometrical forms begin to float without any indication of the context or the space except the chair in the corner of the room.

At this period Diao is related with « citationnism » wich is typical for a certain postmodernity. For example, in France he is part of the important show Tableaux Abstraits in Villa Arson, 1986, with Knoebel, Palermo, Richter, Frieze, Lavier, Mosset, Polke, Federle, Halley... The work of Diao seems to be unsufficently known in France and in Europe whereas he is a major artist of conceptual abstraction. He participates to the exhibition Conceptual Abstraction, 1991, Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. That show was « replayed » in 2012 with the same artists.

David Diao : remake, quotation, reclycling forms ?

Diao makes a link between painting, content, knowlege. And so when Nicolas Bourriaud writes : « it meens now to give a positive value to remake, to connect images, to bring into relations forms, instead of heroical quest of new and sublime that were the characteristics of modernism... » (Postproduction, 2003) we can compare these questions to these wich concern David Diao.

Nevertheless Diao’s work cannot be limited to remake, more specific, it is about to define how quotation is a tool to comment history, and not only to replay a standard. The debate that took place in the 80’s about postmodern art is often reduced to the oposition between responsible art and irresponsible art, that meens empty of content, strictly opportunistic and commercial. That practice is resumed by Yve-Alain Bois like following : « as we are liberated from history, we can use it like a kind of distraction, treat it like a space of pure irresponsability : everything has now, for us strictly the same signification, the same value. » (« Historisation ou intention. Le retour d’un vieux débat », 1987).

Being ironical and often unrespectful to our tradition, Diao acts nonetheless as a responsible artist, that means responsible  towards contents he uses. For the following reason : he is not just quoting « empty forms without signification » that were extracted from a big « garbage » (Bourriaud). Diao is not ecclectical like Jean-François Lyotard repproaches to postmodern art, « where everything is good enough to be consummated (Le Postmoderne expliqué aux enfants, 1988). On the contrary Diao chooses, points out, marks with precision. Since 1984, Diao knew « how to make signs work together » like Bourriaud will say it later, he is able to « rewrite modernity » and produce with quotation  « bounds with the originals ». Diao reconsiders the question of the subject of the abstraction between « purity » and « narration » : « By addressing narrower but more to-the-point subject matter, I mean to escape grand universalist claims often made for abstract painting. » (quoted by Corris, 2005)

The question of the history and histories

This conceptual dimension and also narrative, bound to content of painting (essentially abstract) is one of the aspect of his research that are most of all concerned by questions as history, and also the destiny of the artist’s works. David Diao belongs to those contemporary artists who took interest in 1984 in history of the first european modernism – we are referring to his Malevich series – to comment it in painting.

Then we can assert, with Danto, that contemporary art cannot be oposed to modernism but must be considered as « post-historical » art, that means that history is its subject. Danto questions about the concept of unicity of style that can be related to modernism (« Learning to Live with Pluralism », 1992). One style excludes another one, beginning with the modern principle of tabula rasa. While for the ecclectism that apeared during the 60’s one can prefer the idea of a critical pluralism (Terry Smith, 2007). Art, as an activity that is inscribed in the concrete world, is contingent : art works do exist in economical infrastructures, but also social, semantical ones. Art cannot be dissociated from those dynamical infrastructures, that are interconnected as well as moving. That means that art is not autonomous in a pure world of art, separated from the « real world ».

David Diao does absolutely assumes this historical dimension of art as well contingent and involved. This contingence of painting is totaly bound to the trajectory of Diao as an artist, but also as a subject, as a person who comes to grips with history.

More about David Diao 

His work is represented in many collections

MoMA, NY ; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY ; Brooklyn Museum, NY ; High Museum, Atlanta ; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo ; Akron Museum, Akron ; SFMOMA, San Francisco ; Blanton Museum, University of Texas, Austin ; Musée d’Art Moderne, St. Etienne ; FRAC Bretagne et Bourgogne ; FNAC France ; Consortium de Dijon ; Ontario Art Gallery, Toronto ; Vancouver Art Gallery

Bibliography / catalogs

- Catalog David Diao: Works 1968-2005, text from Michael Corris, Beijing & New York, TimeZone8 Books, Ltd., 2005

- Catalog Vendus, text from Heinz Peter Schwerfel, Dijon, Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts, 1992

- Catalog David Diao, text from Bruce Ferguson, Musée d’art moderne, Saint-Etienne, 1989


Many articles and interviews on Diao’s galleries websites :

Postmaster (NY), Tanya Leighton (Berlin), Marta Cervera (Madrid), Office Baroque (Anvers).






Subjects of reflexion

Starting with the different elements presented about David Diao’s art including the context of contemporary art since the seventies, we propose to the participants the following subjects. Transversal approaches that refer to more than one theme will be as well appreciated.

1- Art and references : Diao and european modernism, Diao and the american context

Many contemporary works investigate the definition of the so called « modernsim ». Some important exhibitions such as I Moderni, Castello di Rivoli in Torino (2003, curator Carolyn Christov-Bakarghiev) or Modernologies, MACBA, Barcelona (2009, curator Sabine Breitwieser) pointed out the interest of contemporary artists for the ideas and practices related to modernism. David Diao, towards his considerations about the first modernism in Europe but also later one in the United States, makes him one of the first artists in the eighties to work in this critical confrontation to modernism.

2- Art and archive. Art, history, knowledge, pedagogy

For Diao, archive is the origin of all thing. But what is the attitude of the artist ? Is he the one who knows and who « lightens » ? Or is he the one who proposes connections that could seem sometimes anecdotical ? Diao claims even to start with appendixes, footnotes, he claims to come to art by making digressions. Are these necessary ? (conference of david Diao, Dia Foundation, New York, 2013). The concept of Atlas, oposed to the concept of archive, presents itself as another model of structuration of works and researches in art (Didi-Huberman, 2011). Could painting be in contradiction with the generalised montage of datas ? David Diao tries to reconcile the idea of painting with the making of an atlas. And so it is not a painting (tableau) like the « very inclosure of their own spatial, temporal and semiotic frames », but «  the atlas introduces the sensible dimension into knowledge ; and the diverse, and the lacunary character of each image. » (Didi-Huberman)

Diao realises a re-definition of painting with the sense of series, of remake, of update, successive versions. The tableau is an open entity that comes from context, complex histories, interferences.

At last, we achieve a singular reference to knowledge. Diao has not just taught for the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program in New York for a long time, and in many american universities, he has an important influence on a hole generation of artists. Lets conclude with the fact that every series which Diao produces works like a specific cycle or researches on an artistic movement, on other artists, or on an historical situation. He opens to a certain type of knowledge.

3- Art and architecture, art and design

The Glass House by Philip Johnson, the Tugendhat House from Mies van der Rohe, the work about modernist houses in New Canaan, Connecticut, and the more recent series on the soviet architect Konstantin Melnikov. Or about Diao’s memory of the house of its childhood in China, its plan, the plot, the reminding of proportions. These are examples of works where architecture plays a key role. By using photography, plans, maps, architecture acts as a model that gives a structure to visual and pictorial space.

Graphic design, as typography, the monograms of artists, covers of art books, and furniture design are permanent references. The Wassily Chair from Marcel Breuer (Reading, 1999), the Sling Sofa from George Nelson (Dreaming, 2009), the Barcelona Series from Mies van der Rohe (Salon 1, 2010), structure iconography of Diao’s canvases.

What is the status of these icons of modernist achitecture and design ? How could we connect those well known references and personnal references such as the lost house of his childhood ? What kind of bounds (critical, visual ones) could be made between art, architecture and design ?

4- Actuality of painting

Lots of artists in the seventies and the eighties made the choice of turning their backs to painting, to work with other techniques that seem to be more actual (like art in  situ, video, performance, digital art and so on). Diao on the contrary insists about being an « painter in his studio ».

What kind of painting for what kind of artistic context ? A painting without nostalgia and without romanticism ? « A painting of consequence » (Corris, 2005) ?

The importance of tools, of colour, of picturial texture and slow and repeating processes are assumed by David Diao.

What are the articulations between content (textual, historical, chronological, economical, biographical and autobiographical,...) and reality (matter, texture, size, depth...) of the picturial process ?

Is it still posssible to to talk about « abstract paintings », « tableaux abstraits » ? (we refer here to Villa Arson show, 1986)

5- Work in action: the status of Diao’s work, between work and document

A work of series, recurrent themes, remakes and variations characterise Diao’s work. Sometimes with long intervals between two versions. The construction of series and the evolution of the artist’s work, refreeing to his own work (such as his recent works on some geometrical works from the seventies, but with different sizes, exhibited in other places and different contexts).

Can we talk about passing from processual painting to a conceptual painting, that still asks about studio work, tools, colour, pictorial surface ?

The work between painting and document : are we facing a re-definition of the status of the work and the painting ? And what degrees of reading for work with multiple significations, if we approach it formally, socially, politically, economically ?



1- an abstract of merely one A4 page with or without illustrations (or other visual documents)

2- a short Curriculum Vitæ of one A4 page with, talks and publications, your precise address and e-mail and your actual situation (university, museum, independant…)

To address to Stéphane Mroczkowski : stephane.mroczkowski@espe.unistra.fr

Deadline 30th of November, 2013


Around the 5th of January, 2014

Important remark

- University of Strasbourg will take charge of the lodging and meals; but only a participation, if possible, will be guarantied for your travelling expenses

- Scientific comity reserves the right to publish, by invitation, the written version of the best communications in a collective book about David Diao


  • Strasbourg, France (67)


  • Saturday, November 30, 2013


  • David Diao, peinture contemporaine, art contemporain, modernisme, document, art conceptuel, architecture, archive


  • Stéphane Mroczkowski
    courriel : stephane [dot] mroczkowski [at] espe [dot] unistra [dot] fr
  • Alexandra Pignol
    courriel : alexandrapignol [at] wanadoo [dot] fr

Information source

  • Stéphane Mroczkowski
    courriel : stephane [dot] mroczkowski [at] espe [dot] unistra [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Painting and document : David Diao », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, October 29, 2013, https://calenda.org/263132

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