New and old make Diebenkorn works exciting

November 23, 1990|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Richard Diebenkorn When: Closed this weekend for holiday; thereafter, Mondays to Fridays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday evenings to 9 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., through Dec. 20.

Where: Art Gallery, Art-Sociology Building, University of Maryland, College Park.

Call: (301) 405-2763.

Drawing Installations When: Closed today, then open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Dec. 28.

Where: Montpelier Cultural Arts Center, 12826 Laurel-Bowie Road (Route 197), Laurel.

Call: 792-0664.

The "41 Etchings Drypoints" portfolio is a group of etchings done by Richard Diebenkorn in the early 1960s, all representational and with subject matter including still life, landscape and the figure. They have been touring the country for more than a year, and make a beautiful and significant exhibit in themselves.

But at the University of Maryland, College Park, they are exhibited for the first time with six new Diebenkorn prints completed this spring, all abstract, and the juxtaposition could scarcely be more exciting. For they show that in his earlier works as well as his later ones, Diebenkorn was essentially an abstract artist, and that his concerns in both series are basically the same.

The etching "#31" from "41 Etchings" shows a sliver of an interior room, a doorway giving on to a high-walled patio with a chair and a table on it, and beyond the wall a strip of view with a couple of buildings. But put it next to "Passage I" from the new series, and what do we see? The same strong verticals and diagonals; the same enclosed central area, which in the earlier print is a layering of flat planes masquerading as illusory space and in the later print a flat plane that can be thought of as illusory space; the same compositional tension; the same horizontal rectangle at the top, providing a contrast to the rest of the image.

One could make similar points throughout the exhibit. "#38" shares many of the characteristics of "#31" in terms of composition, space, light and dark. "Oui" and "Ne comprend pas" from the recent series are abstractions as landscapes, while "#33" from "41 Etchings" is a landscape as abstraction.

Much else is notable about these prints, including the artist's exquisite touch and his rich and at times emotionally expressive, even anguished, line and tonal qualities. The later Diebenkorn may be more expressive than the earlier, but in both he is a formidable artist and this exhibit is a rare opportunity to see him. Make the trip.

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On the way back, get off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway at Route 197, turn left and go a half mile to the Montpelier Center, where Mel Watkin and Y. David Chung have wall-sized drawing installations -- that is, drawings directly on the wall and taking up a whole wall -- facing each other across the bare open space of the main gallery.

Both of these works address death, Watkin's in a timeless sense with delicacy and Chung's in a contemporary, urban sense with aggressive force. An interesting juxtaposition.

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