Diti Almog's pair of recent New York shows, presented both up and downtown simultaneously, featured well over 30 small abstract paintings that are seemingly interchangeable. The typical image is a grid of bright orange and white planes, finely caged in black lines, made nearly electric by narrow, nearly invisible strands of ultra-pink buzzing down the center of each plane. The paintings are crafted in an ultra-thin, ultra-fine, ultra-light manner on aircraft plywood and they are all strenuously elegant in appearance. They may seem interchangeable, but each is composed, or directed, as a particular painted event.
Much of the success of the works, however, is due to Almog's equally severe and clever deployment of scale. Sometimes an orange panel is presented as a single large image against the gallery's white wall. In other instances, Almog surrounds a square cell or cells with vast empty areas of black or white that radically changes the scale of the imaginary space, causing a sort of telescopic effect in the viewer's eye. This stopping up and down of scale changes the content of the work as well -- sometimes concentrating it and making it more dense, and at other times diminishing its aggression. Although the paintings are restrictive, they never appear airless. Each seems lovingly done in patient, tiny brushstrokes. Almog clearly knows how to render a relevant and beautiful surface.
Almog's work participates in a model of abstract painting that has multiple references, from Barnett Newman's sublime to Peter Halley's theories of social containment. But Almog's canny manipulation of scale and space -- at one point the image seems to appear as if under a microscope, at the next it's right in front of your face -- finds new potential in this language. By making each painting peculiar in its own disciplined way, she demonstrates just how much can be found in between existing models.
Diti Almog, Oct. 4-Nov. 8, 1997, at Marianne Boesky Fine Art, 51 Greene St., New York, N.Y. 10012.
Diti Almog, "New Paintings," Oct. 7-31, 1997, at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, 1018 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10021.
Michael Brennan is a New York painter who writes on art.
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