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 Burgoyne A. Diller  (1906 - 1965)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: geometric abstract painting, sculpture, murals

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Ad Code: 2
Burgoyne A Diller
from Auction House Records.
© Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY See Details
Biography from Michael Rosenfeld Gallery:
A pioneer of American abstraction, Burgoyne Diller is among the most significant American artists devoted to geometric abstraction. Born in the Bronx, Diller studied at Michigan State College before returning to New York City, where he studied at the Art Students League with Jan Matulka, George Grosz and Hans Hofmann.

In 1934, he became employed by the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) and the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA). After having worked as an easel painter and a muralist, Diller was appointed Director of the New York City WPA/FAP Mural Division in 1935. During his tenure, Diller championed abstract art and oversaw the execution of more than 200 public murals. For Diller, abstraction was "the ideal realm of harmony, stability and order in which every form and spatial interval could be controlled and measured.”

He was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists group and a participant in their first exhibition at the Squibb Gallery (1937), but his affiliation with the group was short lived.

After serving in the US Navy, Diller became a professor at Brooklyn College in 1946, teaching there with Ad Reinhardt until his death. In the early 1930s, Diller’s art evolved from cubism to non-objective neoplasticism, as he developed a personal language based on three major compositional themes. These themes, which he labeled ‘First’, ‘Second’ and ‘Third,’ explored the picture plane in relation to forms in movement and/or forms in “constant opposition.”

Like Mondrian and Malevich, he executed his vision in primary colors. Creating a heroic body of avant-garde work that includes paintings, drawings, sculpture and reliefs, Diller is a vital link between American abstraction of the 1930s and minimalism of the 1950s and 1960s epitomized by artists Donald Judd, Ellsworth Kelly and Myron Stout.

Over the years his work has been exhibited internationally, most notably his 1990 retrospective organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art. His work is represented in numerous museum collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, A-D):
An early and influential proponent of geometric abstraction in the United States, Burgoyne Diller with was born in the Bronx in 1906 and raised in Buffalo, New York, and Battle Creek, Michigan. After studying at Michigan State College, he returned to New York in 1928 and took classes at the Art Students League with Jan Matulka and Hans Hofmann.

In the early 1930s Diller grew interested in the work of Kasimir Malevich and the Russian Constructivists, as well as the neoplastic paintings of Mondrian. He developed and maintained for the rest of his career a hard-edged non-objective geometric style that combined bright primary colors with black and white. Diller organized his work around three personal themes that he summarized as contiguous or related forms, separate or unrelated forms, and forms conveying movement.

From 1935 to 1940, Diller served as director of the Mural Division of the New York section of the WPA Federal Art Project and supervised the completion of more than 200 public murals. His position allowed him to play a key role in providing work for fellow abstract artists, among them Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky, and Ilya Bolotowsky, during difficult times. During the same period, Diller was a founding member of American Abstract Artists and a participant in the group’s first exhibition in 1937.

After completing a tour of duty in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Diller accepted a teaching position at Brooklyn College from 1946 and remained on the faculty until his death in 1965. His work is represented in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, among others, and was the subject of a 1990 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:
A painter and sculptor, Burgoyne Diller was one of the first---perhaps the first---American artist to include geometric designs in his work.  Although known for being an artist in non-objective styles, he was also Director of the Mural Division of the New York City Federal Arts project until 1941.  In this capacity, he found work for many of the artists that became leading early 20th-century names such as Arshile Gorky and Stuart Davis during this time of national economic unrest. (1)

Diller was born in New York City and from 1928 to 1932, studied at the Art Students League where he was influenced by Cubism and later with Hans Hofmann, who pioneered Abstract Expressionism.  In the early 1930s, Diller began making geometric art, having been influenced by the Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian who combined vertical and horizontal lines with bright colors.  Although the Mondrian influence has been documented, Diller later went to great pains to deny it, claiming to be original.  An equal influence might be Ad Reinhardt, a friend and colleague at Brooklyn College. (2)

Diller was one of the original members of the American Abstract Artists, a New York artists group dominated by geometric painters. (3) His paintings, sculptures and constructions treated geometric forms in three ways: as related or contiguous elements, disparate or unrelated, and avenues of conveying much activity.  Although his work was labeled as non-objective, Diller, like other geometric abstractionists, was attempting to find logic through visual art, and he found it difficult to stay away totally from emotional expression.  He painted very slowly, only producing ten or twelve works a year. (4)

1. Parts of this entry comes from Daphne Deeds, "Burgoyne Diller,” entry in The American Painting Collection of Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1988), 48.  Also, Philip Larson, Burgoyne Diller, Paintings, Sculptures, Drawings (Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 1972); Francis V. O’Connor, “Burgoyne Diller: Geometric Abstractions and the Redress of Art in the 1930s,” Diller: The 1930s, Cubism to Abstraction (New York, NY: Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 2000).

2. Michael Rosenfeld, Burgoyne Diller: The Third Dimension, Sculpture and Drawings, 1930-1965 (New York, NY: Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 1997), 4.

3. Deeds, 48.  In addition, Diller quotes, “The Whitney Museum was the center… Now at that time there were very few abstract painters.  I happened to be one of the abstract painters that were in that group, the original group.  I think Gorky and Stuart Davis and I am not sure who (sic) else, but there were not very many at the time. Then that of course went out of existence.”  Dr. Harlan Phillips, Oral History Interview with Burgoyne Diller, Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, Friday, October 2 1964, Archives of American Art.

4. Phillips-Diller interview, “That was an extraordinary thing in the sense that the artists selected by them (the Whitney director and staff) were given a schedule for working in their own studios based on the artist's own production… if the artist said, "Well I spend three months painting a painting," or six months or whatever, and it was a reasonable statement, they'd accept this as the time schedule for him to bring in a work.”

Written and submitted by Charles T. Butler, Director, Columbus Museum

Biography from Spanierman Gallery (retired):

Recognized as the first American painter to embrace the tenets of Neo-Plasticism, Burgoyne Diller made an important contribution to the development of non-objective art in the United States.  Working in a hard-edged geometric style, he produced paintings, drawings, and collages that paved the way for the development of American Minimalism during the 1960s and 70s.

Born in New York City in 1906, Diller began painting and drawing as a teenager growing up in Battle Creek, Michigan.  Later, while attending Michigan State University in East Lansing on an athletic scholarship, he made weekend visits to the Art Institute of Chicago, where he familiarized himself with Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting.  He was especially drawn to the landscapes and still lives of Paul Cézanne, who modeled color to create structure and volume.

In 1929, Diller moved to Manhattan and enrolled at the Art Students League, where his teachers included such progressive-minded painters as Jan Matulka, Hans Hofmann, and George Grosz.  Hofmann’s concept of the “push-pull” effect of form and color exerted a strong influence on his early work, as did his growing familiarity with Analytical and Synthetic Cubism, German Expressionism, and other vanguard European styles.  Diller had the opportunity to see some of this work firsthand, but he also kept abreast of developments abroad by reading journals such as Cahiers d’Art.

Diller completed his studies at the League in 1933, the year he had his first solo exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Gallery in New York.  It was around this time that his paintings began to show the influence of the reductive, pared-down geometric compositions of the Dutch Constructivist Piet Mondrian and the equally restrained compositions of Kasimir Malevich and El Lissitsky, exponents of Russian Suprematism.  In the ensuing years, Diller synthesized the crisp geometric forms and primary colors and blacks and whites of Constructivism with his own personal approach to line, space, and form, and in so doing arrived at a very personal style.

In addition to championing the cause of abstraction through his own work, Diller promoted non-objective painting through his role as an arts administrator.  Indeed, despite his reputation as an innovator, he failed to sell any of his paintings during the 1930s, a time of hardship for many artists.  In 1935 he was hired as Director of the Mural Division of the WPA Federal Arts Project and in that capacity he provided commissions to fellow abstractionists such as Arshile Gorky, Stuart Davis, Willem de Kooning, Ilya Bolotowsky, and others.  Diller also promoted non-traditional art throughout his membership with American Abstract Artists (established 1936), exhibiting with that group from 1937 to 1939.

Diller was employed by the Federal Arts Project until 1940.  He continued to paint throughout the 1940s and 50s, although his output decreased considerably.  In his later work, he turned to increasingly simplified compositions and the movements and rhythms of his forms took on a quieter tone.

During the second world war, Diller was director of the War Service Art Section in New York.  He was also connected to the navy’s visual aid division, where he designed a black-and-white signal system for ship-to-ship communication.  In 1945, he joined the design department at Brooklyn College, remaining there until 1964.  Since his death in New York in 1965, Diller’s work has been included in many exhibitions devoted to modern art in the United States, including Abstract Paintings and Sculpture in America: 1927-1944, organized by the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (1983).  There have also been several posthumous exhibitions, most recently Burgoyne Diller, held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1990).

Examples of Diller’s work can be found in major public collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the New York University Art Collection; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Walker Art Gallery, Minneapolis; the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, New York; and the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, Nebraska, among others.  


©The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery LLC and may not be reproduced in whole or in part, without written permission from Spanierman Gallery LLC nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery LLC.

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