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BURGOYNE DILLER

(1906-1965)

AMERICAN NEO-PLASTICIST: SPECIALIZING IN GEOMETRIC ABSTRACTION

By Jenna Mitchell

As a director for the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), painter, sculptor, and teacher Burgoyne Diller was an advocate for struggling artists and a promoter of abstract art. Diller’s groundbreaking geometric art paved the way for future abstract artists, contributing to the development of non-objective art in the United States.




Table of Contents

I. BIOGRAPHY

Burgoyne Diller was born in the Bronx in 1906, he grew up in Buffalo, New York and later moved to Battle Creek, Michigan. In 1925 Diller started school at Michigan State College, but left after only two years. Due to the great economic period of decline, jobs were scarce and money was tight. Diller struggled to find sufficient work in Michigan. So in 1928, Diller moved back to New York, where he was awarded a scholarship to enroll in the Art Students League.

At the Art Students League, Diller discovered inspiration in the Russian Constructivist work of Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) and other artists, and the work of the De Stijl artists Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) and Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931). Diller also was greatly influenced by teachers Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) and Jan Matulka (1890-1972), who both encouraged Diller’s exploration of pure color and form. As a student Diller demonstrated leadership qualities, often coordinating exhibitions at the Art Students League. In 1933 he organized a show of avant-guard student work exhibiting, for the first time, a group of emerging, post-war American Cubists.

In the Early 1930’s Diller began making Geometric art. It was during that time that his artistic style transformed from cubism to non-objective neoplasticism. And in 1933, Burgoyne Diller mounted a solo exhibition at Contemporary Arts Museum in New York City. The introduction for the catalogue was written by Hans Hofmann, whom Diller greatly admired.

Upon graduating from the Art Students League in 1934, he began working for the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) and then the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA), as a muralist and easel painter. Both of these committees were setup in the New York City area; their aim was to provide much needed employment to artists. In addition, Diller founded the artist group called “Group A” in 1934.

A year later, Diller was appointed director of the New York City PWPA Mural Division. During a time of national economic turmoil when jobs were few and far between, Diller found work for hundreds of artists. Many of the artists employed by Diller later became some of the most important early 20-century names such as Arshile Gorky (1904-1948) and Stuart Davis (1894-1964). As director he supervised the execution of over 200 public murals.

As a fervent advocate for Abstract Art, Diller became a founding member of the American Abstract Artists group on March 12, 1936. The American Abstract Artist group held their first exhibition at the Squibb Galleries, less than a month after Diller was initiated.

In 1937, Burgoyne Diller became sole administrator of the PWPA's mural division, putting him in charge of mural programs for public schools, colleges, libraries, municipal buildings, and hospitals. Despite increased responsibility at work, Diller continued to work diligently at his own art, even broadening his body of work. It was during this time that Diller began to make relief sculptures, combining flat painted grounds and projecting elements in low relief.

Diller worked diligently for the PWPA until the outbreak of World War II, when he served time in the Navy. After his time in the Navy, Burgoyne became a professor at Brooklyn College in 1946. The roles of student and teacher were now reversed for Diller, and he received the chance to teach and inspire an entire generation of abstract artists.

Decades of heavy drinking had taken their toll on Diller, and he died on January 30,th 1965 in New York. Diller will always be remembered as a one of the most significant artists devoted to geometric abstraction, and a true pioneer of American modernism.

II. AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK

Critic Lawrence Campbell wrote in 1968, “He [Diller] was known and respected by the avant-garde of his own generation, and during his final years had become a kind of hero to the young avant-garde of the 1960s. For this new generation Diller was one of the few who seemed absolutely free of the rules and attributes of abstract art which developed in the 1930s.”

Respected by his peers and admired by his pupils, Burgoyne Diller’s acclaim should be attributed not only to the strength of his character but also to the significance of his work. Diller’s simplified, nonobjective images subsist as both a legacy and the connecting tie between earlier and later methods of abstraction explored by twentieth-century American artists.

Developing his own hard-edged geometric style, Diller drew upon the influences of Dutch De Stjil and Russian Constructivism. He was one the first Americans to adopt the principles of Neo-Plasticism. Diller’s work can be broken up into three visual themes, all of which explore the range of placements of geometric forms.

Always meticulous, Diller made collages in preparation for his carefully planned paintings. In his collages, Diller would move paper cutouts around and around, trying to sort out the exact placement of each piece in order to create a perfect equilibrium. These collages serve essentially as models for Diller’s paintings and later models for his austere formica sculptures which are extensions of his painting style.

Composed predominantly of squares and rectangles and accented with primary colors against a solid white background, Diller’s mature abstract paintings are the results of his explorations of pure color and form. Diller’s austere work recalls the stinging isolation of the lives of all Americans of the Depression era, and possibly his own. However, the well-planned geometric nature of his paintings, reveals his desire for a new reconstructed world prevailing over the seemingly hopeless situation in the United States during the Depression.

Not only did Diller play an influential role in the development of American abstract art in the 1930s, he also exhibited his work internationally and received critical acclaim. Today, Diller’s progressive and unique oeuvre of paintings, drawings, collages, and sculptures is recognized as a key influence on American Minimalism of the 1960s and1970s.

III. CHRONOLOGY

  • 1906 Born in the Bronx, New York
  • 1925–1927 Attended Michigan State University, Lansing, MI
  • 1928–1933 Attended the Art Students League, New York, NY
  • 1934 Supervisor for Mural Painting, Emergency and Temporary Relief Administration (ERA), (TERA), NYC
  • 1937 Founding Member of the American Abstract Artists group
  • 1939 Liaison between the Federal Arts Project and The New York World's Fair
  • 1935–1940 Supervisor of the Mural Division of the WPA Federal Art Project, New York, NY
  • 1940 Assistant Technical Director of the WPA Federal Art Project in New York City
  • 1941–1945 Director of the WPA New York City War Service Art Project
  • 1946–1963 Taught at Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1962 Begins making free-standing sculpture, which he dubbed "color structures"; The sculptures are vertical totems composed of wooden forms painted red, yellow, blue, black, gray, and white.
  • 1965 Dies on January 30th in New York, NY.
  • IV. COLLECTIONS

  • Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
  • Amon Carter Museum, Ft Worth, TX
  • Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AK
  • Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
  • The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD
  • Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME
  • Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA
  • The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
  • Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA
  • Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  • Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA
  • Elvehjem Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI
  • Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, Netherlands
  • Grey Art Gallery, New York University Art Collection, New York, NY Haags
  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
  • McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX
  • Meredith Long & Company, TX
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
  • Michael Rosenfeld, NY
  • Milwaukee Art Center, Milwaukee, WI
  • Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA
  • The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
  • The National Gallery, Washington, DC
  • National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
  • New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ
  • The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
  • Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NB
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
  • Spanierman Modern, NY
  • Spanierman Gallery, NY
  • Valerie Carberry Gallery, IL
  • Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
  • Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, NC
  • Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
  • Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT
  • V. EXHIBITIONS

  • 1932 G.R.D. Studio, New York, NY
  • 1933 Montross Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1937 Squibb Galleries, New York, NY
  • 1939 Squibb Galleries, New York, NY
  • 1940 St. Etienne Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1941 Squibb Galleries, New York, NY
  • 1945 Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
  • 1946 Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT
  • 1947 The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, The Pinacotheca, New York, NY
  • 1948 Chinese Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1949 Riverside Museum, New York, NY
  • 1950 The Pinacotheca-Rose Fried Gallery, New York, NY, New School for Social Research, New York, NY
  • 1951 The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, Riverside Museum, New York, NY, Rose Fried Gallery, New York, NY, American-British Art Center, New York, NY
  • 1952 Rose Fried Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1953 Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, NY
  • 1956 Newark Museum, NJ
  • 1957 Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX
  • 1959 The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
  • 1960 Galerie Chalette, New York, NY, Helmhaus, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 1962 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
  • 1963 The Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.
  • 1964 Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, NY, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
  • 1965 San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA, Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
  • 1966 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
  • 1967 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
  • 1968 Kassel, West Germany, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
  • 1969 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
  • 1971 Denise Rene, New York, NY
  • 1972 San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX
  • 1973 Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
  • 1975 Museo de Arte Moderno, Bogota, Columbus; Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo, Brazil; Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, Venequela; Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, Mexico
  • 1977 University Art Museum, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
  • 1979 Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, NY, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT, Marilyn Pearl Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1980 Sid Deutsch Gallery, New York, NY; Telfair Academy, Savannah, GA; Cummer Gallery, Jacksonville, FL; Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, TN; Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, NC; Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL; University of Virginia Art Museum, Charlottesville, VA; New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ, Rosa Esman Gallery & Marilyn Pearl Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1981 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, Haus der Kunst, Munich, West Germany, Museum and Nature Center, Stamford, CT, Sewall Art Gallery, Rice University, Houston, TX
  • 1982 Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, Randolph-Macon Women’s College, Lynchburg, VA
  • 1983 Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ
  • 1985 The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
  • 1987 Whitney Museum of American Art, Equitable Center, New York, NY, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY; Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, MA; Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, IL; Fisher Gallery, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1989 Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Center for the Fine Arts, Miami, FL; Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT The Patricia and Philip Frost Collection, American Abstraction, 1930–1945, National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC
  • 1991 Meredith Long & Company, Houston, TX, Snyder Fine Art, New York, NY, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA; Samuel P. Harn Museum, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL; Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE
  • 1992 Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, OH; Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, IL; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX
  • 1993 Snyder Fine Art, New York, NY
  • 1994 Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1995 Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1996 Crane-Kalman Gallery, London, England, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1997 Snyder Fine Art, New York, NY, Meyerson & Nowinski, Seattle, WA
  • 1998 Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY; Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CA, Danese Gallery, New York, NY, The Donald J. Nichols Collection, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas, AK; Sunrise Museum, Charleston, WV; Philharmonic Center for the Arts, Naples, FL; Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, IN; Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, TN; Boise Art Museum, Boise, ID
  • 1999 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA, Gerald Peters Gallery, New York, NY, Knoedler & Company, New York, NY
  • 2000 The Appleton Museum of Art, Ocala, FL, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY, Bonn University, Bonn, Germany, Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AR
  • 2001 Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME
  • 2002 Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY; Madison Art Center, Madison, WI; Polk Museum of Art, Lakeland, FL, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY, Art in Embassies Program, The Netherlands
  • 2003 Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME, The Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA
  • 2004 Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA,Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, Lewis Glucksman Gallery, University College Cork, Ireland
  • 2005 Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY, Valerie Carberry Gallery, Chicago, IL
  • 2006 Meadows School of the Arts Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX, Hammer Museum, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA; The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; First Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TN; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT
  • 2007 Spanierman Modern, NY
  • 2007 Michael Rosenfeld, NY
  • VI. MEMBERSHIPS

  • 1934 Group A
  • 1934 Public Works Art Project
  • 1934 Temporary Emergency Relief Administration
  • 1937 American Abstract Artists Group
  • 1943 U.S. naval institution
  • VII. Bibliography

    1. 1. Brennan, Micheal. “Painter’s Journal,” Artnet Magazine. http://www.artnet.com/Magazine/reviews/brennan/brennan1-18-00.asp
    2. 2. "Burgoyne Diller: Second Theme (1991.402.7)". In Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/geab/hod_1991.402.7.htm (October 2006)
    3. 3. Cashin, Sarah, Gavin Spanierman, and Allegra LaViola. “ Burgoyne Diller and Hard Edged Abstraction: Underpinnings and Continuity,” (November 8, 2007- January 5, 2008) http://www.spaniermanmodern.com/07_Diller/07_pressrelease.htm
    4. 4. Diller, Burgoyne. Interview with Burgoyne Diller Conducted by Harlan Phillips In Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey October 2, 1964. Smithsonian Archives of Art History http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/oralhistories/tranSCRIPTs/diller64.htm
    5. 5. Deleget, Mathew, and Rossana Martínez. “Chronology” Minus Space: reductive art. http://www.minusspace.com/chronology1940-1949.htm
    6. 6. Karmel, Pepe. “Art in Review,” New York Times, May 12, 1995, Arts Section.
    7. 7. Michael Rosenfeld Gallery. “Burgoyne Diller: (1906-1965)” http://www.michaelrosenfeldart.com/artists/artists_represented.php?i=2&m=biography
    8. 8. Spanierman Modern: A Division of the Spanierman Gallery. “Burgoyne Diller (1906-1965),” http://spaniermanmodern.com/inventory/diller_BIO.htm

    VIII. WORKS FOR SALE BY THIS ARTIST


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